The False Promise Of Conservative Political YouTubers

Ben Shapiro Show - Daily Wire - Birch Gold Group commercial - political YouTube - podcast

For many young conservatives, political YouTube offers a respite from left-wing dominance of popular culture, universities, the mainstream media and other social networks. But while YouTube’s brash new right-wing stars can be beguiling to watch, they do little to advance conservatism as an intellectual movement – and sometimes actively set it back

Young, brash, right-wing political YouTubers may unwittingly deliver the final coup de grâce to conservatism as an intellectual movement, even as they rack up millions of followers and achieve all the outward metrics of success.

But then I would say that, wouldn’t I? For some foolish reason I work primarily on the already anachronistic medium of the humble blog, tapping out my verbose screeds into WordPress which then get read and shared by that tiny slice of humanity who can wade through eight paragraphs on the meaning of citizenship in the Age of Brexit without wanting to run into oncoming traffic. Given recent advances in technology and journalism, bloggers like me are effectively still marvelling at the Edison light bulb while everybody else is busy projecting holograms or firing lasers at each other.

Ironically, despite being somewhat frustrated by my own lack of online reach, I find myself increasingly impatient when forced through necessity to read other people’s carefully and well-written words, be it those of a fellow blogger, journalist or author. Reading requires concentration and an engaged brain, and who has time for that?

Every evening after the day job is done and I have commuted home to begin work on my perennially unrewarding side hustle (this blog), I am faced with a choice: do I expend what little mental energy I have left reading and thinking deeply about a complex idea, researching and refining my thoughts until I have something compelling and unique to share with my readers, or do I take the path of least resistance – flicking over to YouTube and watching a parade of talking heads ranting about this or that development in the culture wars, finding something suitably outrageous to get worked up about and then hitting “publish” on an identikit, stream-of-consciousness rant in response?

And here’s my guilty secret: I choose the path of least resistance easily over half the time. Thinking is hard. So is challenging long-held assumptions and personal beliefs. But nodding along while a talking head on YouTube affirms one’s existing opinions is easy, and addictively cathartic. Yet anybody can do this; it is the millennial or Generation Z equivalent of watching Fox and Friends. At this point I can crank out one of my old-style “I agree with Brendan O’Neill” or “look what crazy campus SJWs did” response pieces with my eyes closed. Just crank my handle, insert the topic and required word count and 45 minutes later you’ll have a fully formed blog post. Sure it won’t be original or really add anything to the national political debate, but still, it’ll be there, taking up room in cyberspace.

Look at some of the biggest political YouTube or cable TV stars (they tend to be American or at least to focus primarily on American politics). Ben Shapiro is probably the best of the conservative personalities, certainly far more serious than conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones or culture warriors like Paul Joseph Watson or the execrable Milo Yiannopoulos. The less said about Tomi LahrenLauren Southern or Mike Cernovich the better. Various people have suggested Stefan Molyneux as a supposedly more serious alternative and the philosopher/podcaster does have his moments. But even this seems to be stretching the definition of “serious” somewhat.

Then you have political comedians like Steven Crowder who at least is funny, one of conservatism’s only solid answers to the leftist monopolisation of comedy – and Lord knows that we need a respite from the unbearable sanctimony of John Oliver, Samantha Bee, poor Jon Stewart replacement Trevor Noah and the pitiful Mash Report in Britain (Bill Maher is one of the few consistently funny and insightful left-wing political comedians). Sargon of Akkad can be quite funny when he gets riled up about leftist excess. And while they generally lag behind conservatives on YouTube, on the Left you have shows like The Young Turks (a growing horde of screechy social justice warriors and Bernie Sanders devotees) and a smattering of others.

(Dave Rubin also deserves an honourable mention as somebody who tackles controversial topics and interviews partisan commentators from both sides of the ideological debate in The Rubin Report).

Conservatives seem to dominate political YouTube, probably for the same reason that an older generation of right-wingers once took refuge in American talk radio – because their views were increasingly misrepresented, slandered, marginalised or ignored by the mainstream media. And today, far away from the reach – and the interest – of those Washington and Westminster journalists marinated in the same groupthink as the politicians they supposedly hold to account, conservative YouTube flourishes:

YouTube has thus provided a useful pressure release valve for the expression of a range of conservative thought, though even on this platform conservatives are now under threat, with demonetisation attacks threatening the livelihoods of content creators whose views fall outside the prevailing pseudo-liberal orthodoxy. But generally speaking, while Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr can be seethingly hostile to right-wing ideas, YouTube has allowed a large number of frustrated conservative and libertarian-leaning people to view and engage with a small number of brash, unapologetic conservative personalities.

But as conservatives disengage from regular media outlets, ceding more ground to the forces of the Left, we do ourselves a disservice. A bit of escapism into the ideological bubble isn’t always a bad thing, but it does become problematic when one spends too much time plugged into a partisan medium which can be both shrill and superficial.

As American conservatives flocked to talk radio and stopped consuming mainstream or supposedly objective news, their worldview became progressively more alarmist and conspiratorial. That’s why so many American conservatives still believe that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim, while opportunistic companies make a fortune selling gold coins, water filters and survival gear for people who have been slowly convinced that the apocalypse is just round the corner. With no centrists or left-wingers to call BS on their more outrageous claims, conservative media increasingly resembles an arms race to provide the most provocative and alarmist commentary in the hunt for viewers and listeners.

We on the Right correctly rail against universities for becoming little more than temples of social justice and identity politics orthodoxy, where dissenting opinion is relentlessly eradicated through re-education programs, trigger warnings and safe spaces. But we are no better when we retreat to YouTube instead of engaging with the world in all of its fallen, identity politics-soaked left-wingery. Our own outlook is in danger of becoming equally insular when we uncritically clap along as part of Ben Shapiro’s Amen Corner, preferring the catharsis of having our opinions confirmed to the rigour and challenge of debate.

It’s not that political YouTube videos are bad per se, it’s that they tend to be more partisan, superficial and sensationalist than print media and even television (though the gap with TV is lesser). A book can offer footnotes. An essay or feature article, knowing that it has its reader’s attention, can devote some space for context and nuance. A YouTube video, by contrast, has about five seconds to grab your focus before you click away, and must work hard to maintain your attention right through to the end. This inevitably leads to a certain reliance on zingers and soundbites which is actually not dissimilar to the grasping, disjointed way in which many media-trained politicians now speak.

The problem is that for political YouTubers (and other commentators whose careers depend on clips of their media performances being shared widely on that platform) success is measured in clicks, views and the number of times people share their videos accompanied by captions like “Bob McConservative just DESTROYED this stupid liberal on abortion” or “Dumb SJW accuses Righty McRightwing of being a fascist, instantly regrets it”.

For the viewer there may be a short-term emotional payoff in watching “Social Justice Warriors Get Owned In Epic Rant By Steven Crowder” or “Douglas Murray Schools A Muslim Commentator On Free Speech“, but the intellectual rewards of grappling with those same issues and ideas at a deeper level, usually in essay or book form, are more elusive and consequently less sought-after. It is human instinct to prefer the instant gratification of a cable TV or YouTube screaming match to the deferred pleasure of quiet, patient study, and YouTube was designed to deal up this addictive instant gratification, one video clip after another.

But this dynamic can be bad for the right-wing YouTubers as well as their fans. Those right-wing personalities who work increasingly or exclusively on YouTube as opposed to other more traditional (particularly written) media sometimes tend to lose their intellectual edge and become unable to sustain a debate at a more detailed, complex level of knowledge. In a recent column, Andrew Sullivan notes how Ben Shapiro came a bit unstuck during the Q&A section of his recent much-hyped speech at Berkeley University:

He was effectively pwned on at least two questions, climate change and abortion. One student asked whether a revenue-neutral carbon tax wouldn’t be both conservative in that it doesn’t require much of a bureaucracy, and prudent, given the possibility that climate change could be disastrous — and why not prepare for the worst? Shapiro said he’d never considered such an idea and needed to look at it further. Weak; lame. The idea has been banging around forever. And Shapiro can’t say whether he’s for it or not?

Then he was trounced by a liberal student on the question of why women who have abortions shouldn’t be prosecuted. If Shapiro believes, as he does, they have killed a human being, how could they not be? He dodged at first simply saying he’d prosecute abortionists. When pressed, he argued that many women have abortions without knowing that they are terminating a human life (they’ve been indoctrinated into believing a fetus is the equivalent of a polyp), and so you couldn’t prosecute them for murder or manslaughter because they don’t have the specific intent — the mens rea — to kill. But what, the student responded, about those women who absolutely do know what they are doing and still go through with it? Why not second-degree murder, or accessory to manslaughter, or some other charge. In any other circumstance, someone who plays an essential part in a killing would absolutely have to be charged, right? Shapiro retreated to an incoherent position that even though such women have committed a serious crime, in his view, no one wants to prosecute women for such a thing. But that wasn’t the question. The question was whether he should logically support prosecution. And of course he should.

Now, I’m not saying for a moment that I could or would have handled these questions any better. But you wouldn’t even know that the great Ben Shapiro had been (at best) fought to a draw on these issues judging by the triumphalist YouTube excerpts and subsequent online write-ups declaring that Shapiro had effortlessly dispatched with every stupid leftist opponent in the debate hall:

Shapiro undoubtedly has a bright and incredibly quick mind, but one cannot help but think that his abilities would be put to better use – and be at less risk of eventual atrophy – were he making some smart policy for the Republicans (Lord knows they need it) or writing for a publication which allows more depth, rather than preaching to the choir at his creation The Daily Wire. Even if you allow that Shapiro’s eloquence helps conservatism by bringing more people into the movement, which it probably does, these people are bound to be disappointed when the Republican Party and its diminished intellectual blood bank fail to generate policies which solve real problems in favour of striking cosmetic poses against former president Barack Obama.

There are others in jeopardy, too. Christopher Hitchens once said in an interview that Tucker Carlson (of all people) was a writer that he greatly admired, and that Carlson should not quit the field of writing in order to pursue his then-nascent television career. Now the Fox News host can be found taking easy pot-shots at social justice warriors in his prime-time nightly TV slot, and turning a calculated blind eye to the scandals and calamities emanating from the Trump White House.

Then there are the big beasts of yesteryear trying to reinvent themselves as viral video sensations. Ten years ago, Dinesh D’Souza could be found holding his own against Christopher Hitchens in a series of debates about religion, atheism and the existence of God. Today he makes hysterical conspiracy movies and rants on Twitter about how the Democratic Party is the true heir to Nazi Germany. D’Souza now chases the “Dinesh D’Souza DESTROYS ignorant liberal on gun rights” affirmation and resultant web clicks as his key performance metric, and his output has suffered as a result.

Carlson and D’Souza get away with their shtick because their primary audience of Fox News viewers and secondary audience of conservative YouTube subscribers give them a free pass for making intellectual shortcuts and uncritically lap up everything they say. Were they blogging or writing a regular newspaper column, however, they would find it somewhat harder to stand by some of their least defensible positions, and be forced to refine or discard the most controversial ones. But as video personas they are protected from serious rebuttals – by the time an opponent has researched, written and published a response to one of their videos, the YouTube star has already moved on to three other topics. No retractions (let alone apologies) are necessary or forthcoming when they are proven to have made errors or told falsehoods.

But this is precisely why D’Souza, Carlson & Co no longer operate primarily in print or written media – it has become thankless work, toiling away in a more rigorous medium and subject to higher standards and much closer scrutiny, when the fame, acknowledgement and most of the cash increasingly goes to those people producing (often far more superficial and reactive) video commentary.

Yet were it not for the beat reporters and public intellectuals who work primarily in print, many of the YouTube stars would be starved of half their inspiration and content. Like the megastar football strikers who are dependent on their midfielders to consistently feed them with goal-scoring opportunities, many of the fiesty conservative YouTubers would soon fall silent or become even more repetitious were it not for the journalists and thinkers providing them with a fresh source of rhetorical zingers.

None of this is to say that highbrow print media is necessarily better. In fact, often quite the contrary – the veneer of respectability abused by a charlatan working in the prestige print media can be infinitely more harmful than the ranting of the most popular YouTuber. Just witness how a concerted effort by the print media has normalised the term “undocumented immigrant” over “illegal immigrant”, deliberately downplaying the lawbreaking aspect.

But at least the mere act of writing for the New York Times or some other outlet, as degraded as many of them have become, forces one to go through the motions of laying out a coherent argument, which can then be publicly critiqued and picked apart by others. A five-minute YouTube video implying that Hillary Clinton has Parkinson’s disease, on the other hand, is harder to call out and refute even when it is unsupported by fact – and the people who watch the incendiary video are increasingly unlikely to also see the print rebuttal, and vice versa. The disaggregation of the media market, beneficial in many other ways, unfortunately means that we increasingly talk past one another and operate from entirely different sets of “facts”.

Social media is fast. This makes it great for hot takes and lively debates, but much less suited to the more ruminative consideration of ideology and policy. But is the allure of becoming a YouTube sensation (often as a launchpad to a career in cable news punditry) distracting people with the talent to make a more lasting intellectual contribution to the conservative movement? I would argue that yes, it is.

Many YouTubers are probably good for nothing more than ranting into their webcams every night, but some – again, I think of Ben Shapiro – could and probably should be doing something better with their time. Shapiro has the #1 rated conservative podcast in America (and hence the world). And that’s great. But somebody with his IQ and intellectual pedigree should be more than an Inquisitor for Socialist Wrongthink – they should be helping to formulate the conservative policies which might one day make the Republican Party worth voting for again.

I get the appeal of being a YouTube sensation though, just as I understand from personal experience the allure of watching these people perform rather than, say, cracking open a difficult book at the end of the day and engaging one’s brain. After all, it is tremendously cathartic to watch people you disagree with – whose fundamental worldview is deeply at odds with your own, and whom you find personally irritating – being rhetorically smacked down night after night, generally with the same unchanging set of workhorse conservative arguments.

But we should be wary. If leftists are allowed to complete their occupation of universities, popular culture and the prestige media while we skulk around on YouTube, their worldview will prevail. YouTube can remain our “safe space”, if we must have such a thing, but we must constantly be operating outside our comfort zone if we want to translate our ideas into policies and our policies into outcomes. Representing the YouTube constituency is not enough – we need an active presence in the places where decisions are actually made.

Right now this is sorely lacking. That a Republican congressional majority in America and a (theoretical) Conservative parliamentary majority in Britain have resulted in almost zero good conservative policies being implemented in either country only proves that ranting about the dangers of leftism (Sanders or Clinton in America, Jeremy Corbyn in Britain) is not the same as coming up with a compelling conservative vision with logical policy offshoots.

So how to effect this conservative renewal? The best thing I’ve done all year is to temporarily unplug from the internet, restrict my use of social media and return to tried and tested ways of learning and thinking – by reading books.

On vacation in Greece last week I actually had time to relax, unwind and read a number of books deeply and critically, rather than scanning them urgently, superficially and with the overriding need to produce a hot take, extract an argument or otherwise take a public position on their content. Instead, I lingered over each book and marked them up with comments and questions to be explored at a later date, and while there will be no immediate payoff for having done so, the gradual increase in the baseline of my knowledge should (hopefully) manifest in the overall quality and empathy of my writing. Recognising my tendency to choose saying what I think over thinking about what I think, it was important for me to flip that around for awhile and spend some time recharging the intellectual batteries.

But that’s just me, as a humble blogger. Those with actual power and influence will need to do more, and yesterday I blogged about one such attempt at conservative renewal in Britain. But while I am willing to be proven wrong, I do not believe that this renewal will come from the depths of YouTube.

Donald Trump is walking proof of what happens when someone is swept to the White House not on the back of a coherent conservative policy platform or a particularly inspiring vision, but by angry rants on YouTube and lurid six-way screaming matches on cable news. Yes, this fractious power base can deliver a majority (in the electoral college, at least) but once in power and tasked with being for something rather than against a list of real and imagined foes, nothing gets done.

For how long will Donald Trump boast about having put Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, as though he himself trawled through endless lists of potential jurists, scouring their opinions and dissents in a personal quest to find the quintessential constitutional originalist needed by America? At this rate, Trump will be dining out on that solitary achievement until the end of his term of office – because no further accomplishments are on the horizon right now, that’s for sure. “Build the wall” worked great on YouTube and Fox News, where a policy consisting of three words (seven if you include “and make Mexico pay”) could not be easily picked apart and proved both pointless and unfeasible. But in Washington D.C., where things have to be paid for, policies justified and egos stroked, having the enthusiastic support of Milo Yiannopoulos doesn’t really count for much.

So by all means indulge in a little YouTube time when the mood strikes. It would be hypocritical of me to say otherwise since it can be darn good fun, and I have no intention of quitting altogether. But many of us, myself included, could probably do with dialling it back a notch – or at least seeking out the better quality lectures and debates freely available on that platform. The second-hand opinions of political vloggers are generally (though by no means always) worth less than the first-hand opinions of serious authors, and even a good book cannot compete with doing one’s own primary research.

But since this is the real world and none of us can become experts in everything, those of us with a public audience and the desire to help rather than hinder the conservative movement should at least ensure that we draw our knowledge from a healthier, more balanced information ecosystem.

So there you go: Sam Hooper TOTALLY DESTROYS political YouTubers, and it only took me 3,669 words.

Paul Joseph Watson - YouTube - InfoWars

Support Semi-Partisan Politics with a one-time or recurring donation:

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.

 

Advertisements

The Greatest Threat To American Democracy Is The Sensationalist, Ratings-Obsessed Television News Media

It took two monsters to create Donald Trump, Presidential Candidate Edition: the debased Republican Party of Sarah Palin, and the slavish, contemptible American television news media

After getting heartily sick of watching the British rolling news channels the past few weeks, I decided to spend the last couple of days watching CNN (the US version, not the godawful international version).

It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was almost enough to make one long for the BBC’s barely concealed hysteria at the thought of Brexit and being forcibly ripped apart from their beloved supranational European political union, or Sky’s never-ending quest to be the first news organisation to get their newscopter hovering directly above anything which may or may not turn out to be of interest.

Take today as an example.

For the past four hours, CNN has been reporting the “breaking news” that Donald Trump claims that his campaign has “never been more united” when various Republican talking heads that CNN was able to lure into the studio were willing to say the exact opposite – and hardly surprising, since their presidential candidate is is a proudly ignorant egomaniac with a borderline personality disorder.

This couldn’t even be charitably described as “breaking news” when I first tuned in at around 8PM London time, and it certainly isn’t breaking news four hours later. But still, there it is: “Awaiting Trump Rally In Florida” proclaims the banner, while five disembodied talking heads float on a giant screen behind Wolf Blitzer, waiting to air their opinions.

What you notice watching American news – besides the constant advertisements for dubious pharmaceutical products whose long lists of compulsorily recited side-effects often outweigh their curative properties – is the degree to which everything, and I do mean everything, is about Donald Trump.

(At this point it is worth pointing out to uninitiated British readers that CNN is the closest you’ll get to “objective” cable news reporting in America, with fair ‘n balanced Fox News skewing firmly to the right and MSNBC leaning forward equally firmly left. Not being overt partisan shills for one or other of America’s two main political parties is a nightmare for CNN executives who need high ratings, and so in desperation CNN latches on to every single technical gimmick you can imagine – drone cameras! holograms! – in a desperate bid to make their offering more exciting to fickle viewers).

It is fair to say that were it not for the American television news media, Donald Trump would be filming a new season of The Apprentice and lending his name to another shoddily-made range of “luxury” businesswear right now, rather than facing Hillary Clinton as the Republican Party’s presidential nominee.

This blog has already raked the GOP over the coals for their pitiful part in these dismal proceedings. But in despairing at the intellectually and morally debased Republican Party we should not let the media off the hook.

For the fact is that America’s news networks failed to fulfil their democratic duty by treating a presidential election like it was sweeps week rather than a serious decision with long-term consequences for the future of the republic. Donald Trump makes a great television candidate because he is willing to do and say things – exciting, attention grabbing things – which no other candidate will say. Unfortunately, this nearly always involves Donald Trump being rude, immature, spiteful or wrong about something or someone. But the news networks don’t care. It makes for great TV. And so they show more and more Trump, and less and less of everyone else.

When the Republican Primary campaign was still being fought, at one point we reached the ludicrous position where Senator Marco Rubio made the tactical decision to emulate Donald Trump’s style and start making gratuitously offensive insults and statements of his own, just to try to wrest the attention of the television cameras away from Donald Trump for one wretched moment. Needless to say, it backfired – Rubio could never match Trump’s ability to mock and belittle people, and so he ended up tarnishing his own reputation while doing nothing to halt Trump’s rise.

Donald Trump - Ratings Machine - CBS - Les Moonves - CNN - Television News

My point, I suppose, is this.

There is nothing funny or entertaining about this American presidential election. Voters are faced with a rather dismal choice between a far from universally loved Democratic Party candidate on the one hand and an absolute megalomaniac on the other. And they have been put into this position of not having a decent choice between two valid, honourable but competing political philosophies largely thanks to the decision of the television networks last year to break into their regularly scheduled programming every time Donald Trump raised an eyebrow, while giving the other Republican candidates (let’s face it, many of whom were so hopeless that they really needed a media leg-up of their own) almost zero screen time.

The other candidates had to drop what they were doing and go to Washington or New York if they wanted to be featured on the Sunday shows. Trump was permitted to appear by satellite link or even telephone, so eager were American news executives for a bit of Trump’s verbal gold. And whenever Donald Trump has been interviewed, the questions have frequently been of the most depressingly softball variety. America does not have a Jeremy Paxman figure, or even an Evan Davis (God help them). Nor do they have as strong a tradition of confrontational political interviews as we have in Britain – the tradition of deference to authority is, rather counter-intuitively, very strong in America. And so during all of his unearned media time, Donald Trump has very rarely been faced with a single question which caused him to stumble, despite his lengthy back catalogue of cruel and ignorant public pronouncements. Rarer still has Trump faced a searching follow-up question when he replies with one of his repetitious, opaque defensive statements.

All of which makes Amy Goodman’s excoriation of the American news media very true, and rather refreshing:

The media manufactures consent – for war, for candidates in elections, by bringing you more, for example, of one person. Like Donald Trump. He is pumped into everyone’s home. He can just stay in a gold gilded mansion in New York or one of them in Florida. The rest of the candidates trudge from one state to another. Why does he get this unfiltered pipeline into everyone’s brain, into your eyes and to your consciousness?

It matters. The Tyndall Center did a report in 2015, they looked at the whole year, and they found Donald Trump got 23 times the coverage of, say, Bernie Sanders. They found ABC World News Tonight did something like 81 minutes on Donald Trump and I think they gave Bernie Sanders 20 seconds.

[.] In this high-tech digital age, with high-definition television, digital radio, all we get is static, that veil of distortion and lies and misrepresentations and half truths that obscure reality, when what we need the media to give us is the dictionary definition of static. Criticism. Opposition. Unwanted interference. We need a media that covers power, not covers for power. We need a media that is the fourth estate, not for the state. And we need a media which covers the movements that create static and make history.

Obviously Goodman’s interest was promoting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders (the video was made several months ago before he officially dropped out of the Democratic primary contest), but her critique of the wildly excessive time and attention lavished on Donald Trump by the television news media is dead accurate.

As a Brexit campaigner during the EU referendum, representing an organisation (The Leave Alliance) which was the only group to actually offer a comprehensive Brexit plan yet struggled to get any meaningful media attention, all of these same criticisms apply to the British media too. It’s nice to know that these problems are universally felt on either side of the Atlantic, I guess.

As a small campaign organisation it was almost impossible to get our word out when the television news was racing to cover every last syllable which dribbled from the mouth of Boris Johnson, while our own esteemed experts – including one of Britain’s foremost authorities on the EU – struggled to get journalists to show up to a launch event right in their own Westminster back yard.

Nobody expects perfection from the media. Media companies have to pay the bills too, and often keep shareholders happy. But for so long as telegenic ignoramuses dictate television (and print) coverage to the extent that they do, our democracy will remain vulnerable to demagogues like Donald Trump.

On election night in America, we will see (as we always do) the great and the good of American TV journalism pat themselves on the back and endlessly congratulate themselves about the moving spectacle of democracy which they are helping to transmit to a grateful nation. Brian Williams, Rachel Maddow, Wolf Blitzer, Diane Sawyer, Lester Holt, Dana Bash, Joe Scarborough, Shepard Smith, Chris Wallace, Bret Baier, Greta van Susteren, Andrea Mitchell and all the rest of them will be churning out platitudes about the beauty of democracy faster than you can stick knitting needles in your ears.

This year, they might consider dwelling on the role they have played in debasing and jeopardising that democracy in the tawdry pursuit of ratings.

 

Donald Trump - Make America Great Again

Support Semi-Partisan Politics with a one-time or recurring donation:

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.

More Advice For CNN

Apparently I’m not the only one with words of advice for CNN today.

Ramesh Ponnuru, writing at Bloomberg.com, believes that cable news “talking head” shows are getting a disproportionate share of the blame for the decline in the intellectual standard and civility of American political discourse, and that one way to redress the balance might be…to bring back “Crossfire”.

“Crossfire” is, of course, the show that Jon Stewart memorably mocked for “hurting America” with its adversarial, Left vs. Right format:

 

Ponnuru, however, makes a reasoned argument in favour of resurrecting the format:

By the time Stewart appeared on it to promote his book, the show had degenerated. At its height, though, it did a good job of sharpening political arguments. And the original format, to my mind, has never been bettered.

The show ran for half an hour and examined one question. There were two hosts: one liberal, one conservative, both opinion journalists rather than operatives for a political party. In the early 1990s, Michael Kinsley (now a Bloomberg View columnist) and Patrick Buchanan did the job. There were two guests, usually politicians or public-policy experts on each side of the debate. There was no studio audience.

Each of these features made “Crossfire” better. The one-subject rule made it impossible for the politicians to make it through the show on sound bites alone. That both hosts were journalists made for a fairer debate than the usual practice of today’s political shows, which put journalists up against political operatives.

This idea in its purest form would make a great format for actually getting to the rub of important issues. Spending a full thirty minutes debating an issue means that even the most cookie-cutter, by-the-book politician or political operative will soon run out of approved talking points and eventually have to speak freely based on their underlying core beliefs, better educating the public in the process.

The danger always comes, of course, when new gimmicks are included in an attempt to broaden the appeal of the show – in the case of “Crossfire”, the addition of a live studio audience significantly harmed the show, as hosts and guests alike started pursuing the soundbite that had previously been so successfully kept at bay in the show, in order to win a positive reaction from the audience:

It got worse, as well, when it added a studio audience. Hosts and guests alike now played to the crowd, which itself could add nothing more intelligent to the conversation than hoots and hollers.

Ponnuru concludes:

“Crossfire” was balanced by design, and I bet there would be an audience for it once again. Of course, I’m not a professional TV executive. Then again, the professional executives at CNN sank millions into “Parker Spitzer.” Maybe it’s worth listening to someone else.

If CNN is determined to maintain and consolidate the non-ideologically biased middle ground so thoroughly, depressingly vacated by Fox News and MSNBC, there could be worse ways to go about staging a comeback.

Cable News, Just Give Up

You long ago proved yourselves incapable of any serious, impartial, in-depth analysis of topical news stories.

And whatever claims you had to be the best at delivering breaking news are pretty comprehensively debunked by this failure to correctly call the Supreme Court’s decision on ObamaCare:

 

How about you sit the next few rounds out and leave it to the newspapers and armchair bloggers?

Obama The Inevitable

Well, stop blogging for a month or so and when you come back, the world has turned a little bit. The ratcheting up of the Euro crisis, the effective end to the Republican presidential nomination process, the sudden and complete inability of David Cameron’s Conservative Party to do anything right, in terms of either action or image… Guess I learned something there. Anyway, picking up where I left off in April…

So much handwringing in the media at the moment about President Obama’s political fortunes and reelection prospects!

From Politico:

Nothing inspires Democrats like the Barack Obama swagger – the supreme self-confidence on stage, the self-certainty in private.

So nothing inspires more angst than when that same Obama stumbles, as he has leaving the gate in 2012.

That’s the unmistakable reality for Democrats since Obama officially launched his reelection campaign three weeks ago. Obama, not Mitt Romney, is the one with the muddled message — and the one who often comes across as baldly political. Obama, not Romney, is the one facing blowback from his own party on the central issue of the campaign so far — Romney’s history with Bain Capital. And most remarkably, Obama, not Romney, is the one falling behind in fundraising.

National polls, which had shown Obama with a slight but steady lead over Romney through April, moved into a virtual tie this month — despite Romney’s clumsy conclusion to the GOP race.

And from The Daily Beast:

The dirty little secret of campaigns is that there are usually just two messages. Either: Stay the Course or It’s Time for a Change. When Barack Obama won 53 percent of the popular vote and carried 28 states, just 14 percent of Americans thought we were moving in the right direction. So it was obviously a Time for a Change election. When Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton coasted to easy reelections, the country’s mood was undeniably Stay the Course. The election coming up in November is stuck in between. Americans don’t know whether to forge ahead or swing back.

And watching from across the pond, The Daily Telegraph:

There are storm clouds on the horizon for Barack Obama’s re-election.

Democrats indulged in over-confidence during the Republican primaries. It was an understandable reaction to the chaos that came with all the pandering to the far-Right and the rise of frankly laughable candidates like Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain in the search for an alternative to Mitt Romney.

After that debacle, the Romney campaign manager’s promise of an “etch-a-sketch” moment to re-shake and re-shape public perception about their candidate seemed a dose too hopeful.

But only a month after the Republican primaries all but officially ended, we have a real horserace on our hands.

According to a new Washington Post/ABC poll, 30 percent of Americans say they are worse off than when President Obama took office in the depths of the fiscal crisis. This is comparable to the numbers President George HW Bush faced when he lost re-election to Bill Clinton in 1992.

And right now Obama and Romney are essentially tied when registered voters are asked who would be better at creating jobs and handling the economy.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  Why spend so much time speculating about an event the outcome of which is almost a foregone conclusion?

I understand the motives of the professional media. People will not tune in to The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer or Hardball with Chris Matthews in significant numbers to get their daily dose of the campaign ups and downs if they think that the result is already assured. That would mean less advertising revenues for the networks, and a huge army of unemployed cable news talking heads who would suddenly flood the market and push unemployment back up above 9%. So the word must continue to go out that the uninspirational, unpersonable technocrat who is unable to motivate his base and who campaigns like an electioneering android with a gaffe bug actually poses a serious threat to Obama’s reelection chances.

With regard to the professional media, I think there is also the bias factor. And by that I don’t mean the fact that all news outlets are biased in one direction or another, but actually the fact that all of the television and most print sources (even Fox News to some extent) strive to appear “balanced” when reporting the news, to tell both sides of the story (even if, in Fox’s case, the tone of voice, facial expressions and screen captions help to “guide” the viewer as to which side is correct).

At some point – and not being a student of journalism and media I don’t know when – good television reporting stopped meaning uncovering and reporting the truth, but rather reporting and giving equal weight to both sides of a story. So if Sam says the world is round but Bob says that it is a perfect cube, today’s headline will read “Sam and Bob spar in congress over shape of the world” rather than “Bob effectively ends his career with insane statement”.

But why do we ordinary people do it to ourselves? Are we just led by the media, or is there something else at work too?

I suppose that I will be doing the blogging walk of shame come November this year if the unthinkable occurs and Romney does become president-elect. But seriously. Are we all really so bored and in need of intrigue that we are going to kid ourselves that this one is even going to be close?