Eliminating Intellectual Dishonesty From Our Punditry: We’re Gonna Need A Smaller Television Set

Andy McCarthy at The Corner:

CNN/US president Jonathan Klein has directed his producers to avoid booking talk-radio hosts on CNN news programs. In a burst of arrogance remarkable even by mainstream media standards (especially given some of the dross that passes for news coverage at CNN), Klein is quoted in NewsBusters as saying, “Complex issues require world class reporting,” and that talk-radio guys are all noise and “all too predictable.” Would that there were anything on the planet more predictable than some of CNN’s “world class reporting.”

The NewsBusters report also indicates that the talk-radio hosts who are CNN regulars (e.g., Lou Dobbs and Bill Bennett) are exempt from the new policy.

I wonder if the folks at CNN ever actually listen to the in-depth coverage complicated issues get for hours at a time on Rush’s show and Sean’s show. I wonder how Mr. Klein’s assessment of talk-radio dullards squares up with, say, Mark Levin — an authentic scholar of constitutional law and American history, a mega-bestselling author of books on those subjects, and a former chief of staff to an attorney-general of the United States. Or, say, Hugh Hewitt, a cum laude graduate of Harvard, Order of the Coif student at UMichigan Law School, veteran of two prestigious federal court clerkships, like Mark a former Reagan Justice Department official, and now a professor at Chapman Law School. I wonder if Mr. Klein has ever heard Laura Ingraham or Steve Malzberg or Dennis Praeger (and I could go on and on) mixing it up with advocates for every side of every important issue.

To disagree with them is fine — that’s what makes an interesting debate. But to ban them because you find yourself unable to refute them? That’s class-A cowardice.

Conor Friedersdorf at The Scene:

The solid point that Mr. McCarthy doesn’t quite make is that talk radio includes an array of voices. Just as “newspaper” refers to The New York Times, USA Today and The National Enquirer, “talk radio host” encompasses hateful, ranting blowhards like Michael Savage and temperate, insightful guys like Dennis Praeger. Medium specific bans are a mistake.

What he gets wrong is that cable news networks should ban Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin (I haven’t listened to the other hosts enough to make a judgment one way or another) — not because they are talk radio hosts, but because as radio personalities they consistently prove themselves to be intellectually dishonest, intemperate partisans whose very approach to public discourse is deeply destructive of it.

oldradioIn the comments, E.D. Kain:

I think you’re way off on this one, Conor. Isn’t this as much a matter of taste as anything? And beyond that, isn’t it kind of silly to start banning specific professions from appearing on talk-shows? Would Rush Limbaugh be allowed to come on a show if he talked about something other than politics? Where do we start drawing the line?

And this says nothing about ratings – I mean, these blowhards must be good for ratings?

And what if they start banning bloggers or other non-radio pundits?

It’s just silly.

Conor responds in the comments:

I specifically say that specific professions, talk radio hosts included, shouldn’t be banned from the radio — I cite Dennis Prager as an example of a sane talk radio host — and go on to argue that 3 specific talk radio hosts should be banned, not due to their profession, but because they are intellectually dishonest entertainers who share nothing with the journalistic project.

Kain responds again the comments:

Conor:

“because they are intellectually dishonest entertainers who share nothing with the journalistic project.”

This is a matter of opinion and taste. Intellectual dishonesty is not something you can scientifically pin down. One man’s intellectually dishonest pundit is another man’s political mentor. I generally don’t like these pundits, Conor, but the notion of banning them from cable news shows because you think they’re dishonest is reprehensible to me.

Conor puts up a new post:

I’ve got a question for E.D. and other like-minded commenters: Is there anything that would cause you to classify a political commentator like Rush Limbaugh as intellectually dishonest? What if I could demonstrate, for example, that he makes factually inaccurate statements, plays misleadingly edited audio clips, misrepresents the views of his political opponents, and uses obviously fallacious reasoning every single fortnight he is on the air, for years on end? Would that be sufficient evidence to objectively deem him intellectually dishonest, or would it still just be a matter of my opinion? Would it be sufficient to justify his exclusion from news programs?

Here is a thought experiment that demonstrates as best I can why Rush Limbaugh shouldn’t be invited as a commentator on any news program that meets the standards a journalistic organization ought to set for itself. Take the kinds of flawed commentary that I list above: a) factually inaccurate statements, b) misleadingly edited audio clips, c) misrepresenting the views of political opponents, and d) using obviously fallacious reasoning. Imagine that every day during September 2009, a neutral party is going to analyze Mr. Limbaugh’s program, and determine whether it included transgressions a, b, c or d.

Given 5 to 1 odds, would anyone be willing to wager $100 that Mr. Limbaugh will go even one single program that month without doing any of those things?

E.D. Kain posts:

First off, I could care less whether or not a talk-radio pundit is intellectually dishonest.  I don’t think that disqualifies them or anyone else from appearing on a cable talk show.  I’m sure Conor could find an abundance of “misleadingly edited audio clips” for each of these talking heads, and I would even agree that these and others – including many cable TV talk show hosts – actively engage in falsity and propaganda.  Even so, that is part of political discourse.  We can’t just wish it away.  Misinformation will accompany us wherever we go.

Second, if we’re going to start limiting who appears on cable news shows based on the standards Conor lists in his post, we’ll soon be out of guests.  Apparently no politician will ever be allowed on cable tv, ever again.  Logically, if we’re going to ban the talking heads involved in Conor’s own talk-radio jihad, we’ll have to start banning other commentators and pundits that other people dislike.  Sorry Andrew Sullivan, you’re out.  Lots of people think you’re intellectually dishonest and so you must be banned – lest your “obviously fallacious reasoning” violate their sensitive sensibilities.  Sorry Paul Krugman, you accused a bunch of us of being “traitors” recently, which is not only repugnant but also dishonest.  We must protect the viewers from your lies and falsehoods!  And so on, and so forth.

Third, shouldn’t we be encouraging debate between both the ostensibly honest and those we think of as dishonest?  Call it the Jon Stewart approach, if you will.  Look at his debate with Jim Cramer of CNBC, or his various forays into the labyrinthine mind of Bill O’Reilly, for just a couple examples of the value of dialogue – even with (or especially with!) those we might cast as a bit shady or less-than-aboveboard.  Truth comes to light only when lies are brought out into the open.  Yes, of course a higher pedestal means they’ll reach more people, but it also means more exposure and more of an opportunity for others to point out the fallacies and inconsistencies in their arguments.

Fourth, cable talk shows are not just about – or really ever about – journalism or news.  They are, by nature, about two things: the trading of opinions and the sparring of ideas and angles; and that holiest of television holies – entertainment.  That people get their news from either the Daily Show or the No Spin Zone is a sad fact of modern life, but it isn’t the fault of those shows or their guests.

James Joyner:

The basic format of television “debate” programs promotes and rewards intellectual dishonesty of this type.  The “Firing Line” model of intellectuals blathering on back and forth on a single topic for an hour is long dead.  In the modern era, TV discussions are brisk, loud, and pit black vs. white with no grays permitted.  Analysts who fail to make bold, decisive judgments without a lot of pesky caveats simply don’t fit in.

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Filed under Go Meta, Mainstream, Political Figures

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