Not a word of clarification, challenge, dispute or dissent: It's as we told you yesterday:
Midway through Monday afternoon, exhausted from the year's longest weekend, we watched a pair of pundit panel discussions.
At 4 PM Eastern, we watched the first segment of Deadline: White House. According to MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace, the program featured a pundit panel made up of "some of our favorite reporters and friends."
Wallace presented some "favorite reporters and friends." We couldn't help noting this fact about these favorite people:
Wallace's favorite reporters and friends seemed to agree with every word Wallace herself implied or said! The reporters and friends politely took turns agreeing with Wallace's views concerning various matters she described as racist.
Most strikingly, they seemed to think they were stating a set of facts concerning Donald Trump's racism. None of the panelists seemed to know that they were, in fact, reporting a set of opinions, analyses or assessments—a set of assessments with which other people may not be inclined to agree.
Such exercises in Total Agreement are, of course, extremely common on contemporary corporate cable. In this instance, no one voiced even the slightest word of caution or dissent as the Standard Views of Wallace's favorite friends happily rattled on.
Could we draw an anthropology lesson from this panel's behavior? For ourselves, we were struck by the lack of intellectual sophistication displayed by these reporters and friends.
(Full disclosure: This morning, as we contemplated the narrow losses Democrat took, or seem to have taken, in several of last night's major races, we wondered if a steady diet of this sort of Thoroughly Self-Assured PunditThink had perhaps or possibly handed those races to Trump.)
We were struck by the lack of sophistication among Wallace's "favorite reporters and friends." Earlier, we'd watched the videotape of Sunday's morning's Reliable Sources program.
Alas! When we watched the CNN show, we'd been struck by the same uniformity of thought among Brian Stelter's panel of pundits. We also thought we'd observed that same lack of sophistication on the part of Stelter's guests.
As we told you yesterday, Stelter's program started dully but somewhat well. The first segment ended with Stelter and David Zurawik agreeing on a sensible point—at a time when people like Trump are attacking the mainstream press, mainstream reporters and pundits should be especially careful about their journalistic conduct. They should try to adopt journalistic procedures which would enhance their credibility, Zurawik and Stelter both said.
This struck us as a thoroughly sensible point. Then came the program's second segment, and with it the deluge.
Full disclosure! Brian Stelter seems like the nicest guy in the world. As he finished his first segment, he teased the next segment like this:
STELTER (11/4/18): All right. Quick break. Much more from the panel all hour long.Had Trump been lying and fear-mongering on the campaign trail? Each charge is a subjective assessment, but we saw no sign that anyone knew this as the next segment unfolded.
We're also going to talk about Trump's lying and fear-mongering on the campaign trail in the past few days, and whether it will have any effect at the polls. Hear from a full-time Trump fact-checker right after a quick break.
Who was the "full-time Trump fact-checker" to whom Stelter referred? He was Daniel Dale, a reporter for the Toronto Star who has been working a full-time Trump beat for which he's received much acclaim.
At the top of Sunday's show, we'd watched as Stelter teased Dale's appearance in a humorous way. As he did, he made his first reference to the lies and the fear-mongering he and his guests would discuss:
STELTER: This hour, we are going to go behind the scenes with top editors and critics. We're going to ask how reliable the polls are this time around and what Tuesday's big surprises could be.According to Stelter, Donald J. Trump has been lying so much that Dale deserves hazard pay! But as Stelter stated his harshly critical views about Trump, there was little sign that Stelter knew that he was stating a set of opinions rather than objective facts.
Plus, with President Trump holding rallies all over the country, sinking to new lows with his lies and fear-mongering, one of the busiest reporters in America will join me to break it down. His name is Daniel Dale. He is a full-time Trump fact checker, and at this point, he deserved some hazard pay.
There's nothing wrong with stating an opinion or offering an assessment! That said, it seems to us that there is something wrong when major journalists aren't sophisticated enough to know that's what they're doing.
(It seems to us that Donald J. Trump sometimes exploits such lazy behavior. "What became of the pledge to be more careful?" one of the analysts cried.)
When the second segment began, it was time to introduce Daniel Dale. Before doing so, Stelter once again stated his views about Trump's behavior, almost seeming to think that his views were established facts:
STELTER: Hey, we are back on Reliable Sources, of course, talking about midterm time in America.Stelter was stating an aggressive point of view—a point of view which other people may or may not share:
President Trump continues to hold rallies every day, continues to repeat many of the same falsehoods and lies that we've been hearing, especially regarding the caravan of migrants moving through Mexico. Of course, there has been a lot of reaction to this—his hysteria, and hysteria on the right, about the caravan, and then a counter reaction, a lot of mockery of this on the left.
Here's what I mean from SNL last night:
[TWO VIDEO CLIPS OF JOKES ABOUT TRUMP]
But Trump's words and lies are not a joke. Sorry to be the pot of cold water here, but this is serious. And I wonder how much the press is playing in to some of these lies.
He said that Trump had been continually stating "falsehoods and lies." (This seemed to suggest that there's some sort of difference between the two behaviors.)
He said recent behavior on the right had been a form of hysteria. On the left, this hysteria had produced a lot of mockery, he said.
He said that Trump's "words and lies" are a serious matter. He suggested that the press may have been playing along with some of the president's lies.
Were these statements by Stelter accurate? That is a matter of judgment.
For ourselves, we'd largely agree with Stelter's views—though we'd exercise traditional caution concerning the tricky term "lies."
(Other terms should perhaps be used, including the term "apparent lies." More on this traditional bit of logic tomorrow.)
We'd also be inclined to stay away from the term "hysteria." That's especially true when referring to people who simply believe the things Trump says, rather than to Trump himself.
At any rate, as he opened his second segment, Stelter stated a welter of views about Trump. But uh-oh! As the panel discussion unfolded, a familiar pattern emerged:
Each of Stelter's pundit guests seemed to agree with all his views. As with Wallace's favorite friends, so too here—no one voiced a significant word of clarification or caution, let alone of dissent.
Stelter seemed to be surrounded by his favorite friends too! It seems to us that this general behavior might teach an anthropology lesson—a lesson about the species which came to rule the planet, or so Professor Harari says, through the new, adaptive traits of "gossip" and group "fiction."
We watched this pair of pundit programs on Monday afternoon. The behaviors of the "reporters and friends" let us a bit depressed.
That said, we also thought these pundit performances taught valuable anthropology lessons. Tomorrow, we'll look at what Daniel Dale said concerning Donald Trump's "lies."
Tomorrow: Dale picks an obvious "lie"