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July 19, 2007

Logic, Media, Incentives, And Me

Eric Alterman on some guy he met at a party:

Why should he bother making sense? If the fellow wants a career sounding clever on American cable and radio talk shows and the like, there is no reason in the world why he should bother making any sense. Making sense takes too long, though not as long as pointing out why someone is not making sense. More often than not, when I do cable TV, the question that is put to me simply does not make any sense. Yet to point this out is to show bad manners and moreover, it gets in the way of the point I wanted to make in the first place. So there's no value whatever in pointing it out. And the thing metastasizes from there, frequently going off into outer space in terms of logic or what we know to be true about the real world. But no one cares because everyone's interest is served.

I sort of enjoy the double challenge of being questioned on television: You both need to make your point, but also frame your answer in such a way that it retroactively makes the question sensical. That's the real trick.

Increasingly, though, the incentives are changing. Assume that the incentive for going on television is to raise your profile (which is about 75 percent correct). If I went on television five years ago, a large part of my incentive would be to make the host like me. After all, these appearances pass in an instant, and most of you would never see the program. So if I want to reach the maximum number of people with my arguments and do the most to increase my visibility, I want to keep coming back.

Now, however, with YouTube and GoogleVideo and online archiving, a single, contentious appearance can be seen on the internet a million times. Everyone, after all, has seen Stewart berate Tucker Carlson on Crossfire, but very few of us had actually tuned in that day. Similarly, my segment on the Kudlow show, replayed on the internet a few thousand times, did much more for my reputation among the audience relevant to my success than have my more friendly, but bland, appearances on other shows.

Making sense often requires you to be disruptive, and not long ago, being disruptive was probably a bad idea. Now it's a good one. And since the channels are wising up and putting their videos online with advertising before them, they also want widespread online dissemination of appearances, and so their incentives are increasingly aligned with mine. Does this mean more folks will be making sense? Not necessarily. But it means their might be more room for sense-making.

July 19, 2007 | Permalink


I don't think you are making any sense. it had to be said.

Posted by: akaison | Jul 19, 2007 4:16:24 PM

akaison, your comment did not make Ezra's post retroactively sensible. NO TV APPEARANCES FOR YOU!

Posted by: paperwight | Jul 19, 2007 4:32:13 PM

Beside the point, I suppose, but the guy Alterman was talking to made perfect sense, and Alterman was being obtuse.

Posted by: Bloix | Jul 19, 2007 5:18:00 PM

Proof, that common sense is exponentially distorted the closer you get to Alterman. Honestly, check out Alterman's appearance on Bloggingheads.tv if you find torture arousing. It becomes painfully obvious that Alterman posses a force field that deflects logic the way the earth's magnet field deflects solar particles. However, it appears that Ezra's force field was distorted by his interaction with Alterman. This must be since Ezra typically writes lucid and tight paragraphs. Ezra please go stand under power lines. Their emanating magnetic field might help to recalibrate you.

Posted by: jncam | Jul 19, 2007 6:12:01 PM

That's why you and other progresssives should go ahead and call out Chris Matthews for what a Republican apologist hack he is. Feel free to point out the way he calls Hillary Clinton a Mafioso based on a complete misreading of a single incident 15 years ago, the way he called Al Gore Bill Clinton's "bathtub ring," for 18 months, the way he kisses up to all the manly man Republicans, like Fred Thomspon and John McCain, and talks about what good daddies they would make. You needn't fear not being invited on his show again, since you don't really need him anyway.

Posted by: bobbo | Jul 19, 2007 6:43:54 PM

The element of permanence is underlined when the guest has a media outlet of their own. If I'm Kudlow, I'm far more aware of a clip's replay potential in the blogosphere, or wherever, if my guest is a notable blogger like Ezra, or television personality like Stewart. They can direct traffic outside the viewership of Kudlow & Company. Authors, analysts, wonks ... not so much.

Also: Alterman's appearances on Bloggingheads.tv and elsewhere in the media, are bracing. The man does not brook any bullshit. Many (for whom bullshit is sine qua non) find this discomfiting; I do not. It's a shame he can't stomach more television appearances insamuch as he excels at them. Alterman perpetually has this tone of pissed indignation. Which seems the precisely correct response to the political realities of our time.

Posted by: sangfroid826 | Jul 19, 2007 8:19:34 PM

"Alterman perpetually has this tone of pissed indignation. "

Alterman's indignation is misdirected and misguided. He constantly pisses on anyone who questions the Democratic Party leaders. Worse, his logic is incompatible with Democracy.

Posted by: jncam | Jul 19, 2007 8:30:41 PM

Eh. Alterman's impatience with those who question the leadership has more to do with a distaste for armchair quarterbacking than anything else. Some seem to think that because they can count votes, they are more adroit parliamentarians than either Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid. It gets old.

He's been a vicious critic of the Bush administration's Trotskyite playbook lo these seven years. The man is a pit bull, no doubt. But if you have examples where his logic is anti-democratic or illiberal, please, link away.

Posted by: sangfroid826 | Jul 19, 2007 9:39:15 PM

I have seen you on hardball and what always crosses my mind while watching is how you can keep a straight face. usually the others who are on with you are so dumb. They talk these awful and idiotic talking points and are parroting spin. No thought at all. Knowing you thru your blog, I keep wondering how someone with your intellect keeps from either laughing or asking these people if they even know what they are saying.
I do wish you would get to the point where you tell all of them to please get into the real world and read comments on blogs,ect to see what real people are thinking.

Posted by: vwcat | Jul 19, 2007 11:40:45 PM

I agree, Eric alternam is just another of those idiots who shout "PURITY TROLL!!!!!!!!" every time you argue against a democratic candidate. These people don't want to enforce an ideological test on the party, but in refusing to do so they are instead attempting to enforce a loyalty oath on the party base. That's bullshit, and it's not going to end well for them.

Posted by: soullite | Jul 20, 2007 8:39:28 AM

To put it another way, the Democratic Party doesn't automatically deserve votes because they aren't as bad as the Republicans. That's the surest way to prevent progress, by assuring those you are attempting to influence that you will support them no matter what. What incentive do they have to modify their views? None. Instead they'll always take you for granted and view you as a sucker. Unless you're willing to walk away, they never have a reason to give you what you want.

Posted by: soullite | Jul 20, 2007 8:43:00 AM

God I hope so. I hope more liberal commentators realise that they can control their answer to be what they want the audience to see not what the host wants to 'debate'

I disagree. There is intra party politics and inter party politics. The way the American political system is set up you are better off changing a party from the inside than trying to start a new one. If you are so damn angry at the performance of the Democratic Party you should be involved with like minded people in changing the composition of the party by deciding who gets the go ahead as the candidate. A lot of this 'progressive' action is taking place at the state level. Colorado, Minnesota and Vermont are leaders here. When enough states have 'progressive' run party machines then you will see a bias towards progressive Congresional candidates from the DCCC. We saw some of this in 2006. There is no way to 'shock' the system into liberal compliance over a 2 or 4 year period. It is a 12 to 20 year process. This is what Howard Dean to the DLC was all about.

Also, Eric Altman really doesn't deserve your anger, save it for the more deserving like Krauthammer, Brooks and Broder. At a time where the republican president has just declared himself above the law maybe threatening to walk out of the party because of XYZ is not the right thing to do. Priorities.

Posted by: Northern Observer | Jul 20, 2007 11:06:04 AM

Agree with Bloix, the British guy was making sense and Alterman was being obtuse.

Also agree with Ezra that the incentives are changing due to Youtube and internet dissemination. For example, the incentive for spectacle is higher. But it also has to be the kind of spectacle that some group of people wants to see.

If the format is a Hardball-style talk show, the "catchiest" segments will probably involve some amount of testosterone (or at least contentiousness), and will likely involve someone being made to look bad.

I am not sure that this is very conducive to truth-seeking. It sounds like a recipe for turning things into Hannity and Colmes.

Posted by: mk | Jul 20, 2007 1:27:36 PM

Eric, just politely state your version of the question, and then give your answer. In fact, nonsensical questions give you a lot of leeway to frame the discussion.

TV Host: wskdix kdsc llkd skser ckah dkso?
Alterman: I'll be happy to tell you why I believe the Washington Post is a stenographer for the Bush Administration. First. . .

Posted by: Stuart Eugene Thiel | Jul 20, 2007 3:00:31 PM

[M]y segment on the Kudlow show, replayed on the internet a few thousand times, ...

Make that a few thousand and one. I got here via the link from Brad DeLong, viewed the video, and can only say -- damn you got under his skin! :-)

You rock -- keep up the good work. (And, yes, I realize that I am simply making your point, and I do so with great pleasure.)

Posted by: Jim Bales | Jul 22, 2007 7:43:15 AM

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