Ole’ Boy Haters Strike Back …

Posted in Uncategorized by groffellison on June 29, 2008

A recent piece in Politico by Daniel Libit highlights the ongoing struggle between defining politics as a profession and ensuring that it’s a true change agent.  You’ll see:

Among the things that the proliferation of TV cable news has wrought is slackened standards for what constitutes a political strategist. Now used as a catchall tag for a whole host of people with varied — and often peripheral — backgrounds in electoral politics, the term has all but lost its meaning.

“I think it’s absurd,” says Ed Rollins, a bona fide strategist who has held high-ranking positions in numerous Republican presidential campaigns. “Everyone calls themselves a strategist. I have been doing this for 40 years, I know most of the players, and I go on these shows and think, ‘Who are these people?’”

“Slackened standards” can appear like code for issues some may have with the rising diversity in political perspective in modern broadcast news.  A subtle way to say: “There are a bit too many of these other folks coming in and playing our game.”

That said, let’s first address a concern about the horse race nature of political news coverage, with more focus on polls rather than candidate platforms.  The real problem is that there is more gossip than discourse in political news coverage, driven by the sound bite dynamic favored by cable news producers, hosts and anchors.  This isn’t completely their fault: typically, they only have several minutes at a time to either finish their thoughts, ask questions and move on to the next segment before commercial breaks set in.  We keep talking about the “24/7” news cycle – but is that statement really accurate when applied to the cable networks since a great chunk of that time is eaten away by advertisers.  Between a journalistic rock and need-for-information hard place, somebody has to pay the bills.  That’s the problem.  Let’s talk about that.

The good thing about the recent election cycle is that we’re seeing more of what’s different than the classic “standard.”  And, we all remember the standard: every major political talk show, every Sunday panel was populated almost exclusively with  middle-aged or senior to high-brow to white-hair White males who defined who knew what about politics.  It seemed as though no one knew or could discuss politics better than White males in suits.  Soon after, working to middle class Irish Catholics joined in, then White ethnics, followed by White females as a way to mix it up and stray from the stale, formulaic Anglo-Saxon Protestant format that dominated for so long; occasionally, for dramatic effect, an adventurous producer would book the few entertaining African American activists, preachers or “leaders” who could cause a stir and momentary jump in ratings – and they, too, were male for the most part.  Still, they were more ideologue than analyst.  To analyze the political landscape, you’d bring in your White guy “insiders.”

To a large degree, that is still the case.  Broadcast talk is still disproportionately unrepresentative; Black and Latino analysts are either tokenized or pigeon-holed into discussing “race” topics.  Certainly, pundits of color are a good group to access for that sort of info, but there are also quite a few experts within that pool who know just as much about topics such as foreign policy and economics.

And there is still a sense that the “ole boy” school defines American politics – which is one of the main factors behind public apathy and the low voter turnout (until recently) that we experienced for so many years.  The larger public doesn’t feel like a stakeholder when the broadcasted political conversation lounges in the ivory tower. But, we see more faces “of color” mixing it up in terms of presence and perspective.  And that’s a good thing – not a “slackened standard.”  Libit’s piece comes off like a veiled attempt to paint these new faces as “unqualified” simply because they don’t fit the mold or image of the traditional pol.

Diversity is not a great thing because it puts “different” or “color” in a room – it’s great because it offers a larger serving of diversity in opinion, thought and information.  We’ve seen enough of the old school cats like Ed Rollins above – clearly, he and others are a bit annoyed because they’re finally being challenged.  Because their conventional wisdom no longer rules.  We appreciate what everyone brings to the table – including Rollins.  But, how can we get a real sense of what voters think or what candidates will do if that analysis largely comes from the same vantage point?  Rather than hate on the future, step up your game and add something fresh to it.


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