History and Social Sciences in Punditry

I like Corey Robin and political theorists in general as well as the perspectives they bring. I have somewhat mixed perspective on his comments on the current generation of punditry, however.

My sense of punditry is that, while the current generation may differ in their approach from that of the previous generation, they are exactly same in their substance.  Punditry consists of providing an “easy” explanation for the goings on in politics, economy, and society, facile explanations that can be summed up in a few paragraphs or even a few charts.  In order to achieve this end, the complexities of the reality have to be canned and condensed, and in due course, some shortcuts need to be invoked.

The shortcuts invoked by the last generation of pundits were the “insiders,” who were presumed to know what is going on because they were so savvy and experienced.  As long as the journalists asked sufficiently nicely, the thinking went, the all-knowing insiders will explain the “truth” in bite sized pieces.  In a sense, Robin assumes that the old journalists questioned these answers and dug in deeper for the truth.  They didn’t–that’s how we got The Boys on the Bus syndrome in journalism of yesteryear.

Today’s punditry rests similarly on easy answers from another set of “insiders”:  the academics and others drawn from the ivory tower.  The answers are somehow supposed to be found on JSTOR or someone’s working papers because, well, the academics know stuff and their number crunching and formal models are as magical as the secret knowledge of the old insiders.

The modern view is not really different from the old:  they operate on the premise of all-knowing insiders who dispense easily obtainable information.  Hard thinking, tough questioning, and unconventional perspectives are deemed heretical precisely because they might alienate the allmighty answer folk.  Indeed, out-of-box thinking, the proposition that the magical answer folk might not know what they speak of and their approaches might be questioned is deemed heretical–and given how journalism works, they might be right.


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