WE'RE ALL MANCHURIAN NOW: A taxonomy of the pundit class!

MONDAY, JUNE 6, 2016

Part 1—The creatures on the ark:
In yesterday's Washington Post Sunday Magazine, Paul Farhi finally went there.

Farhi wrote an introductory essay, an essay which should have been written long ago. He discussed the taxonomy and the culture of Washington's pundit class.

As always, taxonomy first! Farhi sketched it thusly, even including pay scales:
FARHI (6/5/16): After the campaign started and the pundits started yakking, ratings for all three cable networks, once in seemingly terminal decline, rebounded to nearly Iraq-War levels. There are now so many cable pundits—CNN has about 100 on its payroll, while MSNBC and Fox declined to provide numbers—that it’s hard to tell them apart.

Some pundits are “contributors.” Some are “analysts.” Still others are “commentators” or “strategists.”

The secret pundit decoder works like this: A “contributor” (such as Meghan McCain) is an exclusive network hireling who gets paid for his or her sound bites. He or she earns a fee for each appearance or a flat amount for being on call, like a firefighter, whenever his or her services are required. The amounts can range from around $150 per “hit” to the mid-six figures for a marquee name such as Karl Rove or David Axelrod, both former campaign savants and presidential advisers. An “analyst” (such as CNN’s David Gergen or David Gregory, the former host of “Meet the Press”) is a salaried or contract employee who is expected to analyze the day’s Narrative rather than opine about it like a contributor. A “strategist” is usually a part-timer and a partisan hired for his or her political experience and insight.

Not that these rules really matter. Analysts contribute opinions, contributors analyze and strategists do both.

Then there are “guests,” Punditstan’s temporary-worker class. Guests typically aren’t paid, and often aren’t even identified as guests.
Farhi notes that he has occasionally appeared as a cable news "guest." So have we, long ago, when we did, among other spots, one Crossfire, six O'Reillys, one Diane Rehm and three separate hours on C-Span's Washington Journal, including the time when a window-washer suddenly appeared directly behind us, swinging erratically on a board precariously held by ropes.

("It only would happen on Bob Somerby's program," Brian Lamb appreciatively said at the 41-minute mark. Later, we kicked ourselves for our slow reaction. Covering our notes, we should have said this: "Do you really think that's a window-washer?")

Just to be completely clear: Presumably, Farhi meant that pundit pay ranges from "$150 per hit" (per appearance) to "mid-six figures" as an annual salary.

Not that it really matters. As Farhi notes, nothing we'd normally think of as rules seems to apply within this highly Manchurian realm.

Farhi hadn't yet completed his basic pundit taxonomy. A bit later, he continued to name the various beasts of the field who file up the ramp and onto the cable news ark:
FARHI: CNN has pioneered another variation on the theme during this election season: the “supporter.” Last year, it hired two commentators to defend Trump, Jeffrey Lord and Kayleigh McEnany (Scottie Hughes, another Trump supporter, is a frequent CNN guest). It has also had a Bernie Sanders booster (Jonathan Tasini), one for Ted Cruz (Amanda Carpenter), one for Jeb Bush (Ana Navarro) and multiple ones for Hillary Clinton. Poor John Kasich; no one on CNN was paid to spin for him.

The taxonomy of punditry can be further subdivided by background and personality. There are former campaign operatives and party hacks (Nicolle Wallace and Rick Tyler on MSNBC, Paul Begala and Donna Brazile on CNN, Rove on Fox), lifelong journalists (The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson on MSNBC) and even a lapsed politician or two (Michael Steele and Joe Scarborough on MSNBC). Yes, there’s a certain credentialism at work; the average dentist or truck driver, no matter how brilliant or witty his or her opinions, has no chance of ever moving to Punditstan. And there are, of course, degrees of temperament and vehemence: A rigorously nonpartisan analyst such as CNN’s Gloria Borger rarely throws bombs while others (think Fox News’s Andrea Tantaros) have crafted a career out of lobbing them.
In that passage, Farhi names our current favorite "supporter," Kayleigh McEnany. We like her for what seems to be a genuinely mellow disposition and for the reason why she's so frequently on the air.

In naming Scarborough, he even flirts with extending his taxonomy to the realm of cable news hosts. Our guess:

That is a place to which no paid journalist, not even Farhi, will ever be willing to go. You will never see a paid journalist discuss the work of Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow or Anderson Cooper. As we've told you again and again, it simply isn't done.

(In the case of Matthews, that bit of law has been demonstrated by the silence extended to his routinely crazy work down through the past twenty years—the same silence which has been extended to the work of Maureen Dowd. By their silence, the press corps has made it clear that they observe a professional code of silence. In turn, we liberals have made it clear that we're too hypnotized, and too compliant, to see through this ongoing scam.)

There's more of interest in Farhi's piece than we've mentioned today. For ourselves, we were most amused by his report that CNN now "has about 100 [pundits] on its payroll."

No one who has watched that channel could be surprised by that census count. CNN now features extremely large pundit panels—and these panels will change in the course of an hour, in the manner of an NHL team changing lines on the fly.

We've mentioned hypnosis, and Manchuria, for a reason.

This morning, we watched what may have been the worst segment of Morning Joe we have ever seen. We actually thought we were seeing new peak Morning Joe.

To our ear, the phoniness exceeded past peak Morning Joe. The dumbness exceeded even Trump, who is now being savaged to an extent which surpasses the way he was fawned over, lionized, on that same ridiculous program not too long ago.

We've also marveled, over the weekend, at much of the punditry concerning the death of Muhammad Ali. For our money, Josh and Judis may have taken the cake, but the phony adherence to silly-bill script was widespread, sad, typical, faux.

(To state the obvious: As is routinely the case at such times, these script-readings are often designed to enhance the position and status of the pundit, not to inform people about the life and times of the historical figure in question—in this case, the life and times of the widely-admired Ali.)

For ourselves, we watched Chinatown over the weekend. We then returned to the first half of The Manchurian Candidate, with its relentless theme of hypnosis, brainwashing and self-hypnosis.

For our previous post on the 1962 film, just click here.

Are we all Manchurian now? Each film offers a portrait of massive political corruption and dysfunction. For our money, The Manchurian Candidate blew Chinatown away this weekend as a portrait of these ridiculous times.

We keep encountering ludicrous work from all parts of the pundit ark. Are we all Manchurian now? With brief returns to Farhi's text, we'll examine that question all week.

Tomorrow: A major pundit seems to loathe the so-called white working-class


  1. "Farhi wrote an introductory essay, an essay which should have been written long ago. He discussed the taxonomy and the culture of Washington's pundit class."

    Bob Somerby, who in seventeen plus self described "futile years" never included "what should have been written" as part of his own musings.

    1. I would like to hear Bob tell the tale of "Rachel and the Very Large Salary" again.

    2. Lets all take a stab at suggesting what this troll 11:02 should have written instead of what he did in comments.

    3. How about a taxonomy of the commetariat, classifying them into conservative creeps, mentally ill people, liberals with too much time on their hands, refugees from (or to) Kevin Drum's blog, love charm spammers, teachers/education professionals, paid political operatives, weirdos attracted by a post from their natural habitats (Zimmerman defenders, MRAs, Somerby haters ...who have I left out?

  2. Our guess? Bob is fudging (another word for lying, prevaricating, exaggerating, fibbing, hedging, etc.) when he writes:

    "Our Guess:"

  3. I like being Manchurian a lot more than I liked being Georgian.

  4. Because ESPN "Outside The Lines" believes Ali was jailed for dodging the draft (Ali never spent a day in jail), now the NBA King Cavs LBJ is repeating this nonsense. Truth is not king for when it comes to further the agenda of those who believe Ali was more significant to civil rights than MLK.

    1. What is that agenda? Please share it with us.

    2. The false narrative propagated by some in the media after Ali's passing is that Ali wasn't beloved by main stream America, the media, and boxing fans until he retired. The only portion of Ali's professional career that constituted a decline in his popularity were the years 1965 to 1967. By 1968, the Vietnam War was widely unpopular and Ali's refusal to serve in the military was championed, not condemned. During this period, some sportswriters would still refer to him as Cassius Clay and not Ali. By 1970, Ali was the favorite of sports fans regardless of his opponent. Howard Cosell operated as Ali's personal public relations manager through out both of their careers.

    3. LOL. They called it the TET Offensive... 1968, you bum. Widely unpopular... BEFORE Kent State? Can you tell the truth... ABOUT ANYTHING?

    4. When a sportswriter refers to him as Cassius Clay despite his name change, they are making a statement about him. It is negative, not positive.

    5. I remember it in real time. Ali didn't gain "mainstream" acceptance until the war began to wind down, early 70's, after the first Frazier fight. I was a huge fan but I knew a lot of people despised him at the time.

    6. I recall fight fans being displeased with rope-a-dope.

    7. @4:21
      Even though the Tet Offensive was an epic failure of North Vietnam to defeat the U.S. military, Uncle Walter declared the war unwinnable for the U.S.

      Not to mention LBJ chose not run for his 2nd term because of how unpopular the Vietnam War was the majority of Americans.

      Do you know anything about U.S. History aside from CSNY tunes?

    8. "Rope a dope" was introduced during the '74 Foreman fight, about the same time Ali was gaining more mainstream acceptance.

    9. The American public was all over the lot on Vietnam in '68. The frustration with LBJ seemed to have less to do with the fact we were at war, but rather, the fact that Johnson couldn't deliver victory. I'd be willing to bet a majority at that time would have still regarding it a a "just cause".

    10. ... would still have regarded it as a just cause.

    11. @5:51

      FDR had zero problem winning two elections while victory over the Axis was still in doubt. The public never wavered from their support of FDR's goal of unconditional surrender. LBJ not knowing how fight the war in Southeast Asia or even how to extricate the U.S. from the war, coupled with 36,000 American dead, was the sine quo non for his decision not to run.

      Support for War in Vietnam, by Age group in August 1968.

      Under 30 30-49 Over 49
      45% 39% 27%

    12. Vietnam and WWII were obviously two different kettle of fish. With the war LBJ lost the anti-war Left in his own party, FDR never did. Granted, the war did cost LBJ a 2nd term.

      It would be interesting to see a citation for your "support" statistic, including the precise question asked. I suspect the question posed may have had to do with "conduct" of the war, ie. how it was being fought, not the motivation (justification) for the war. Many who supported the war complained that it was being fought incorrectly- "with one hand tied behind our back" and that "we needed to take the gloves off". "Peace with honor" meaning victory of some sort was a very common cry among critics of the war on the Right.

    13. 1944 was the only presidential election year during US participation in WWII. By November, the Allies were obviously winning.

    14. @9:42

      WWII began in September, 1939. Everyone knew the U.S. would be involved in the European theater if not the Pacific before Pear Harbor occurred. FDR made no secret about his position on Nazi aggression before the 1940 election. The most costly battle for the U.S. in Europe hadn't yet occurred. That was the Ardennes in December 1944. The war in the Pacific went on for another nine months. That goes back to the point FDR won two elections during WWII.

    15. I still want a link for your support for the Vietnam War statistic.

    16. In 1940, Roosevelt's policy, supported by public opinion, was to stay out of the war. Even after "Pear" Harbor, the US stayed out of the European Theater until Hitler declared war. The Battle of the Bulge was after the 1944 election.

    17. @imp

      The United States cut off oil exports to Japan in July, 1940. FDR was an internationalist, not an isolationist. In 1939, he asked Congress to amend the neutrality laws to allow arms sales to the Allies.

      Hitler declared war against U.S. three (3) days after attack on Pearl. FDR's war priority was always Europe first, Pacific second.

      You are 0 for 3.

      Yes, December comes after November. You said unconditional surrender was assured in Europe and Pacific before 1944 election. It most certainly was not.

    18. In 1940 we were not at war. FDR was trying to help the Brits, but public opinion did not support entering the war. After the Nazi attack on Russia, FDR helped the Russians, too, but we still stayed out. After Pearl Harbor, he asked for a declaration of war on Japan but not on Germany. Only Hitler's insane declaration brought us into the European war.

      And yes, the Allies were obviously winning in November 1944. The Ardennes offensive was a desperate blunder by a madman.

      The only wartime election for FDR was in 1944, and the war was going well.

    19. @imp

      1) The blunder was Ike and his staff who believed as you do, even with the hindsight of history, that the war was won. 80,000 Allied casualties was the worst suffered by Americans during the entire war. This occurred during the period you say "the war was going well."

      'We can still lose this war!' - U.S. General George S. Patton , 4 January 1945

      2. FDR won the 1940 election while WWII was already in full swing and victory over the Axis was totally in doubt. That the U.S. had not declared war on the Axis is not relevant in this discussion. FDR knew in 1939 he was going to lead America into the war whether the man on the street knew it or not.

      3. December, 1941, Arcadia Conference stipulated the war against Germany would take precedence over Japan even though Germany had not attacked the U.S.

      You actually said "even after" (72 hours) Pearl was attacked, the U.S. finally went to war against Germany. What?

      "Although Roosevelt was under some domestic pressure to concentrate the United States war effort on Japan because of its attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, Germany's declaration of war made this decision more politically acceptable to opinion in the United States than it would otherwise have been."

    20. The US was not at war in 1940.

      The Allies (including the USSR) were obviously winning in November 1944.

      The Battle of the Bulge -- after the election! -- was a great victory for the Allies.

      That is all.

    21. @imp

      Still waiting for you to refute my initial post:

      FDR had zero problem winning two elections while victory over the Axis was still in doubt.

      Didn't say America had declared war before the 1940 election.

      That the attack in the Ardennes occurred a month after the election is exactly the point. That you pretend the war was in the bag in November, 1944 is undermined by Patton himself.

      That is more than enough.

    22. "that is more than enough."

      Now go wipe yourself.

  5. I see that Bernie is attacking Clinton's Foundation because foreign contributors could have influenced her role as Secretary of State (not that anything suggests they did). When is someone going to ask Bernie whether his phone call to the bank provided the leverage to obtain that $10 million loan that bankrupted Burlington University? This seems like a clear abuse of office on behalf of his wife, Jane.

    If Jane were to follow the Clinton rules, she would not work at all (to avoid any suggestion of corruption).

    The Clinton Foundation is not a slush fund or a trust fund. It is a global charity providing benefits to people worldwide. Why shouldn't foreign companies and individuals contribute to it? There is no evidence whatsoever of any quid pro quo to contributors (or evidence that Hillary Clinton knew about the daily operations of the Foundation while holding a cabinet post). The Foundation has been audited repeatedly and has a very good rating as a charity organization.

    Why would someone like Bernie take aim at a global charity and the people running it, when most past presidents do not spend their later years doing charitable work (e.g., George H.W. Bush & G.W. Bush, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford). The Clintons have followed in the footsteps of Jimmy Carter and Eleonor Roosevelt. Bernie thinks it is evil to (1) raise lots of money by speaking to wealthy corporations, (2) donate that money to the Clinton Foundation to use toward its charity initiatives, (3) participate in public service while doing so. This seems like a particularly mean-spirited campaign tactic, especially since he has lost the nomination and has nothing whatsoever to gain from it.

    1. Hil's Doctored PhotosJune 6, 2016 at 2:16 PM

      I see that Hillary's Biggest Problem is mentioning Bernie again.

      "I didn't mention Bernie because he is irrelevant now. The primary is over."

      Hillary's Biggest Problem @ 12:05, 6/5/16

    2. The primary is over and yet Bernie keeps helping Republicans attack the Democratic candidate. Bernie's opinions, his programs, his concerns are irrelevant. He needs to accept his loss and stop trying to undermine the winner.

      When I said I didn't mention Bernie yesterday, I was referring to his position on an issue. Bernie is becoming Hillary's biggest problem.

      If I had a dollar for everyone in comments who says he voted for Bernie months back but regrets it now, I'd be able to redecorate my house.

    3. Bernie is irrelevant except as a spoiler.


    4. The primary is over except for the states that haven't voted yet.


    5. There is no way Bernie can gain sufficient pledged delegates in the remaining states to sway superdelegates to support him. Mathematically, he has no path to nomination.

      He is cynically hoping she will have a stroke or be indicted. This is highly unlikely, but a dream he shares with the Republicans. It is not a good enough reason to stay in the primary. If she becomes incapacitated, they would presumptively turn to him anyway. He doesn't have to tear down the leading candidate in order to be the obvious replacement. If they didn't turn to him, he wouldn't have any shot at those superdelegates anyway.

    6. As to HRC's health issues:

      "The former president revealed that his wife's injury "required six months of very serious work to get over," he said during a question-and-answer session at the Peterson Foundation in Washington.

      "They went to all this trouble to say she had staged what was a terrible concussion that required six months of very serious work to get over," he said. "It's something she never low-balled with the American people, never tried to pretend it didn't happen."

      But Bill Clinton's timeline appears to differ from official comments from the State Department at the time.

      "Judging by the woman we saw this morning and the workload that she's got she seems to be fully recovered," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters at a State Department briefing Jan. 7, 2013, about a month after Hillary Clinton's fall and concussion occurred."


  6. I see that Bob is dropping the ball when it comes to coverage of a story which was a dominant theme of a recent season. Fortunately not all the media is passing on this story.


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