On the Sunday talk shows, American politicians come in three categories. The first are there to impart spin that neither the host nor the audience buys. The second are there to be the subject of ridicule by the mainstream media and thereby prove helpful to Democrats. The third are there for the media to test and prod potential candidates for something. (Obtaining information from pols or determining their position on an issue is a minor concern. With 24/7 news, social media and uber-partisanship, it is rare that a pol ever says something new, informative or surprising.) All three categories were on full display Sunday.
We’ve noted before that when it comes to laughable spin on an Obama administration scandal or political ploy, the White House often resorts to sending out Dan Pfeiffer, who seems incapable of being shamed and will gladly say anything. It has gotten to the point that when he appears, you know something laughably false is going to be said. We were not disappointed on ABC’s “This Week”:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Finally, on this whole specter of impeachment, so much talk about impeachment the last couple of weeks in Washington. As you know, a lot of Republicans say that you personally are the person fueling this. You want to keep this debate going to have Democrats rile up their base.
I want to show Nate Silver FiveThirtyEight did a piece this week where he said Democrats are way more obsessed with impeachment than Republicans. It turns out there were more mentions in Congress by Democrats than Republicans.
MSNBC has talked about impeachment five times more than Fox News. Of course, you’re raising a lot of money on this, as well.
So I wonder how you respond to these findings and the charge that it’s Democrats fueling this talk?
PFEIFFER: Well, I think what we — what I said was that it would be foolish to discount the possibility that this Republican Congress, at some point in time, would consider impeachment.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But the speaker said it’s not going to happen. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee…
STEPHANOPOULOS: — told me it’s not going to happen.
PFEIFFER: Right. And five days before the government shutdown, the speaker said there was no way we’d shut the government — government down over health care. And then we did.
And in the House of Representatives, John Boehner may have the gavel, but Ted Cruz has the power. And so I…
STEPHANOPOULOS: You don’t really think impeachment is possible?
PFEIFFER: I — well, I — when the House takes an unprecedented step to sue the president of the United States, for inde — for — even though he is issuing executive orders at the lowest rate in 100 years, I think it would foolish to discount the possibility.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So the talk is going to keep on going.
At the end there, Stephanopoulos seemed a tad annoyed. (A former White House spinner himself, Stephanopoulos probably never would have stooped to purveying such nonsense.)
Moving on to category two, the only purpose of having Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) on to speak about immigration and impeachment is to generate headlines for the following day: “Republican congressman says ridiculous thing” or “Republicans support ridiculous thing.” The media and Democrats know that King has been repeatedly admonished by his own party and speaks for practically no one. Why not have on someone who does speak for the mainstream and really might give a sense of what is likely to happen? Oh, c’mon — what fun would that be? It’s far better to goad the man who emits vile bigotry and spouts fake statistics at the drop of the hat. The real journalistic sin here is that no one has the nerve to explain that he is an outcast and reviled in his own caucus. What he says, therefore, is not news. It’s un-news — it’s imparting a false impression that King is important. (Imagine interviewing Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) as the exemplar of the Democratic Party.) This is an equal-opportunity sin, by the way. This past Sunday, Fox News was the network that hosted him.
Category three is the “kick the tires” on a candidate interview. The funniest example is when, as occurred on CNN’s “State of the Union,” the host calls on a potential presidential hopeful who has taken some action (in this case Texas Gov. Rick Perry on the border) and then begins to question whether this is all political and a ploy for the benefit of presidential primary voters. In situations such as this one, the media are trying to ride the buzz of a potential campaign or else trying to throw cold water on a campaign by discounting whatever the action was as mere politics. After all, they invited him on the show to talk about the move as pure politics. The headline the next day reads: “Perry denies it’s all about 2016” — the implication of which is that we smart people know that’s not true. For all of this non-news, just have a Democratic consultant (or the host, same difference) or Republican rival say, “It’s all politics” and someone else say, “It’s not.” It would be as enlightening, but of course it would be useless fodder for online clicks or headlines.
And that gets us to a related issue. “Meet the Press” is dying, drifting down in the ratings and generally only mentioned in media and political circles to bemoan the passing of the Tim Russert era and to deservedly rag on the hapless David Gregory. (We’ve been doing the latter for a couple of years now; it’s only recently that conventional wisdom has come to the conclusion that he is helping to kill the brand.) Why replace it with anything? Surely the world will not suffer if the “only” Sunday talk shows are on ABC, CBS, CNN and Fox News.
Indeed, there is a sameness to all these shows, which leads one to forget who was on which show and even what show you are watching (especially if there is a guest host who once was on another network). Rather than have yet another formulaic Sunday show, why not have an hour of solid investigative journalism? Bring back Ted Koppel (or a younger incarnation) and do the Sunday morning equivalent of “Nightline.” Put on a smart game show or another hour of sports. Anything. We really don’t need another canned Sunday talk show where, wink-wink, “the news” is faux news and the object is really to manipulate and not inform the audience. Come to think of it, that’s properly called a “political ad.”