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Hack Gap

Very frustrating appearance on the Hewitt show Wednesday night -- all about Kerry flopping and straddling on the "Holiday in Cambodia" and gay marriage issues. I could -- and did -- point out that this stuff is piddleshit compared to what George W. Bush is done, but there's a fundamental problem. My side would be better served if I could go on the radio and do what Hugh does, i.e. pretend (or convince myself) that the horse I'm backing in this race is a virgin pure saint who's perfect in every way. But that's not really what I think: Kerry wasn't my favorite in the primaries, and even the guys who I prefered to Kerry didn't live up to that standard. Rather, Kerry is a person who, despite his flaws, would, if elected, improve various things to various degrees and prevent certain future harms from coming to pass. But there's a broader problem. While I'm a liberal journalist, I'm also a liberal journalist and so I'm not going to pretend that Kerry's stance on gay marriage is one of pure conscience and principle when it seems clear to me that it isn't.

Which is fine. I don't want to be a hack, I want to be a journalist -- an observer, an analyst, a polemicist, but even on the latter point an honest one. But as an observer I can see that liberalism is structurally disadvantaged by the fact that a far lower proportion of our commentators want to be hacks, as an analyst I can see that this "hack gap" plays a role in creating bad policy for the United States of America, and as a polemicist it seems to me that closing the hack gap is an important step in improving policy. But while I'm happy to do what I can to close the hack gap by trying to shame rightwingers into being less hackish, I'm not going to close it by becoming a hack -- it's not what I do, and it's not what I want to do.

August 12, 2004 | Permalink

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» The Death of Irony from Balloon Juice
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Matt Yglesias discusses the hack gap between liberal and conservative pundits. Let me be clear. I'm not interested in whether Michael Moore could take Bill O'Reilly at roshambo if Bill got three free kicks, or why anyone thinks Paul Krugman [Read More]

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» The balance of fervor from Majikthise
Matt Yglesias discusses the hack gap between liberal and conservative pundits. Let me be clear. I'm not interested in whether Michael Moore could take Bill O'Reilly at roshambo if Bill got three free kicks, or why anyone thinks Paul Krugman [Read More]

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While the Republicans are clearly enjoying the benefits of the hack gap, Christopher Shea suggests in the Boston Globe that the Democrats’ ‘professoriate gap’ doesn’t count for much. According to Shea, (1) the recent poll of aca... [Read More]

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Comments

This really is a common problem, especially on the cable networks.

There are countless examples but one from the last time I watched Chris Matthews comes to mind.

The "panel" at the end was Karen Tumulty of Time magazine -- a journalist, and Byron York of the National Review.

York isn't as bad a hack as, say, Coulter, but he is a hack. Tumulty is a straight-news journalist -- even those conservative who scream "liberal media" can't find the kind of "bias" in a straight journo as in a writer for an opinion mag like National Review, or The Nation.

SO the panel was Matthews and York pounding on Kerry and Tumulty giving pro and con about him. Two negatives and one "balanced" half negative, half positive based on reporting.

This is one of countless examples. At least the SCLM straight news shows put Republicans and Democrats on, and tries to generally state their positions correctly, though both Dems and Repubs have complaints about how those positions are covered. Then, when the SCLM has "opinion" shows, they're 2.5 anti-Dem .5 not anti-Dem. It's pretty distressing.

And, apart from the SCLM straight news shows, we have the right wing shows that just are pure hackery, like all of Fox plus Scarborough, much of Matthews, and 90% of talk radio.

There really is a hack gap. Well put.

This gap will be even more apparent when comparing the coverage of the RNC to that of the DNC.

Keef

Posted by: keef | Aug 12, 2004 12:58:41 AM

Even if we need some hacks, we also need some high-quality commentators to generate the ideas that win over smart people. Many bright folks whom I communicate with don't read many political blogs, and I feel proud to be a local distributor of the ideas that you and Marshall and Mark Schmitt crank out in volume.

One thing that hacks regularly do is beat up on straw men. Perhaps my political position distorts my judgment here, but I find that the right does this a whole lot more than the left. This happens particularly often in foreign policy -- I've heard people on the right talking about how the Democrats will be softer on terrorism and want us to 'sit down and negotiate' with the terrorists. I've never heard a Democrat say anything of the kind.

Posted by: Neil Sinhababu | Aug 12, 2004 1:03:13 AM

Matthew, that you want to pursue an honorable position is, of course, a totally legitimate option for you. In that case, though, you shouldn't appear on Hugh Hewitt. Hugh isn't interested in honorable discussion, he's interested in wallowing in the mud; when you appear on his show and try to play by your rules, you aren't advancing your cause, you're weakening it. Let Hewitt play with himself rather than being his foil for nitwit discussions.

Keef, here's what I can't wait to see: i can't wait for CNN to cut directly from Cheney's speech at the convention to, say, Harold Ickes and to cut directly from Bush's speech to, say, Terry McAuliffe. (just kidding, of course; there's no chance that CNN will do that, just as you suggest. the failure of our media - just acknowledged in today's wapo with respect to iraq - is a shameful hallmark of our times. How these so-called editors and journalists live with themselves is beyond me, but there you go. Small example: Katharine Seelye wrote something in the Times the other day about polling show the public's greater confidence in bush than kerry as commander-in-chief. Except, as i pointed out to daniel okrent (public@nytimes.com), the only recent poll on the topic shows kerry over bush as c-in-c by 54-42. Oh, ok, says he, i'll forward to the editor and see if a retraction is in order. And how long will that take, i asked in a followup? Two weeks was the answer.

Two weeks to decide whether an actual, empirical, demonstrable error was made by Kit Seelye, a longtime hack of the first order. These people are just sickening.)

Posted by: howard | Aug 12, 2004 1:05:04 AM

David Brock's Republican Noise Machine looks at this in depth. "Liberalism" is represented by journalists or experts. Conservativism is represented by movement hacks.

Posted by: David Meyer | Aug 12, 2004 1:06:04 AM

Don't bother applying to U. Tennessee law school -- using your own definition, a pretty good one too, you'll find nothing but hacks there.

Posted by: friendly.advice | Aug 12, 2004 1:17:25 AM

Oh, yes, howard, and that frothing right-winger editor at Newsweek, Evan Thomas, openly opines that the overwhelming majority of the "objective" journalists desire a Kerry victory, and will work toward that end. I'm sure Cheney has his wife and kid held hostage.

Few things are sillier than tribe A maintaining that it has a lower hack quotient than tribe B, with nothing more to back it up than a really, really, heartfelt belief, and a few anecdotes thrown at the wall.

Posted by: Will Allen | Aug 12, 2004 1:27:08 AM

"Evil will always triumph over good because
good is dumb."

Posted by: SP | Aug 12, 2004 1:36:52 AM

I turned off my tv for precisely this reason, the imbalance described by Keef above. I suppose I must assume that Will Allen really does consider Tumulty the partisan equivalent of York, and anyway Matthews is a Democrat, so he doesn't really have to listen to what is actually said. The Secret messages show liberal biases. Or something.

I suspect there is behind the scenes maneuvering in which York won't appear with an Alterman or Moore, and the right manipulates the content with such games.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 12, 2004 1:45:25 AM

Howard:

"Keef, here's what I can't wait to see: i can't wait for CNN to cut directly from Cheney's speech at the convention to, say, Harold Ickes and to cut directly from Bush's speech to, say, Terry McAuliffe."

Yes, that's the type of thing I was talking about -- I think it was CNN who gave the first commentator slot moments after Kerry's speech to an Bush/Cheney paid operative.

Since CNN has Carville on the payroll, maybe they could got to him after Bush's TelePrompter is turned off. He or Begala or Brazile or another former or current political operative should be the dem's "hacks." I'm not sure why they don't pitch in more (other than in paid slots on CNN or MSNBC) and help push Kerry with the political powerhousing that needs to be done.

The Repubs have quite a few, but the Dems have quite a few, too -- we just don't see them on TV that much.

Keef

Posted by: keef | Aug 12, 2004 1:46:20 AM

Matt, that diagnosis is so acute, so on-point, it just makes me want to... fucking cry.

I've thought about this a lot. Would I want more liberal hacks? From some purely pragmatic point of view I suppose I do, but I can't get my heart behind it.

What I really want is fewer conservative hacks -- more honest conservatives. But that's jut not going to happen. The shitty way they do things works.

It's just indescribably depressing.

And Will -- don't be a dumbass, dude. I know this whole, "tit for tat, both sides are the same" thing is fashionable, but open your fucking eyes.

Posted by: Realish | Aug 12, 2004 2:04:20 AM

Matthew,

I have been listening to Hugh Hewitt for the past couple of years to check in with those on his rather odd side of the political fence. When I started listening I had hoped that, as a man of faith, he would leaven his political views with a little doubt and humility. Unfortunately I've come to the conclusion that he is an utter hack. There doesn't seem to be much point in talking to him, I think the hack gap is unbridgeable. He seems like a nice guy compared to other righty hosts but on his show any noncompliant political view is simply the daily justification for the great wall of hackery Hugh has built.

PS If you do talk to Hugh again it would be kind of you to show him how to use the spell check for his blog posts.


"It is the true believer's ability to shut his eyes and stop his ears to facts which in his own mind deserve never to be seen nor heard which is the source of his unequalled fortitude and consistency." Eric Hoffer

Posted by: BobC | Aug 12, 2004 2:05:55 AM

No, bob I consider it one anecdote, and about as useful at determining an overall picture as any other anecdote. Tell me, though, is an editor like Thomas just to be dismissed when he makes the statement he did? Have those wascally Wepublicans been weally, weally, sneaky, and wemoved Thomas cerebwum, weplacing it with a super-duper artificial intelligence module, which allows them to make robo-Thomas to say what they wish? THOSE BASTARDS!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: Will Allen | Aug 12, 2004 2:08:15 AM

Realish, all you have is your Faith-based beliefs. You really are no better than Limbaugh.

Posted by: Will Allen | Aug 12, 2004 2:10:04 AM

Er, Will. As Matthew pointed out at length at the start of this whole discussion, supporting one candidate over the other is hardly the same thing as being willing to defend him on every point. Matthew said that American conservative journalists and commentators, for some reason, currently have a much stronger tendency to do the latter than American liberal journalists and commentators do. So do you have a reply to what Matt is actually ARGUING, or not?

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw | Aug 12, 2004 2:15:33 AM

And, by the way, it's extremely easy to see a cause for what Matt reports. If you're educated enough to be a journalist or a politician, you're likely to be relatively high-income -- which means that your own self-interests tend to lie with conservative economic policies. Liberal journalists and commentators are to a considerable degree operating against their own self-interest, which means that anyone who IS a journalist or commentator while still being liberal is likely to be such precisely because he's straining to be honest. That tendency isn't as strong with conservatives.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw | Aug 12, 2004 2:20:49 AM

Bruce, Matthew just put forth his opinion. Fine, he's paying for this space, he can do whatever he wants. Maybe he can next give his opinion on whether french fries are better than onion rings, or whether blonde girls are sexier than brunettes. The irony of accusing the other side of greater hackery, based on nothing more substantive than really, really, believing it, is somewhat amusing, however.

Posted by: Will Allen | Aug 12, 2004 2:25:56 AM

Nice theory, Bruce. Now go prove it.

Posted by: Will Allen | Aug 12, 2004 2:30:35 AM

"...But as an observer I can see that liberalism is structurally disadvantaged by the fact that a far lower proportion of our commentators want to be hacks..."

The more I see it, the more it seems to me that this proposition is just a liberal shibboleth, at least insofar as it's supposed to imply the corollary that "closing the hack gap is an important step in..." Liberals keep saying this, but, without committing to Bruce's theory in particular, what's the actual evidence that that kind of shit delivers "liberal content" as effectively as, apparently, it delivers the other?

Posted by: spacetoast | Aug 12, 2004 2:53:07 AM

You don't want more liberal hacks, you want fewer conservative ones.

And you get onto shows with hacks.

Any possibility you could ambush one of them, turn it into a discussion about hacking and whether it's the right thing to do and so on?

If he isn't careful he might get interested and not think to turn it away, and then he might say something honest and outrageous on the air. It's too much to hope he'd give up hacking, people do what they know, but it could be a lot more fun than just getting hacked at.

Posted by: J Thomas | Aug 12, 2004 3:17:26 AM

Now there are journalists, commentators and hacks, and then there is the TRUTH. Journalists become journalists partly to tell the truth and partly to earn a living. Given that secondary motive, how can journalists claim to have a monopoly on TRUTH? It is just absurd that going to journalism school makes you more trustworthy than someone who went to law school. And naturally just because more journalists describe themselves as liberal doesn't mean that liberals are more honest, as demonstrated by this comment:

"My side would be better served if I could go on the radio and do what Hugh does, i.e. pretend (or convince myself) that the horse I'm backing in this race is a virgin pure saint who's perfect in every way."

Hugh does not pretend his horse is perfect. Matthew insinuates this because Hugh never says anything bad about Bush. Is it implausible that there is just so much wrong with the other side and its views to waste time in these precious months before the election to nitpick on your own horse? Yes, Hugh thinks Bush would make a much better president. Does that imply he's perfect? Is that dishonest?

Liberals aren't winning over any minds with the constant whining about the conservative movement (not really a movement as much as a staying in one place while the rest of the world moves left. "Conservative" doesn't indicate much moving.) and its "hacks". The hacks are winning over minds because the average American can identify with them, not the overly educated bleeding hearts who think they can solve every problem in the world with just a few of your hard earned tax dollars. To win over minds, you need some ideas and you need to back them up with facts. And your ideas need to be consistent. Stick to that formula and who knows, you might end up a rational conservative.

Posted by: Matt Motherway | Aug 12, 2004 3:35:29 AM

Will Allen wrote:

"Realish, all you have is your Faith-based beliefs. You really are no better than Limbaugh."

Great point, Will, though I don't agree with you. However, even if your slur is true, Realish has a few blog readers here and there.

Limbaugh lies and distorts, repeatedly, every day, every week, every month, to millions of radio listeners in the US, and on the Armed Services Network abroad.

He is joined by Hannity, Hewitt, Michael Reagan, Laura Ingraham, Bortz, et al., to speak unrebutted hackery to multiple millions of listeners every day.

And, those folks are joined, unrebutted, by their print ilk. And those folks and their print ilk are invited on SCLM shows to sit opposite journalists to build up Bush and slam down Kerry, while journalists feel the need to be "balanced."

So, the questions isn't if Realish is "like" Limbaugh, but how many listeners the Limbaughs, Hannitys, Hewitts, and Bortzs get to ply their hackery towards unrebutted daily. Then they get invited on to further hack, often against straight news journalists who don't want to be party line hacks.

Let's not even bring in O'Reilly. Or the whole Fox News "news" operation, which doesn't even attempt to present non-Republican views in anything other than parody.

You can say it's a free market thing, but you can't say it's a situation where all views are equally aired with equal seriousness.

Right-wing Hacks dominate the ears of America. It's not even close. They are partially rebutted by straight news people who can see the glass is half full for the republicans and half empty for the democrats, and who strain to give the republicans a straight airing of their views, and not just a parody.

I belive that even Christopher Caldwell called the conservative's cries of liberal bias as essentially a great scam.

keef


Keef

Posted by: keef | Aug 12, 2004 3:43:37 AM

And BobC, maybe you should show Matthew how to use the grammar checker for his posts. There's a verb tense in the first sentence that I don't think I've ever seen before. I guess he meant to say "compared to what Bush is doing". See, Bush doesn't have a grammar checker either when he speaks. We're all human.

Posted by: Matt Motherway | Aug 12, 2004 3:49:53 AM

Matt Motheway wrote:

"To win over minds, you need some ideas and you need to back them up with facts."

It's pretty much a fact that Bush, who will not answer questions about his drug use and who skipped (or failed) a military physical, used coke.

I suppose that's something his conservative base should hear about.

I think Bush's established cocaine use should be mentioned nearly every day. I'm sure the liberals won't win when that's pointed out, but maybe the truth would be a good thing to point out occassionally. Maybe just once a day, to millions of ears.

Or maybe Bush could just answer the same question every other candidate answers about drug use, and we can move on. Funny that he doesn't answer that question.

instead, Matt M above would rather drag us deeper into fiscal deficit because he supports Bush's views on what bush calls "tax relief."

Bush was a cokehead in the seventies, and he won't even refute that. But in this decade, Bush is dragging the US into incredible debt.

I'm pretty sure Matt M won't deal with either of those issues, past and present and future, but wouild rather whine about the Democrats, who have not had power in washington in the past five years.

Nice work if you can get it. And you can get it if you're a republican.

keef.

Posted by: keef | Aug 12, 2004 3:55:22 AM

To Matt Motherway: I quibble with your analysis that the "conservative movement has stayed in one place while the rest of the world moves left".

It was a self-proclaimed conservative President, Richard Nixon, that imposed a wage freeze to battle inflation. What would the media say if President Clinton did the same thing? I think "communist" would have been flying around the airwaves as an adjective to describe him.

With the Reagan Presidency, the Republican party lurched to the right, and the Democrats have been playing catch-up ever since. President Clinton's policies, in some ways, were to the right of Nixon's. John Kerry has had to alter his stump speech to appeal more and more to the increasingly conservative undecideds.

Ideally, there should be a progressive political party and a responsible, moderate conservative one. The general shift to the right by both parties has led to the growing Banana Republicism of the US

Posted by: VagabondPlus | Aug 12, 2004 4:08:14 AM

Interesting problem, and very well put (regardless of whether there truly is a "hack gap"). I'd also suggest a tertiary consideration -- why are you appearing on the show? Is it to promote liberalism, promote your journalism, promote the American Prospect, promote Kerry, give your radio skills a workout, keep it real with the across-the-aislers, and etc.

Posted by: Matt Welch | Aug 12, 2004 4:13:11 AM

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