By Ben Cohen
Watching political talk shows in the U.S is a painful thing to do, but a necessity if you want to understand how the pundit classes frame the boundaries of debate.
Tucker Carlson's show on MSNBC is the perfect combination of pointed criticism within the confines of acceptable debate, and down right political hackery. The format is as follows: Carlson introduces the topic of discussion, then invites an array of 'experts' on to debate the issue. Yesterday, Carlson was flanked by Democratic strategist Peter Fenn and associate editor of 'The Hill' A.B Stoddard. The debate was as usual, inane beyond belief with the discussion centering around campaign politics. I couldn't tell you about the specifics because the subject so ludicrous it was hard to take seriously. It was something along the lines of whether or not Republicans like John McCain, and whether Hillary Clinton is at her best when being defensive.
As is usually the case with the political 'experts', there was no discussion of actual policy, just a relentless focus on image based issues and analysis of polling figures.
Anyway, having sat through an hour of self indulgent rhetoric, I got me thinking. Who is A.B Stoddard, and why is she famous?
Her bio on The Hill reads:
A.B. Stoddard, who has covered the U.S. House and Senate since 1994,
rejoined The Hill as associate editor in 2006. She was a congressional
reporter for The Hill from 1995-1999. Before returning to The Hill,
Stoddard was a freelance writer and a contributing editor for
Congressional Quarterly, where she wrote a column on the media. She
also wrote for The Boston Globe and The Federal Paper.
An impressive resume. However, upon reading some of her blog posts on
the site, I could find absolutely nothing resembling serious journalism
or critical thought. Just a vast archive of vacuous political hackery.
Here's an example from one of her post on Hillary Clinton:
"OK, so now she’s getting rapped for not tipping a waitress when she
said she really did, and so today I feel sorry for Sen. Hillary Rodham
Clinton (D-N.Y.). But how did the gender card play with you? It has
been a whole 48 hours since the week-long story of Clinton as victim of
the big boys, getting eaten up at a debate by those big mean boys. I
wrote in my column
this week about how Team Clinton pushed the story because they saw it
as an opportunity. They must have run the calculation and crunched the
numbers that this would make her look weak and decided it was worth it
anyway. But I agree with what Tucker Carlson said on his MSNBC show
this week, that Clinton’s strength is her strength."
If you have the stomach, more of her posts can be read here. My point is not to pick on Stoddard. She is not particularly offensive, just a symptom of a very, very big problem.
The fact that her work passes for political analysis is a sign that
debate in the U.S is in serious crisis, and there is a dire need to
systematically expose it for what it is. Phrases like 'Clinton's
strength is her strength' belong in media marketing companies that sell
political candidates in the same way they sell cars. They do not belong
in serious political debate.
A graduate in Politics and International Relations from the University of Sussex, Ben Cohen is a boxing journalist for Secondsout.com and Boxing Monthly. He is the founding Editor of The Daily Banter.