The Pretense of Punditry

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

When I was young I would religiously watch the Sunday morning news shows, especially NBC’s Meet the Press. Beginning in 1947, MTP is the longest running show in television history. While the other networks had comparable shows, clearly MTP with its longevity was seen as the show of record.

“The show’s format consists of an extended one-on-one interview with the host and is sometimes followed by a roundtable discussion or one-on-two interview with figures in adversarial positions, either Congress members from opposite sides of the aisle or political commentators. The show expanded to 60 minutes starting with the September 20, 1992 broadcasthttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meet_the_Press#Moderators

Face the Nation, premiering in 1954 is considered to be the other Sunday morning News show of record. FTN’s format is:

“The moderator interviews newsmakers on the latest issues and delivers a short topical commentary at the end of the broadcast. The program broadcasts from Washington, D.C. Guests include government leaders, politicians, and international figures in the news. CBS News correspondents and other contributors engage the guests in a roundtable discussion focusing on current topics.”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Face_the_Nation

What all of these shows have in common is that they are repeatedly populated by the same people, whether politicians, journalists, economists or political operators. This link gives the background of the truth of Sunday morning “journalism”. http://mediamatters.org/search/index?qstring=Sunday+Morning+Talk+Shows&x=9&y=6  The casts rarely change and in all but the rarest of cases these guests make up what could be called our nation’s “Pundit Class”. They are seen as the “Serious People”, who lead America’s national debate on vital issues. I’ve been a “political junkie” since the age of ten. For many years I was misled into believing that these “Serious People” were really my intellectual betters when it came to public affairs and that political discussion must only exist within the ground rules of debate established by our “Pundit Class”. Beginning with the murder of JFK and in the ensuing disillusionment of the Sixties I’ve come to see that not only is this  “Pundit Class” inherently corrupt, but only a rare few can barely be called intellectually informative. This group is in reality the paid propagandists of the elite 1% that rule this country and their main task is to limit the scope of our national debate.

In the last two weeks one of the most heard and most esteemed members of the Pundit Class, Fareed Zakaria, has been suspended from Time Magazine and CNN due to the discovery of plagiarism in one of his columns. Zacharia is also a Yale University Trustee and there is talk that his removal from that august position is under consideration. I’ve never particularly cared for Mr. Zakaria, but I was surprised by his plagiarism, more so by the fact he admitted it so readily and so abjectly. An article in the Huffington Post provided an explanation of Mr. Zakaria’s actions with a surprising explanation that I hadn’t expected and yet one that in retrospect makes perfect sense.

On 8/12/12 Eric Zeusse, an investigative historian, posted an article titled: “Fareed Zakaria Is Bitten by His Own Tale: How He Helped Create the System That Bit Him Back”.  He began the article in this manner and in doing so exposed me to an idea that frankly hadn’t occurred to me.

“When Fareed Zakaria was suspended on Friday from Time and CNN, for plagiarism, this wasn’t merely justice, it was poetic justice: it rhymed. What it rhymed with was his own lifelong devotion to the global economic star system that he, as a born aristocrat in India, who has always been loyal to the aristocracy, inherited and has always helped to advance, at the expense of the public in every nation. He was suspended because, as a born aristocrat, who is a long-time member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group, and many other of the global aristocracy’s primary organizations, he is so well-connected that his writing-commissions are more than any one person can possibly handle, and he consequently cannot possibly actually write all that is attributed to him. He certainly cannot research it all.”

In my naivete it I never thought of the possibility that someone like Mr. Zacharia might not write all, or even most of his material. I wasn’t aware of his aristocratic background, nor of his close connection to some of the secretive groups that shape global policy. I always just saw him as a “middle-of-the-road” pundit, with whom I disagreed on many things. As Mr. Zeusse goes on to explain:

“Like many “writing” stars, he has a staff perform much of the research and maybe even actual writing for him, and many in his situation are actually more editors than they are writers; but, regardless, he cannot let the public know that this is the way things are, because this is simply the way that the star system works in the “writing” fields, and because the public is supposed to think that these stars in the writing fields are writers, more than editors.

And, it’s a very profitable system for such stars. As Paul Starobin said, headlining “Money Talks,” in the March 2012 Columbia Journalism Review, Zakaria’s speaking fee is $75,000, and “he has been retained for speeches by numerous financial firms, including Baker Capital, Catterton Partners, Dreihaus Capital Management, ING, Merrill Lynch, Oak Investment Partners, Charles Schwab, and T. Rowe Price.”

 So, he’s clearly a very busy man, with a considerable staff; he can’t possibly do everything himself.

 But he needs to appear as if he does. He needs to present everything “he” does, as “his.”

The last two sentences above ring true and explain why Zakaria is so willing to perform mea culpa, take his suspensions and hope that this will blow over quickly. To admit the possible truth that someone writing for him had actually plagiarized would expose the fact that this “World Class Pundit and Author”, was merely a “front man” representing his privileged class. If this is true of Zakaria, who else of these “serious journalistic stars” is also doing the same thing and more importantly how are they shaping the political debate?

“Fareed Zakaria knows the way it works. So, he cannot afford to admit when he is being credited with the work of his employees. Far less damaging to him is to admit that he has done plagiarism himself, as he has admitted in this particular case — regardless whether it’s true.

 If Zakaria didn’t actually do this plagiarism, could he very well announce to the world “I didn’t do it; I didn’t even research or write the article”? No. Romney and the Republicans say that the “job creators” at the top are the engine of the economy, and the aristocracy need to maintain this myth. It’s very important to them — that they are the stars, and that the people who might be the actual creators who work for them are not.

Zakaria wouldn’t want to burst the bubble atop which he is floating. To people in his situation, it’s a bubble of money, and it’s theirs. They don’t want to share it any more than they absolutely have to. (They despise labor unions for that very reason.) And their employees are very dependent upon them, so no one will talk about it — not the stars, not their workers.”

To make Eric Zeusse’s premise even more interesting we have this report on 8/16/12, “Fareed Zakaria Cleared By Time, CNN In Plagiarism Investigation”. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/16/fareed-zakaria-time-columns-review_n_1792081.html .

“We have completed a thorough review of each of Fareed Zakaria’s columns for TIME, and we are entirely satisfied that the language in question in his recent column was an unintentional error and an isolated incident for which he has apologized. We look forward to having Fareed’s thoughtful and important voice back in the magazine with his next column in the issue that comes out on September 7.”

Since Zakaria originally admitted he had made “A terrible mistake” it is heartening to see that his “mistake” was only an isolated incident. I think back to graduate schools papers I’ve written and wonder how I would have fared if I had “made a terrible mistake” in them through plagiarism. Would an investigation of my “isolated incident” and remorse have allowed me to continue in school?  However, protecting Mr. Zakaria, one of the chosen, is not only important for his sake, but for the sake of these “News Entities” that rely so heavily on the “connected” pundit class to provide their“cogent” analysis of major issues.

How many other “Pundits” acting as the “serious” people are setting the parameters of the national debate through their appearances on Sunday Morning talk shows, News Channels, the PBS News Hour and it appears as paid guest speakers at supposedly meaningful conferences and conventions? The person who first came to mind as I read this article on Zakaria was Thomas Friedman. Friedman is a son of privilege who married into a billionaire family. He has been a champion of “Globalization”, which to me has always meant unbridled support for the multinational Corporatocracy. He also seems to me to be a very childish writer in that his use of analogies to draw global conclusions is inept to the point of comedy. During my illness my daughter bought me a copy of “Friedman’s “The World is Flat” and in reading it I was blown away by how flimsy a narrative it was for someone so respected as a pundit, who gets so much air time and respect as a serious commentator on global issues. As it was put in his Wikipedia Article:

“A number of critics have taken issue with Friedman’s views, as well as aspects of his writing style. Critics deride his penchant for excessive optimism, a consistently flawed analytical approach, and a habit of trotting out unexamined truisms to support his opinions.”

“Some critics have derided Friedman’s idiosyncratic prose style, with its tendency to use mixed metaphors and analogies”.

“Similarly, journalist Matt Taibbi has said of Friedman’s writing that, “Friedman came up with lines so hilarious you couldn’t make them up even if you were trying – and when you tried to actually picture the ‘illustrative’ figures of speech he offered to explain himself, what you often ended up with was pure physical comedy of the Buster Keaton/Three Stooges school, with whole nations and peoples slipping and falling on the misplaced banana peels of his literary endeavors.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Friedman

While I have no proof of it, I would speculate that Friedman too has people writing much of his stuff and that his journalism is more of the editorial kind. However, what is obvious and known about Friedman is that he is a pundit star, ranking with, or possibly above Zakaria in the firmament of “Serious People” who frame our national debate and dominate our national media. This is really nothing new in our country. In the past the “serious people” were the likes of Walter Lippman http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Lippmann  Scotty Reston, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Reston .  These past pundits and “cold warriors”, share a commonality with Zakaria and Friedman, in that they all serve(d) the interests of the Corporate and Monied Elite that run this country from behind the scenes. Indeed, I’m sure that you the reader could expand this very small list of those who are deemed acceptable to lead the “serious” discussion of our national/international issues.

I assert that the entire Liberal versus Conservative debate in this country is but a smokescreen that distracts us from the one most vital issue. Our nation and indeed the world is and has been controlled by an Elite representing those with most money and power. Their first allegiance is to themselves, their class and to the belief that they alone are fit to rule us all. Call it what you will, but to me it is the continuation of feudalism in modern guise. Just as in feudalism there were “Courtiers” who gladly did the bidding of their “Royal Masters”, in order to enrich their own lives. Most of the “Courtiers” were either born to, or became part of the elite, while maintaining the pretense of speaking for the benefit of all humanity.

If we the people are ever to cast off the control of those who would leash us for their benefit, we must learn to think for ourselves and critically examine the opinions of those who are represented to us as “serious people”.  Unfortunately, this remains a highly individual task because we are surrounded by experts, who in reality are propagandists purveying non-existent mythology to keep us in the thrall of the Elite. Disdain the pundits for their message is false. Become your own pundit and most especially view the world through an iconoclastic perspective. Despite their degrees, their travels, experiences and accolades, few are really that perceptive since they have been co-opted and anointed as members of a Priesthood of Power, blinding them to what real life for most of us is about.

Submitted by: Mike Spindell, guest blogger

135 thoughts on “The Pretense of Punditry

  1. Tony C and shano,

    Best to say straight off, I’ve never studied economics. But I have read a lot of Krugman’s columns and your take on him really surprises me. As you know, those discussions have centered on austerity and the budget. I can’t recall anything that supports unbridled free enterprise. I believe in regulation and would have gone on “alert” if such ideas appeared in his columns. I’ll pay close attention, but he seems such an humanist – it just doesn’t fit.

  2. @Curious: The question isn’t about “unbridled free enterprise,” it is about “free trade,” which means basically unrestricted trade of goods between countries (as opposed to tariffs or restrictions on imports, subsidies for exporters, protectionism of local industry etc). The idea is to let supply and demand determine the price of goods, not place of origin.

    The reason “free trade” is harmful is that it can be used to circumvent law. For example, in the USA, we set a minimum wage. We have chosen to support our government by taxation, and to support our elderly with Social Security taxation and Medicare taxes, we provide unemployment insurance with payroll taxes. Some of these taxes must also be paid by employers. Along with sales taxes, property taxes (both commercial and residential), and product taxes (gasoline, alcohol, cigarettes) and fees, tolls and taxes on workers and businesses, about 50% of our income goes to taxation in one form or another.

    That is fine, it is the cost of a society. But another way to look at it, for the greedy corporation, is that USA workers are very expensive, compared to workers in other countries they can use and discard with very few taxes.

    Free Trade lets companies like Walmart go to China and employ workers in dangerous, near slavery conditions at $1 an hour, because they pay no taxes and the workers themselves have far fewer tax expenses or living expenses. They provide no insurance, they have no social safety net, they have no retirement security, or unemployment security.

    Essentially, free trade allows Walmart or Nike to circumvent our labor laws and protections for employees by finding countries that will let them abuse and endanger workers. and then discard them if they get sick or hurt. It lets large companies cheat and costs American jobs. It might make your shoes cheaper, but ultimately it will either cost you your job or cost you more in taxes, because people won’t be able to work at a wage that competes with what is essentially third world slavery.

  3. Tony C.

    This was my shortcoming: I used the term Self-Actualization due to the inability of me to arrive at the appropriate word at the time I wrote the posting. I meant to say “preeminence”.

    You are right about some of the shortcomings of the idea of self-actualization, some would argue it is too polar of a definition to realisticly apply to people. And, it is a bit perhaps arrogant in that so few are elevated to this status by others when some otherwise exceptional contributions from different folks are consequently demoted meritlessly.

    I appreciate your agreeable advice as well.

  4. Curious: the Multinational Media conglomerates do not want anyone to realize that both the Neo conservative foreign policies and the Neo Liberal economic policies are complete and utter failures. Dismal failures.

    This is because these policies from the right and left all support the Multinational corporations.

    Fair trade policies would end the worst of it all. But the profits for Multinationals would go down, down, down. That is why it is never talked about.

    Fair Trade is communist, socialist, Marxist, evil incarnate.
    So is the ‘End the Wars’ (including the global war on drugs) world peace movement.

  5. Fareed Zakaria Resigns From Yale University’s Governing Board
    AP | Posted: 08/20/2012
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/20/fareed-zakaria-resigns-yale-board_n_1814199.html

    Excerpt;
    The Associated Press

    NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A journalist recently accused of plagiarism has resigned from his position on Yale University’s governing board to better focus on his work.

    The New Haven Register reports (http://bit.ly/OIHJP3) that in a letter to Yale President Richard Levin, Fareed Zakaria said he needed to shed some of his responsibilities as he re-examines his professional life.

    Levin thanked Zakaria for his time and service.

    Zakaria was suspended this month by Time magazine and CNN for lifting several paragraphs from a New Yorker magazine essay and using them in his Time magazine column. Zakaria apologized, calling it a “terrible mistake.”

  6. David Blauw,

    Thank your for your sincere and reasoned comment on how this society fears gay males and men of color. It is indeed all about the striving to be the Alpha and lead the pack. We humans arrogate ourselves above “the animals”, but seriously, except for facility with invention and innovation are we really that different?

    Elaine,

    Thank you for the Yale update on Zakaria, good catch. Perhaps the Ivy University is more unforgiving of plagiarism, then is our media. Especially when the pundit well represents the opinions of the conglomerates owners.

    Tony C. and Shano,

    I am in complete agreement with your views on so-called free trade and found your explanations of its pitfalls right on target. It has always seemed a bad bargain to me in that it solely benefits multi nationals by depressing wages snd fostering labor akin to slavery.

  7. Free trade is one of those things that sounds really good on paper, but is a disaster in application. It ignores both the reality of human nature and the reality that some nationstates are going to engage in undercutting, flooding, protectionism and other anti-competitive practices no matter what treaty they sign.

  8. @Mike S: I think the hatred of homosexual males is cultural, not innate, and is the transferred fear of homosexual sons and their subsequent lack of procreation, and that is why it (anti male homosexuality) is most profound in men and less pronounced in women.

    No offense to the female gender, but culturally speaking for about 10,000 years worldwide gender preference in women has been a moot point for 99.9% of them; intercourse could be forced if necessary. In that same period that has really never been true of men, because men have been given the choices by culture (to be technical ‘culture’ means by force of arms and subjugation of women).

    The cultural goal of life for most men has been procreation, and an investment in a son would be more than a dozen years before innate homosexuality in that son came to light. For the interest of the fathers, a cultural taboo on male homosexuality could shame their sons into at least trying to accomplish procreation as a duty. When one’s societal worth is measured by the number of male descendants one has (as it still is in several modern cultures), this reinforces the cultural taboo.

    I think that is a natural, unplanned conspiracy that would arise; cultural shame brings the threats of exile, shunning or isolation, and that increases the odds (for the father) that even his homosexual sons will be shamed into procreation. He doesn’t really have to worry about his daughters; any lesbianism there is small cause for alarm, because for many thousands of years daughters have procreated whether they liked it or not.

    I believe that because it is cultural, it is also changing; clearly homosexuals do not have equality now, but they are gaining acceptance as the culture changes and we slowly throw off the chains of patriarchy.

  9. Of course it is cultural, Tony. One only needs to look to past civilizations like Greece (where it was considered perfectly normal behavior) and Egypt (where it was not only tolerated but bisexuals were considered blessed by the Gods). Also, it is slowing changing again in Western culture not just as we start to reject patriarchy, but as we start to reject religiosity in general and that most patriarchal of institutions – the brand of Christianity as defined by the Council of Nicea, adopted by Constantine, practiced by Rome and what eventually splintered off to become the various forms of protestantism and fundamentalism.

  10. GeneH.

    Here’s a weird spín. Maybe Nicea and its offspring inspired Mohammed to start his own thing. Envy. He is alleged to have been envious of both the other folks of the “Book”.

  11. Please read “The Creature from Jekyll Island,” by Edward Griffin to see how deep the rabbit hole might go.

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