I Pledge Allegiance to My Favorite Pundit ......
At any of my presentations on Media Literacy, one of my favorite parts is giving the audience a chance to ask questions. Inevitably, at least one person will ask if pundits can be trusted.
My answer to the question is twofold. I start by suggesting they search PunditFact at https://www.politifact.com/punditfact/ to look at the wonderful fact checking the site provides on many of the pundits’ claims. Second, I urge them to distinguish between political commentary and political reporting. Unlike old fashioned reporting, pundits are expected to give their opinions. However, the problem is that pundits are mixing both commentary and reporting and causing confusion for listeners and viewers.
In a June 7th, 2017 opinion piece by CNN political commentator Sally Kohn, Kohn wrote “that she was often criticized on Twitter for not strictly reporting fact but expressing her opinions.” She added that as a political commentator on CNN, “that was literally my (her) job. I am paid for my opinions. Yet this seems to confuse some people.”
She goes on to explain that what has changed is the nature of news coverage.
“Once upon a time, opinions about news events were relegated to the editorials and op-ed pages of newspapers, and the rest of the news media was supposed to try its best to leave its biases at the door. But early innovators introduced opinion where news reporting once dominated, starting to blur the line. The punditocracy became a fixture of cable news, and the distinction between reporting and opinion got even blurrier. Bias is basically the job description.”
The inability of news to clearly separate political commentary and political reporting is worrisome. It ignores the bias entrenched in political commentary and reinforces confirmation bias. Pundits give news consumers someone who agrees with them 24/7 while often garnering blind trust. The late Cleveland Amory, reporter and writer for national publications from the 1950's through the 1990's, clearly had an opinion on pundits when he said some of these pundits are journalists "in the sense that a woodpecker is a carpenter."
For more reading on this topic I suggest the book titled “From News to Talk: The Expansion of Opinion and Commentary in US Journalism” by Kimberly Meltzer.
Sally Kohn, “Facts You Don’t Like Are Not Fake News”, USA Today Opinion, June 17, 2017
Howard Rosenberg and Charles Feldman, No Time to Think, Continuum International Publishing Group, New York, 2008