In the United States, we have just lived through a historic election. Some of you voted on the right, others on the left and others not at all. But one thing is certain, everyone is exhausted. We lived through a campaign that was historic in terms of outcome, in terms of unexpected results, there were allegations of foreign meddling, and there was endless news coverage, wall to wall coverage that basically lasted for two years. That’s right, the US presidential election seems to last forever. One is over and the next one begins.
Truth be told, this election was covered as no other before it. The coverage was heavy on bombast and light on substance. A candidate’s insults were more newsworthy than an opponent’s policy on healthcare, employment or the tax code. It was reality TV type coverage that was perfectly suited for a reality TV star.
This election cycle also saw the maturing of one of television’s most unpleasant components: punditry and talking points.
There have always been pundits, so-called experts who have something to say about everything, even those things they know nothing about. Television news seems to have developed an addiction to these pundits. They fill time and do so cost-effectively. Instead of putting reporters on the ground and funding their investigative reporting, they put a couple of talking heads in a studio. Cheaper, easier, less controversial.
And then there are talking points. These are the responses that robotic pundits give over and over again.
“What day is it? Blue. What do you mean blue? I asked you about the day and you answer a color? Yes, blue!”
This fictitious exchange may seem exaggerated, but it’s not. There were multiple pundits, I would like to believe the majority, on either side of the political aisle, who would be instructed to push their talking point, that day’s talking point. So no matter what the question, their job was to deliver an answer that was nothing more than a prepared snippet pushing the daily narrative.
“What day is it? Knowing what day it is matters, of course, but more importantly, understanding the value of using the right color for that day is equally as important: blue!” Ask for the day, get the color. That was television coverage of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Rumor has it that some of the networks came out of the 2016 election cycle feeling used. They somehow got the message that they had unwillingly contributed to the rise of baseless claims. I’m not talking about fake news. That’s an entirely different animal. I’m talking about unsubstantiated claims, the kind that always begin with “Americans believe” or “Americans tell us.” How do you know what all Americans are thinking? It did not take a genius fact checker to expose the fact that pundits were continuously delivering skewed, if not outright false, statements, data and presumed evidence. To hear some of their responses, you would have thought that Hillary Clinton was a Salem Witch and Donald Trump was a Russian Spy. We’ll see, maybe one of those will turn out to be true. But you see, I shouldn’t be saying that. Until the evidence is delivered, I and all others who write and speak in the public domain should have respect for findings. Speak from evidence and if you hear falsehood, correct it with evidence.
My personal hope is that we will now revert to serious news gathering. The news media’s job is to be the Fourth Estate. We should not be putting as many talking heads forward unless said talking heads have evidence or rise to the level of expertise that justifies their presence. Hearing some wannabee supporter spew pre-established talking points is not expertise. Being the ex-Director of the CIA and being asked a question about national security is expertise.
Enough with the paid, politically partisan, under or misinformed pundits. All they deliver is background noise. Get back to the news.