NYT Defends Obama From Critics: Nobody Listens To Pundits Anymore

New York Times writer Adam Nagourney asked an interesting question Sunday: "Does It Matter if Obama Loses the Pundits?"

The question was precipitated by the President's abysmal performance in his Tuesday Gulf Coast oil spill address and, in particular, how media members on both sides of the aisle gave him pretty poor grades.

Finding this obviously inconvenient, Nagourney set out to defend Obama from his critics by surprisingly making the case that nobody cares what pundits say anymore:

There was a time when the after-action takes of big commentators were sought out by Americans trying to assess the latest news coming out of the capital. They helped drive public opinion.

But tracking influences on public opinion has become greatly complicated now that the once-exclusive club has been joined by the vast multitudes blogging or posting Twitter updates or otherwise opining online, with a select few doing so after offering instant analysis on television.

Nagourney quoted some "experts" to support this view:

Martin Kaplan, the director of the Norman Lear Center at the Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism at the University of Southern California, said, "I think the most important impact of Washington commentators is on other Washington commentators."

Mr. Kaplan said that if the MSNBC commentator Keith Olbermann was upset by "what the Obama speech did or didn't contain, then every person who is booking a guest or framing an article is affected by that."

But, he added, "I think the impact of the various conventional wisdoms of Washington is far less, because people have so many places to turn to."

Nagourney then made a strange observation to further support his view:

Also complicating matters is the mistrust of the news media: it is at an all-time high. Many Americans are more likely to assume that anyone they read or see on television has a political bias. 

As such, Obama shouldn't care that he was universally panned after his Tuesday address because nobody cares what the media think?

Kind of a strange position for someone IN THE MEDIA to take, wouldn't you agree?

As the article reached its conclusion, Nagourney appeared to flip-flop a tad:

[W]hile the pundits might not matter as much, or get the picture wrong, their panning of Mr. Obama's speech might actually matter this time. Rather than the typical muddle of reactions, cut along partisan lines, Mr. Obama's speech produced a rare consensus of the critics.

"If there's a consensus among left or right that a speech is mediocre - as there appeared to be on the gulf - I think that can have a substantial effect on the public," said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster.

And even if the opinion stage is more crowded and confusing, establishment columnists like Maureen Dowd and David S. Broder are reaching more people than ever, precisely because of the Internet. They are more likely to have the resources and access to report, making theirs an informed commentary. [...]

Public opinion of Mr. Obama's performance last week may well be reflected in polls over the weeks ahead, and those polls may indicate that people agree to some extent with the instant conventional wisdom reflected in the headline over an online column by Howard Fineman, the Washington columnist for Newsweek: "Obama's Curiously Flat Gulf Speech." If so, it might simply be a case of everyone viewing an event and coming to the same, perhaps inevitable, conclusion. Americans didn't need the talking heads to tell them what to think.

Yes, but isn't this a chicken and egg question: which came first, the public's opinion of Obama's speech OR the pundits bashing it?

After all, only 32 million people watched his address Tuesday evening. Likely far more heard about it after it occurred via the various media sources.

With this in mind, the opinion of the vast majority of Americans concerning the President's address was likely impacted by these pundits.

But Nagourney didn't conclude that. Instead, he left readers with the impression the pundits don't matter anymore.

Think a Times writer would be making that case if commentators all raved about Obama's speech?

As the answer is likely "Hell No," Nagourney has taken the peculiar position of suggesting people DON'T pay attention to folks like him UNLESS they have good things to say about the President. 

He might be partially right.

Maybe people shouldn't listen to folks like him REGARDLESS of what they're saying.

Just a thought. 

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Noel Sheppard's picture