An Update of Wolcott’s “Punditry for Dummies”

From “Punditry and the Art of Failing Upward” by Eric Alterman in the Nation:

In the newly relaunched Baffler, now edited by John Summers, essayist Tom Frank expands on an argument that has obsessed your columnist for decades: that success in the punditocracy is inversely related to good judgment. Indeed, one can even find an almost perfectly proportional relationship between wrongness and success. Nobody was consistently more wrong about pretty much everything related to George W. Bush than William Kristol; and yet, following the Iraq folly, Kristol was rewarded with the single most prestigious perch in daily print journalism: his own corner of the New York Times op-ed page—which he immediately screwed up and lost, having little familiarity with actual journalism. Kristol is perhaps the most illustrative case, but similar phenomena are evident throughout the punditocracy. And does anyone believe that Christopher Hitchens, talented as he may have been, would have come to enjoy the celebrity intellectual cachet attached to his name were it not for his enlistment in the ranks, first of Kenneth Starr’s sex police, then the army of Bush and Cheney’s armchair generals?
      These pundits are showered with fame, prestige and riches not in spite of their misjudgments but because of them. This thought was reinforced when I saw an announcement of a new education study fronted by Condoleezza Rice and Joel Klein for the Council on Foreign Relations.

      The very idea of this ought to be a joke. Rice is famously among the worst advice-givers in human history, first failing to take seriously the August 6, 2001, presidential briefing she and Bush received, titled “Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US.” (Bush apparently responded that the briefers had “covered [their] ass,” and went back to “cutting brush,” whatever that meant.) Rice later explained that she couldn’t “connect the dots,” which was true. But when it came to Iraq, she connected dots that weren’t there, while aiding the president’s grievously misguided trust in the hawkish arguments of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld while shunting aside the more prudent concerns of Colin Powell. All this got her promoted to secretary of state and bestowed upon her a kind of “Wiseman” status of yore.

Klein, meanwhile—charged with the transformation of New York City’s schools, admittedly a nearly impossible task—succeeded primarily in transforming the way they measured their success rate, in order to give the impression of progress where little evidence could be found to support it. Klein then left the job unfinished to take up the task of becoming a top adviser to Rupert Murdoch, among the few people on planet Earth who rival George W. Bush in the area of damage done to honest discourse and democratic debate—and hence, citizen education.



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