Posts Tagged ‘pundits’

Rioters burned Priestley's home not for what he did, but for what he said about revolution.

Extremists are never bored.

Tom Junod’s remarkable piece on Fox News mogul Roger Ailes in Esquire magazine is well worth your time anyway, but for rhetoricians and students of political argument it’s pure gold–a look inside the head of the man who is largely responsible for the shape of American political discourse. It’s a long article but it pays back the effort with chestnuts like these:

What Roger Ailes has done at Fox is find a way to mainstream extremity for fun and, of course, for profit. He’s found out that people need the validating experience of extremity in the same way that he does. And he takes extreme positions and says extreme things because he needs to, because they allow him to make the choice that’s at the heart of his power.

If nothing else, Junod should be given an award of some kind for coming with a phrase that encapsulates so much about where American political discourse (and increasingly global political discourse) is today.  The “validating experience of extremity”– a notion big enough to capture both the vague anger of everyday people struggling to make the mortgage payment and the kind of madness that drove Jared Lee Loughner– is a phenomenon we should all be watching very closely.  There is perhaps no single, more important fact about the current political environment than that it is driven by this experience.

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An interesting distinction is made by Andrew Cline in this recent post on his rhetoric and journalism blog, Rhetorica, between “punditry” and “opinion journalism”.

According to Cline, opinion journalism is reporting informed by or explicitly written from a particular political perspective.  It includes acting as a “custodian of fact” and observing a “discipline of verification”.  The offers this description of that discipline via a link to an older post:

A discipline of verification should be basic to any practice that we would understand as journalism. Practicing such a discipline means that journalists must be custodians of fact, i.e. journalists should get to the bottom of civic disputes by gathering and verifying facts rather than simply allowing interested sources to spout off. Journalists should protect the facts from those who would spin them, ignore them, or distort them. When journalists don’t practice this discipline, they are guilty of spinning, ignoring, and distorting, often in the name of fairness and balance.

As to being a custodian of fact, Cline has this to say in another older post on Rhetorica:

What I’m getting at here is this: facts are not necessarily easy things to nail down unless we’re measuring (and even then we can run into problems). […] There can be no argument over facts in themselves. We argue about how facts are measured and what facts mean. And we argue about assertions of fact until such assertions are established as fact. Reporters should consider the statements by sources as assertions of fact until such time as the reporter can establish them as facts. The news organization, then, should not publish unverified assertions without disclaimers or qualifiers.

In contrast to opinion journalism, according to Cline, punditry is simply about “winning politically” and does not include the imperatives to be a custodian of fact or to follow a discipline of verification.


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