Are American pundits human: As we’ve noted many time, the current debate about domestic violence in the NFL has provided a chance to watch the way our national pundits reason.
As we’ve watched this debate unfold, pundit behavior has almost always struck us as barely human. This morning, on The Diane Rehm Show, Michelle Bernard provided the ultimate example.
Bernard is a slightly strange duck in national pundit terms. When she began appearing on Hardball in January 2008, she was still president of the Independent Women’s Forum, a conservative group.
When Obama won the Democratic nomination, she seemed to reinvent herself as a fiery liberal, as least for the purposes of MSNBC. In the final week of the Democratic primary campaign, she also established herself as one of cable’s most irrational Clinton-haters.
Whatever! Today, Bernard is a familiar pundit on MSNBC. This morning, she joined a panel to help Diane Rehm discuss the NFL’s tax-exempt status.
Needless to say, the focus wandered off in search of hotter buttons. As we type, the transcript isn’t available yet, and we didn’t hear the entire program. But around the 38-minute mark of the audiotape, you can hear Bernard offer a profoundly incoherent presentation:
REHM (9/24/14): Andrew, we’ve just gotten a tweet from Sheila, who said: “Did Andrew actually condone a ‘light slap’ as opposed to a cold-cock? Seriously, domestic violence to any degree is wrong.”Is a light slap a less serious offense than a violent punch? It may depend on the circumstances. But in legal proceedings, such judgments are rendered all the time, in countries all over the world.
ZIMBALIST: Oh, of course it’s wrong. It’s terribly wrong. I’m just saying that if somebody does light-slap his spouse, that it deserves a different penalty, or one might think about a different penalty, than somebody who cold-cocks and knocks out a spouse.
BERNARD: This is why we have a domestic violence problem in this country. The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter what behavior you engage in. If it falls under the umbrella of domestic violence, everyone should get the same penalty. There’s no difference between a slap in the face, a cold-cock, cursing somebody out, demeaning someone, all of them are forms of domestic violence that begin to escalate to the point in time where sometimes we see people lose their lives.
And because we can have an attitude that a light slap in the face is different than a cold-cock, that is why domestic violence continues to grow and grow and grow and it never ends.
Set that fact to the side. Bernard ends up saying that “cursing out” or “demeaning” your spouse is a form of domestic violence too. She says those behaviors should get the same penalty as violently punching your spouse and all other forms of domestic violence.
Surely, she can’t mean that. Some forms of domestic violence result in people going to prison for many years. Does Bernard think that a person should go to prison if he or she “demeans his or her spouse?”
Plainly, that’s what she said. Can she possibly mean that?
On its face, Bernard’s statement doesn’t seem to make sense. But so what? Rehm simply plowed ahead to a highly familiar point we’ve all heard a million times.
The program proceeded as if Bernard had just made perfect sense.
Routinely, cable discussions of the Ray Rice case have been almost this incoherent. This makes us wonder if the people in question are actually human. We think the syndrome often works something like this:
Routinely, it seems that pundits can’t function unless they’re repeating familiar versions of standard talking-points.
Truth to tell, almost everything you hear on cable is a reworking of something you’ve heard a million times before. It’s very rare to hear a pundit state an original point.
In cable chases of the current type, the pundits will all express the same general position. In such instances, a pundit can only distinguish himself by presenting the standard view in the most overstated way.
This may provide good entertainment and a pleasing sense of outrage. But when a society functions that way, that society—our society—has ceased to be able to reason.
We have rarely heard pundits explain what should have been done to Rice, whether by the courts, the NFL or the Ravens. In truth, we rarely hear pundits discuss the role of the courts in this case at all.
It’s all about chasing the NFL while voicing our moral outrage. When someone finally tries to explain what we ought to do, they end up making a crazy statement, as Bernard did today.
Can our pundits reason at all? The answer is far from clear. This raises a striking meta-question:
Are American pundits human? How about Bernard?