Incentives in modern-day punditry
My brother called this evening to tell me that I was mentioned by name on the Rush Limbaugh radio show today. He was amused and delighted about it, on the theory that “any publicity is good publicity.”
I’m more ambivalent. I won’t say I don’t enjoy the prospect of being more widely read — any writer who says otherwise is blowing smoke up your ass — but I can’t say I’m entirely pleased that my renown will come from using an unnecessarily inflammatory analogy that did little but nurture the right wing’s permanent persecution complex. I do a lot of work on Grist, at least some of which I like to flatter myself is thoughtful, occasionally insightful. But to thousands of people, I’m now and forever the guy who wants to execute global warming skeptics.
It’s an interesting window into the media world. I could probably toil away doing thoughtful work for 10 years before getting the attention that comes with one bit of ideological bomb-throwing. Any blogger or pundit will tell you the same: they can have all the insights they want, but the links and traffic come when they stumble on a clever way to bash the other side. Naturally, this creates incentive to move in the direction of greater shrillness.
One doesn’t want to be shallow shrill, the kind of chest-beating, preach-to-the-choir shrill so familiar across the blogosphere and talk radio. But at the same time, there are things going on these days that warrant legitimate anger and outrage, and the muffled, mumbly, mealy-mouthed he-said-she-said crap that passes for commentary in the center-right Beltway media establishment just doesn’t capture it very well.
Outrage that is righteous and passionate, but also well-informed and open-minded, is a tricky balance to strike. Everywhere are cultural forces militating against it, pushing in the direction of either knee-jerk combativeness or benumbed “centrism.”
I suppose today I played some small role in making it even more difficult to strike that balance. But what can you do? Tonight I’ll go to bed with a troubled mind, and tomorrow I’ll get up and try again.