WHEN PUNDITS (FAIL TO) STATE FACTS! George Stephanopoulos spent his day correcting his panels failed facts: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, JUNE 2, 2009
Know-nothing speaks: Were getting ahead of ourselves just a tad. But does anyone think that Richard Cohen knows what hes talking about?
With the power invested in pundits, Cohen knows what Sotomayor meant in her now-famous 32 words. But does anyone think he knows what hes talking about when he opines about her decision in the New Haven case?
In his earlier column (click here), its clear he thinks that Frank Ricci got a raw deal. But that doesnt necessarily mean that Sotomayor (and her fellow panelists) judged the case wrong. Is there any reason to think that Cohen knows a durned thing about the state of the law in this contentious, crabbed area?
The law can sometimes be an assand the law in this case seems rather complex. Does any sane person think that Cohen has any idea what hes talking about? In our system, big pundits rarely so burden themselves. Keep reading to see how a panel of pundits performed on Sundays This Week.
Part 2When pundits (fail to) state facts: Lets give him some credit: At least Jeff Sessions knew how to state the Standard Complaint against Sonio Sotomayor. Was Sessions troubled by those 32 words, David Gregory asked on Meet the Pressby Sotomayors now-famous statement? Yes, he was troubled, Sessions replied. Explaining, the solon said this:
Is Sotomayor willing to set aside her personal biases and background? Is she willing to give an objective ruling? The question can best be answered by analysis of the judges rulings.
But Sotomayor had spoken to this very issue in the now-famous, eight-year-old speech which caused such a major tizzy last week. This is what she said in that speech, describing the way she proceeds on the benchevery day, she said:
I owe [people] constant and complete vigilance in checking my presumptions and perspectives, Sotomayor said. But wouldnt you know it? Gregory didnt find that highly relevant passage when he put her 32 words in wider context (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/1/09). But then, we havent seen any big scribe cite that relevant statement.
Lets be frank. So it goes when our dumbest elite attempts to perform its duties.
No, our millionaire scribes arent especially skilled at putting things in wider context. But then, this hapless elite isnt very good at even the simplest tasks. Consider what happened to George Stephanopoulos on Sundays This Week, when a panel of hapless pundits kept bungling the most basic facts.
Poor George! Ed Gillespie was one of his guestsand he quickly bungled a simple fact. Granted, Gillespie is more pol than pundit; hes former chair of the RNC. But wouldnt you know it? The first time Gillespie opened his mouth, he attempted to state a fact. As often happens on Sunday panels, his fact was just flat wrong:
That would be a legitimate question, although its significance would be meager. But Gillespies fact was just flat wrong. His host had to clean matters up:
Stephanopoulos knew this bone-simple fact. But then, George would spend a lot of time this day helping his panelists with their facts. Moments later, George Will tried to state (or imply) a fact. The host had to help him too:
All week long, pundits had been saying (and implying) that there was something unusual about that perfunctory, cursory, unsigned opinion (more tomorrow). By Friday afternoon, Goldstein had developed and posted some factsfacts which seemed to say something different. But so what! Will went ahead with the standard suggestion. Once again, it was left to Stephanopoulos to insert the relevant facts.
Lets be candid. If a host wants facts on his Sunday show, hell likely have to provide them. At one point, Jan Crawford Greenburg rambled ahead, killing time in largely incoherent fashion. Once again, Stephanopoulos had to insert some relevant factsfacts hed likely learned that day, from reading his Week in Review:
To this day, were not entirely sure what Greenburg meant in this rambling statementwhy the observation she cites would count as a problem for Sotomayor. But once again, it was left to Stephanopoulos to insert some relevant facts. Studies suggest that men and women judges dont rule the same way in discrimination cases, he noted. Those studies suggest that Sotomayor might have been more right than OConnor on this empirical question. (Though youre right: None of this was especially relevant to the charges at hand.)
At any rate, we begin to see the pitiful way this program proceeded on Sunday. Again and again, it was left to the host to introduce facts into the hapless conversation being formed by his guests. By Sunday, a range of highly relevant facts had emerged, largely on the web, concerning the charges against Sotomayor. Again and again, it seemed Stephanopoulos knew these factsbut his dull-witted guests did not.
Lets summarize a few basic factsfacts which had emerged on the web long before Sundays broadcast. Any journalist should have known these facts before appearing on Sundays program:
Lets state the obvious: That third set of facts is highly relevant to the prevailing charge against Sotomayor. But viewers of this panel discussion never heard that set of facts cited. Luckily, they heard a reference to those facts if they watched the entire program. In Stephanopoulos earlier segment with two senators, these highly relevant data had been citedby Stephanopoulos, of course:
Lets tell it straight about Sundays This Week. If it werent for the facts the host somehow knew, there would have been few facts at all.
During the panel, one guest did perform fairly well. That was panelist Krugman, who only got to make two short comments about the Sotomayor matter. As for the other four panelists? It often seemed Stephanopoulos was staging a pageant starring the four dullest kids in the school. They offered wandering, incoherent narrativesnarratives featuring rather vague claims. They offered very few factsand such facts as they offered were wrong.
Somehow, Stephanopoulos knew basic facts. Greenburg, Will and Ifill seemed remarkably free of such baggage.
But then, this upper-end, celebrity press corps has long constituted our dumbest elite. They often seem like they have been picked from the dullest kids in the whole school system. On Sunday, big pundits displayed little skill when they tried to provide wider context. And they seemed to know amazingly few basic facts.
But then, how dull was the mainstream press corps last week? They were very dull indeed. Just consider the much-bleated claim about Sotomayors unusual order.
Tomorrowpart 3: Well start with Krauthammer. Who else?
Our dullest elites fact-free discourse: The modern pundit will always avoid citing relevant facts. Theres a very good reason for this act of avoidance: He or she has usually avoided learning such facts.
As an example of this cultural preference, heres what happened when Stephanopoulos asked Greenburg, a legal journalist, about Sotomayors judicial record. Jan, you studied her opinions, he rather foolishly said:
That was extremely thin gruel. How hard had Greenburg studied?
Obvious background: All week long, the discussion had turned on charges about the way Sotomayor would handle issues of race, ethnicity, gender. At SCOTUSblog, Goldstein had developed some relevant data about her past work in this area. Greenburg never cited those facts. (Nor did she have much else to say about the judges record.) But then, people who watched this roundtable segment never heard Goldsteins data at all. In large part, they didnt hear about those data because of Greenburgs know-little answer.
Earlier, Krugman had seemed to mention the data. (You can safely assume that hed seen them.) At some point in this panel discussion, they should have been cited in full:
At this point, Stephanopoulos turned to Greenburgand he got the fact-free ramble we have presented above.
Was Sotomayor trying to be entertaining with her now-famous 32 words? We have no idea; were sorry Krugman used so much of his (very valuable) time with this speculation. But viewers deserved to hear about Goldsteins data, data taken from Sotomayors judicial record. Krugman introduced the topic. As usual, thats right where it died.
Gack. So it goes when our dullest elite pretends to stage Sunday discussions. From there, its on to the watering-holes, where the fine gossip begins.