Editorial by John Ziegler

The absurdity of "punditry"

6/4/2002

Don't ask me why, but over this past weekend I found myself watching the "Kudlow & Cramer" show on CNBC. What caught my eye was that former prominent pundit and the liberal media's favorite historian, Doris Kerns Goodwin, was on the program.

Ordinarily, this fact would have made me immediately change the channel to something with a little more credibility and redeeming social value (like an old "Baywatch" rerun perhaps), but this occasion was very different. This was the first time that I had seen Goodwin poke her head out of the hole of ignominy since she was caught in a major plagiarism scandal.

While I was pleasantly surprised that Goodwin's transgressions (which in prior years would have carried a virtual "death penalty" for an historian) had been forced to cancel several college addresses and resign her position on the selection board of the Pulitzer prizes, I had been waiting to see how long her TV punditry "detention" would last. I was certain that, in the world where even a convicted slanderer and spewer of hatred like Al Sharpton is still welcome on nearly every TV talk show he chooses, it was only a matter of time before Goodwin's liberal friends welcomed her back with open arms.

At first glance, it seemed strange to see her reappear on a show with two hosts who could hardly be considered "liberal." Lawrence Kudlow and Jim Cramer are certainly as conservative as one gets, at least on economic issues. But, upon further review, Goodwin's reemergence on "Kudlow & Cramer" makes a lot of sense. After all, when it comes to "media punditry," self-interest will trump ideology nearly every time.

You see, both Kudlow and Cramer have skeletons in their own closet. Kudlow nearly had drug and alcohol abuse destroy both his career and his life. Ironically, Cramer is also an admitted addict. His new book, "Confessions of a Street Addict," is in part both a response and confirmation of some extremely unflattering charges (including insider trading and conflicts of interest) made in another book by a former employee of his. There is no doubt that both Cramer and Kudlow have an interest in lowering the character bar for whom is allowed the privilege of getting paid to pontificate on TV.

So it really should not have been a surprise that Kudlow and Cramer decided to set the Goodwin precedent that will surely be soon followed by others (I predict Chris Matthews followed by Brian Williams). But even I was slightly taken aback when both Kudlow and Cramer not only didn't even mention why Goodwin had been away from the airways of late, but also lavishly praised her work and stature.

But what was really stupefying was that, despite the convenient lack of details, both hosts referenced and touted her return to TV where, according to Cramer, "she belongs." This seemed much like interviewing Gary Condit and not even mentioning the death of Chandra Levy (which I am convinced Larry King would do if he thought he could get away with it).

Regardless, promoting a "celebrity get" interview (the idea that any historian could be called a "celebrity" indicates a large part of the problem here) without asking the guest a remotely provocative question brings having it "both ways" to heights with which only beautiful women and Bill Clinton are familiar.

As someone who makes a living as a TV "pundit" as well as someone who occasionally books guests myself, I am insulted by what the TV talk industry has become. As the Goodwin story illustrates, who gets picked to have their opinions heard is determined by a process in which knowledge, credibility and character have almost no influence. Instead, personal contacts & agenda, looks, celebrity, and convenience usually rule the day.

I have seen a male lawyer, who was arrested for beating up his girlfriend, "play" the feminist perspective on the Andrea Yates case. I have witnessed a radio talk show host dupe CNN into booking him and his own adversaries to discuss a controversy that involved a media company for which the host was in negotiations and for which he now works (and, coincidentally, supported on the broadcast). I have watched as media newspaper writers literally beg producers whose shows that they write about for the opportunity to appear on their programs.

I myself was once asked on a Friday by a cable TV network to talk about the US spy plane that went down in China (I declined because I was not qualified; imagine that!) and then on the following Monday by the very same network to discuss the possibility that Tiger Woods may be G-d (I accepted).

The bottom line is that the next time you suspect that the pundit you're watching on that talk show is there for all the wrong reasons trust your instincts. They are probably far more reliable than anything that comes from a confirmed plagiarist.

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