Pundit, Heal Thyself

The past 24 hours have been one of those synchronistic moments that only make sense when you make the connection between seemingly unrelated events.

The events:

  • I received an email from a friend seeking advice about the future of the non-profit organization she co-founded 15 years ago.
  • I sent an email to another friend explaining why I have stopped reading op-eds in the Washington Post and New York Times.
  • This morning, I perused the home page of NYTimes.COM.
  • I then turned on the TV to see what is happening in Ukraine.

The connection:

  • The best advice I could give my first friend was something I learned during my days managing the social entrepreneurship portfolio at the Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City. The only difference between a for-profit and non-profit entity is the nomenclature and what are allowable uses for net revenue. Survival is the same in both cases. Strategically, are you creating enough value to generate customers/members and investors/donors? If so, success depends on offering the right products/services, delivery, marketing, etc.
  • When I explained to my second friend, I have lost interest in people’s opinion versus reporting of facts, she replied, “Well, if everyone quit reading op-eds, you’d have no readers.” TouchĂ©.
  • Among the list of op-ed links on the Times’ home page was the following. “Four Times Opinion Columnists on What They Want Joe Biden to Say Tonight.”
  • “Morning Joe” opens with the following panel in their DC and NYC studios: co-hosts Joe, Mika, and Willie Geist plus Katty Kay (former BBC anchor), Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, Financial Times national editor Ed Luce and Politico White House Correspondent Jonathan Lemire.
  • I immediately turned to CNN where the morning show hosts were merely directing traffic among correspondents in several Ukraine locations, Moscow and the Poland/Ukraine border crossing.

So let me begin pulling this together with a quote often attributed to Mark Twain but actually of unknown origin. “All generalizations are false, including this one.”

The friend who questioned my own writing went on to say, “Of course, I believe facts are important, but all facts exist in context.” And there lies the rub. Some essays on the op-ed page do provide context. For example, to understand the nonsense of Vladimir Putin’s claims about the innate union between Russia and Ukraine you need to look at the history of the region over many centuries. Or review the Russian president’s public statements that are evidence of Putin’s personal outrage over Western dismissal of his country following the demise of the USSR.

Which brings me to the future of Deprogramming101. When I started this blog five and a half years ago, the mission statement ended as follows. “The ultimate goal is not to find RIGHT answers, it is to promote the asking of BETTER questions.” And I have admittedly violated that strategic goal on occasion. But if that mission statement still has value, I need to reexamine the product by which I deliver that value.

When I return to full-time blogging I hope to be more true to the original goal. To promote counter-intuitive thinking. And not being satisfied with an adequate answer, but always looking for the next right answer.

Believing that good questions are still the best way to achieve those goals, allow me to use the coverage of the war in Ukraine as an example.

  • Why do cable news networks pay their “contributors,” e.g. pundits, between $31,000 and $570,000 annually instead of beefing up news bureaus around the world?
  • When did “Meet the Press” and other Sunday talk shows become “A Meeting of the Press,” with panels of journalists chatting among themselves instead of concentrating on holding leaders’ feet to the fire to explain or justify their policies and programs?
  • What is different about the Russian invasion of Ukraine from the 1991 Iraq invasion of Qatar when Western military forces had no problem defending Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s army?
  • Why did Russian media use terms like “we will be welcomed as liberators” and “shock and awe” or trumped up justifications to prepare the Russian people for the impending invasion?
  • And finally, why aren’t historical data and facts which provide context not part of news reporting instead of being labeled as op-ed essays? Has the news industry, print and broadcast, contributed to the plethora of disinformation by failing to differentiate between reporting and opinion?

Consider the historical context of these last questions. Before digital news media, the Washington Post and New York Times had an editorial page. Today, they place links to opinion pieces at the top of their home pages right next to the lead stories. And local news broadcasts used to have editorials at the end of the show. But they were delivered by the station owner or general manager, not the news anchor.

I wonder if a return to separating fact from opinion could make a difference as it did a half century ago. Walter Cronkite did not accelerate opposition to the war in Vietnam because he personally disagreed with the Johnson administration or General Westmoreland. He left the comfort of his studio desk and reported the facts on the ground from the combat arena.

Ironically, of the three cable news networks, CNN (“The most trusted name in news”) and MSNBC (“This is who we are”) have let Fox (“We report, you decide”) claim the high ground. I can only wonder, was Shakespeare watching Fox News programming when he coined the phrase, “More honoured in the breach than the observance?”

I question, you decide!

For what it’s worth.

3 thoughts on “Pundit, Heal Thyself

  1. Spot on for Meet The Press and othe Sunday News shows. Where is Laurence Spivak when we need him???

  2. Answer to Bullet 3:
    Hussein’s army had not the nuclear military
    Power of Russia. The risk of extending the war was not nearly as great.

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