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Why do we need pundits?

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Why do people watch or listen to political pundits? Why would anyone need to listen to a pundit in order to 'know' what their own position on the issues should be? Isn't it clear that most of these pundits are imposing their own spin on things, their own political correctness, and in the larger part are following someone else's agenda - a particular political party, a corporation etc?

Why the would a reasonable, intelligent, thinking person need to have their thoughts and perceptions argued by someone else? Unless they do not care about using their brain and making their own conclusions and prefer to do it the easier way - someone else doing the brain work for them? Isn't it enough that today's news journalism itself is spinning things (but in a more subtle way - by the manner a certain news program is presenting events and facts), that we need pundits to waste our time with useless verbiage and brain-washing?

To me it should be like watching a football game (yes, I am European, so I obviously mean a soccer game). You watch the game, and all the commentator is doing is to tell what is happening on the field. I do not even need that, I would have switched the commentary off if possible and only listen to the reactions of the spectators - they are more telling than any commentator. But at least he is not trying to make me a fan of either team. After the match, I do not go on watching the sports pundits analysing the game. Because they cannot tell me anything new. All they would try to do is explain to me what I have just seen on the screen, but through their own perspective. No thanks!

To follow the example even further, we can compare with the famous example of Chomsky (in Milan Rai, "Chomsky's Politics") where he listens in to an American talk-back show about sport. The "ordinary" people are able to describe, in exceptional detail, the various strategies and moves of the different teams, the strengths and weaknesses of the different players and express their opinion on these matters with enthusiasm. Yet these are the same people who avoid involvement in politics and public affairs on the grounds that it is too hard, they don't know anything about it, and its best left to experts.

Of course, there is this large number of viewers who just want some entertainment, because their lives are already so dull that the best occupation they can come up with in the evening is watching several people quarreling inside the magic TV box or rather, agreeing to each other and bashing someone who is not even present there to defend themself. And there is this large segment of people who, being too uncertain about their own political/social convictions and about their life in general, need someone to reassure them, and so they use these programs like some kind of echo-chamber, where their own prejudices are comfortably being amplified (after being thoroughly shaped by these same 'political gurus' of course). To such viewers, the pundits are definitely great specialists who know everything, so why not listen to them and believe them - they look so smart and they speak such sophisticated language, and they never stop talking for hours, so they must know a thing or two, right? And look, they are saying exactly what I am thinking, or what I believe I am thinking, so they must be right; I must be right!

I will not deny that there are also many (hopefully, like the majority of the readers here) who only watch this from time to time, and they do not buy much of the stuff in there, but prefer to question everything which is said by the political pundits. Asking questions, doubting what we hear - isn't this what makes us humans? Otherwise, we are sheeple. Anyone's sheeple - be it liberal, conservative, libertarian, progressive, leftist, anarchist, monarchist, any kind of -ist. And either a Hannity or an O'Reilly, or an Olbermann or anyone like them is our 'shepherd'.

We could this lead people? In the same place as it led Adolf Eichmann, the logistics expert who organised the deportation of millions to extermination and concentration camps across Europe. As Hannah Arendt pointed out, Eichmann was no psychopath; he was not a person who hated Jews etc. Rather, he prided himself in that he always obeyed the law, he had only a marginal interest in politics and was completely lacking in moral considerations. In other words, we really was simply following orders; the orders of his pundit.

With devastating effectiveness the social psychologist Stanley Milgram whose famous experiments confirmed Arendt's theory (as did the follow-up prison experiments). Ordinary people, with the right incentives and argued from a position of authority, would commit acts that they would consider - in a different time and place - to be absolute immoral.

Plato once argued (The Republic, 347c) - correctly in my opinion - that people who do not involve themselves in politics, will suffer governance worse than themselves. But there is a more dangerous side to this as well; that we do not involve ourself in politics and we do not engage in reflection of what our leaders say. Because contrary to what many would like us to believe, we can determine what is good and what is true without having to listen to the authority of pundits, selected by those who would rather we did not think for ourselves.

A shorter version of this article first appeared on the livejournal group talk_politics

Commenting on this Page will be automatically closed on May 24, 2009.


The Platonic vision of citizenship is one I respect tremendously: a good citizen is one who is active in the politics of his society. I think you have characterized the relationship between pundits and the citizenry as one between father and son. I do not obey my pundit as I might my father. I do admire Jon Stewart's particular talent of using humor to be critical.

Aren't pundits being good citizens? They are actively involving themselves in the politics of their society the only way they know how. Being involved in politics doesn't mean making unilateral decisions as citizens; being involved means being willing to join a discussion and talk. One of the foundations of the Isocratic charter is the hope that policy (be it foreign policy or economic policy) would be tailored on a case-by-case basis to the needs of the problem. The solution would be arrived at through discussions.

If the relationship between pundit and citizen has grown to become paternalistic, that is the fault of the citizenry, not the pundit. We all ought to be pundits; we all ought to offer our own analysis and opinions. The key is that the pundit-citizen must be willing to discuss his view and modify it accordingly.

Well put free_exchange. Especially the argument we all should be pundits - and more. Actively engaged in the political process as members of civil society, making use of our critical mental faculties of judgment, reflection and action.

Of course, one element we have to look at is how the (monopolistic, capital-intensive) mass media is used my mainstream pundits for the expression of politically correct views; that is, a debate framed only in the boundaries established by the media owner and, by extension, their loyal editors.

Whilst this is still the dominant media, a massive reduction in entry costs (such as via Internet technologies) have improved things greatly. Yes, there is a lot of dross, and foolish, ill-thought arguments online. But at least they are genuine expressions, and have the potential to improve, rather than the self-selected voices of authority.

Further to this there is also the way that political institutions are organised. It is my considered opinion on the matter that public representation needs to be replaced by public delegation. Further, the delegative authority needs to be radically reduced. In Australia, for example, in the first Federal elections the average seat represented around 10,000 electors. Today it is roughly 100,000. Thus the potential of the public directly influencing engaging in the Federal politics is weakened and the distance of the parliamentarian from the people is enormous. Little wonder politicians are seen as out of touch.

You are right that why we need to listen or watch these political pundits in order to know about what is going on in the current political matters of our country. These political pundits are sometime following the agenda of any political party and used to take side of their own party.
You are right that it is just like watching a football match in which if you switch off the commentary you can watch what is going on and can also judge with the reaction of spectators.

I think that you are right. Most of the political pundits try to impose their own views and concepts on others. I am not saying this that everyone of them belongs to a political party and they just trying to defend their own party. But every pundit has his views and concepts and they think that whatever they say is right.
There are many people who are a big fan of these political pundits as most of the people do not have enough time to spend on gossips so they just watch these shows where they try to get informed "what their own position on the issues should be?"

It is obviously right that we all listen to the political pundits in order to know what is going on in our country politics and in that condition what our own condition should be?
These political pundits are normally related to any political party and in all their discussion and opinions they always take side of their own political party which is not fair. They must be fair with all the political party and they must point out all that rubbish issues in our political system even the issues relate to their own party.

You have raised a very important issue, "why do we need political pundits"? Actually we all are busy in our routine life and do not have enough time to spend on our political issues. Now to see what is going on in the politics of our country and what our own position on the issues should be? We used to listen these political pundits. Like every guy has its own view point, in the same way the political pundits have also their own view point. And they impose their own suggestions and ideas instead of realizing the actual situation. We all listen to these pundits and we just follow them instead of using our own mind.
You are absolutely right that it is just like a football match in which you don't need to listen the commentator as you can see the whole game by yourself and also the reaction of the spectators.

Because they're wrong.

The pundit class in American media has long been deservedly regarded with disdain. They are, as a group, an arrogant collection know-nothings who, via intense self-delusion, think they know it all. I addressed this sorry situation four years ago when I labeled them The PEP Squad: Perpetually Erroneous Pundits. The gist of that essay was to point out that once you become a member of the fraternity it doesn’t matter how much you get wrong, you will still be invited back to deliver more of your bad advice.

Now there is evidence from an academic study of contemporary punditry that shows that the accuracy of most pundits is no better than 50/50. So if you can flip a coin you’re as smart as the average pundit.
A new breed of voting forecasters won't replace pundits but elections of the future could be won by the party with the best stats