Over at the new Atlantic “Big Ideas” blog, Joshua Green has a big idea:
Yes, pundits are a plague on us all. It is time we acted.
The crowning indignity, of course, is that they’re usually wrong. Not just off-by-a-few-degrees wrong, but invading-Iraq-is-a-good-idea wrong. “Dow 36,000” wrong. And what are the consequences? There are none at all! You can blow the biggest questions of the day, time after time, and still claim to be a discerning seer.
Well, there ought to be consequences. It’s not as if blogs and propaganda outlets don’t keep track of this stuff. In Washington, regulation is back in fashion. If we can regulate tricky things like credit-default swaps, surely we can regulate pundits.
That pesky First Amendment prevents us from silencing them outright. But couldn’t the more reputable media outlets reach a gentleman’s agreement to stop inviting commentary from the very worst offenders, at least for a respectable interlude? Pundits should have to explain their bad calls (and grovel?) as a condition of return.
Conor Friedersdorf wants pundits to show him the money:
If only there were an online clearinghouse where bets like this could be made publicly, professional and amateur pundits alike could call out the most absurd rhetoric clogging up public discourse — and point out that despite the hyperbolic claims on offer, precious few are willing to back up their claims with cold hard cash. (Alternatively, the most absurd blowhards would lose a lot of money to folks more modest in their assertions–which is even better!) Another benefit would be the occasional bet between reasonable people both convinced that they are right — what better way to draw attention to their intellectual clash than to set high stakes for added drama? The romantic in me likes the idea of prominent figures making wagers like the one in Around the World in 80 Days… and I’d even settle for Ezra Klein and Ramesh Ponnuru Megan McArdle betting on whether Obama Administration health care reforms will actually result in cost savings.
The Dow 36,000 example is easy, since it’s so easy to determine with certainty that it did not come to pass. But almost nothing is like this. So, to take Green’s other example, I have always thought it was wrong to invade Iraq, but I don’t feel like I know yet whether it was a “good idea” in a more compehensive historical sense. Maybe we’re seeing the domino theory in action right now in Iran. Or not. The thing is nobody really knows. I don’t feel like I know that America’s entry into World War II was a good idea. For all I know, Germany would have otherwise walloped the Soviets and the rest of the century might have turned out better than it did. But if you say that you don’t know for sure that America’s entry into World War II was not a good idea, people will start to regulate you right away. (Ask Jim Cramer’s regulator, Jon Stewart, who was sternly regulated for suggesting, quite reasonably, that Truman was a war criminal.) Indeed, Green’s choice of “invading-Iraq-was-a-good-idea wrong” is a not-so-sly attempt to marginalize those who disagree.
Christopher Shea at Brainiac at Boston.com:
There’s some dramatic irony in Green’s item, a fact of which he shows at least partial awareness. Before “Dow 36,000” was a book, for example, it was an Atlantic article! (Green links to it.) What’s more, two of the magazine’s biggest hires of recent years, Andrew Sullivan and Jeffrey Goldberg, were among the most vociferous of the journalists making the case for marching on Baghdad. (Green lets that bit of awkwardness slide.)
Indeed, I learned of Green’s article when I navigated to Sullivan’s Atlantic-affiliated blog and a message flashed on my screen saying that pundits who make too many mistakes ought to face consequences. I thought someone had hacked The Daily Dish. In fact, it was just the Atlantic touting Green’s article. Awkward …
Alisa Harris at Patrol applies this to the Palin/Letterman controversy.