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Opinion: Pundits are like TV wrestling—entertainment, not reality

November 1st, 2011 Posted in Opinion

By Max Parker Dahl

Editor’s Note: Dahl’s essay on whether pundits are independent journalist was the second-place winner in a statewide competition.

SALT LAKE CITY—I loved watching professional wrestling growing up. The absurd outfits, hair, muscles and personalities amalgamated to an engrossing experience packaged specifically for my consumption. I knew the action in the ring was faked, but it was secondary to watching people get thrown over the ropes and smashed in the face with a chair, or backstabbed by an ally when the heat was on. The drama was predictable, but addicting. I would tune in every week, twice a week to see plotlines convolute. It was always about the belt. In a word: fanaticism.

I’ve grown out of the habit of following “professional entertainers” in the form of professional wrestling —there are more important things like politics and foreign policy and fiscal responsibility to fill my evenings. Now when I want to see something devised and overtly biased, I turn on Bill O’Reilly and watch him pile-drive his guests and their views about government spending. When I’m sufficiently conservative, I’ll switch to Rachel Maddow and work out my liberal angst. Pundits’ tactics vary, but they are efficacious and persuasive in presenting their arguments about “truth.” It’s all about party lines. Same word: fanaticism.

“Pundits reinforce all of the negative aspects
of human interaction within a developed society:
ignorance, argumentation, miscommunication,
tenacious idiocy.

Pundits work to polarize partisan views and negate/obliterate the possibility for common ground. The guests they invite are as calculated as a top rope body-slam. In denying a global climate change, for instance, a few opinions sway many and foster ignorance instead of understanding. A solitary testimony can overturn a preponderance of evidence if scientists are reduced to a shouting match, or another is driven to frustrated outbursts. The lens of the public’s paradigm closes in further until the focus has shifted from the issue of immigration or health care reform to entertainment.

I believe that the social commentary pundits provide is worthy, but as professional wrestling bears little resemblance to Olympic wrestling, the role pundits assume as a journalist should be clarified as entertaining commentary. Admittedly, it does prove efficacious, like pushing President Obama to present his long-form birth certificate, but it works like the tantrum of a child. Some viewers assume there is no distinction between journalism and journalistic entertainment. Comedians Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert have become more trustworthy sources of information for my generation because their approach is transparent—comedy first, politics and commentary thereafter.

• Related Story: USU essayists win statewide contest

I further believe it is socially irresponsible to parade as legitimate and objective reporters “presenting the facts” when claims are based on opinion or partial disclosures. The blogging movement has lulled our society into thinking personal opinions deserve our attention. All opinions were not created equally.

Pundits reinforce all of the negative aspects of human interaction within a developed society: ignorance, argumentation, miscommunication, tenacious idiocy, etc.

The ultimate independent journalist will need to become each of us as we contribute from our backpacks the facts and photos of life as it unfolds around us. Without personal contribution, we fall victim of someone else’s interpretation of what reality should mean to us.

TP

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