The Punditry Sausage Party

Friday afternoon I was reading a report on vpr.net about young people entering politics after being inspired by Bernie Sanders. It was a perfectly cromulent time-filler, not particularly long on insight or depth  (quotes from only two candidates, no attempt to identify a larger trend).

Near the end came this passage:

Eric Davis, a professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College, says it’s too soon to tell:

“In this year’s presidential cycle, Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign has certainly inspired many young people to get involved in politics,” Davis said. “The question I have, and I believe it’s too early to provide an answer to this question, is whether these impacts of the Sanders’ campaign are going to continue beyond the end of 2016.”

… and my left eyelid started twitching.

I’ve got no beef with Davis, a reliable source for a useful bit of conventional wisdom. But what suddenly struck me and my eyelid is the absolute ubiquity of the same handful of pundits quoted endlessly by Vermont media.

Davis is far and away number one. If someone decides there’s been a little too much Davis, they might make a call to Garrison Nelson. Or Chris “Undiscolsed Conflict” Graff. Or, in the case of Channel 3, Mike Smith and Steve Terry.

(Not to mention VTDigger’s political columnist, Jon Margolis.)

It’s a small punditical pool. And there’s a distinct ball smell about it.

Yeah, they’ve all got wedding tackle.

Time for a VPO Challenge: A crisp new Tubman to the first reporter or producer to find and use  a female pundit to opine on Vermont politics.

Is that enough incentive? I mean, really, equity alone should be all the incentive you need. There’s a serious need to expand the pool and represent both of our major genders.

(Hey, if you can find a transgender pundit or two, go for it.)

If you need more evidence, look back at my previous post about our epidemic of sexual assault. Hell, it took me a solid couple of weeks after the VPR Poll to come up with the idea. Might have occurred a lot more quickly to a woman. And she might have a more cogent insight than I, who have never felt the slightest frisson of fear about being raped.

(I’m sure I’ve lived through moments of risk, but I sailed on, blissfully unaware of the fact. And that’s a lot different than having fear as a constant companion in life.)

I realize this is a small state with relatively few political science departments, but there must be somebody.

And if there’s not, then our political science departments had damn well better hire themselves a few women who can research Vermont politics and comment knowledgeably about it.

Between the time I started formulating this piece and when I sat down to write it, I came across a VTDigger story about the primary. And yessirree, there he was again:

Self-financing a major campaign seems to ward off victory. While not inherently a bad idea, it requires just the right set of circumstances to work, along with a dash of good timing, says longtime political analyst Eric Davis.

There goes the eyelid.

Twice, in the same day, on different stories, in different media outlets? That bespeaks a poverty of imagination.

I repeat, I have no problem with Eric Davis in particular, although his sheer ubiquity should prompt concern.

C’mon, media folks. Cast off your tired old Rolodexes — the ones that seem to have no more than a couple of entries for “Vermont political pundit”. Cast your nets wider. Keep on fishin’ until you land someone with ladyparts who can hold her own with Garrison Nelson or Chris F’n Graff.

Vermont politics has a sad enough record on gender equity. The record of Vermont political punditry is even worse.

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16 thoughts on “The Punditry Sausage Party

  1. Bud Haas

    The problem of course, is that most of those “others” who might be pundits, have to work for a living, unlike the white male group you listed.

    Reply
  2. ApacheTrout

    I never realized that Vermont is missing a female pundit’s perspective (which would say much about my own white male biases). Thank you for pointing it out. Hopefully, this will change. It would surely bring a much different perspective than that of the retired white guy.

    As far as punditry goes, I’d very much like to see a scorecard to measure the value of a pundit. At the very least, the scorecard should have two check categories: originality of statement (either banal or original) and accuracy of prediction. For instance, I find Mr. Davis extremely banal. The statement from Mr. Davis about Sander’s lasting impact beyond 2016 is case in point. it doesn’t take political smarts to understand that this won’t be a known fact until after 2016. Yet somehow, Mr. Davis is taken to be a wise sage for identifying that it’s ‘too soon to tell.’ Woah, way to go out on a limb and use your decades of political science studies there, Mr. Davis.

    As for the second category (accuracy), this one’s easy. If predictions aren’t accurate, what’s the value of the pundit?

    Reply
  3. Steve Beck

    I stopped listening to VPR – NPR some time ago. It all started with my growing dislike of Terry Gross. For about one year, my mother’s declining health required almost monthly visits back to suburban Philadelphia, and I always seemed to be driving at Fresh Air broadcast time going south and then north. There was a period over several months that I was listening to transgender issues on the show. And as she does, it was an author, or an actor, or a playwright, or a painter, or a composer, or game designer or a vintage shop owner or an etc talking about themselves and their revelation and all the cultural stuff and and STOP IT, JUST STOP IT. I have nothing against transgenderism, or any sexual issue as life is hard enough and why can’t we all just get along and it just became to much. Perhaps it was my own mental status at watching my mother die, but I then read in 7Days “Best of Vermont” issue that VPR’s Jane Lindholm was Vermont’s own Terry Gross. That was it. Enough. So, I will return here with bated breath for a VPR update. It is good the VPR’ers are checking here too, they commented and thanked you for keeping them on their toes on whatever you were topic was – polling results on the Friday before the primary! Good job.

    Reply
    1. John S. Walters Post author

      You point to another potential pool of punditry: those who’ve been in office, or those who’ve held non-elective office. I don’t know if MacLean is personally interested, but there must be somebody out there.

      Reply
      1. John S. Walters Post author

        Fair point. Also, her being a lobbyist these days, I doubt she’d be willing to step on any powerful toes.

        Maybe Sue Allen, after Shumlin leaves office?

  4. Jason Loomis

    This state is in dire need of an injection of new perspective and analysis. This junta you reference has been peddling the same tired “Vermont way” and “no negative” bullshit for too long.

    Reply
    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Congratulations, Dave! You win the retrospective Tubman, which I can give you in cash (except it’ll still be a Jackson, I guess) or I can buy lunch sometime.

      Your use of Fowler, who’s still at Dartmouth, makes the tininess and maleness of the pundit poll look even worse. Why no Linda Fowler, guys? Is it because “she’s not from Vermont”? Not good enough.

      Reply
  5. Sue Prent

    ‘Gotta agree it’s pretty much the same old, same old.

    There are more than a few of us gals around; but except for Terri Hallenbeck and Ann Galloway, who are unassailably worthy, female voices are pretty much passed over in the pundit pool.

    But it’s not an omission that is peculiar to Vermont. In fact, I was just about to write to the Berggruen Institute, the founder of which was featured on Fareed Zacharia’s Sunday show on CNN.

    The institute is essentially a ‘think tank’ that was founded to bring together the best minds in order to arrive at new ideas for solving the pressing problems of our times. But if you really look at their website, it is, again, overwhelmingly male. The few women who are represented there, other than celebrity backer Ariana Huffington and a host of rapt workshop attendees, are mostly “twofers,” in that they ring the bell for being both female and ethnic minority. Like government, when a think tank is overweighted with testosterone, the resulting ‘ideas’ are likely to suffer from a fatal deficiency.

    But I digress. Donald Trump would probably put that down to my “woman-ness.”

    I just wanted to say: yes, you’re right…and thanks for noticing!

    Reply
  6. NanuqFC

    Cheryl Hanna was an accomplished, smart, clear-spoken commentator on a number of issues — not usually identified as a “political pundit” to be sure, but still a good antidote to sausage punditry overdose.

    Her ability to analyze legal issues for a non-lawyer audience was a rare talent. Her suicide by a hand gun she bought the day before she used it, created a deep hole in the hearts of her family, friends, and community. We’ve just passed the second anniversary of her death on July 27, 2014. I didn’t see a word of commemoration. She should not be forgotten.

    Obviously, her Rolodex card has been removed from the file, leaving one fewer intelligent, articulate, estrogen-empowered commentator to choose from.

    Reply
    1. Sue Prent

      I remember hearing Cheryl on more than one occasion. You’re right; she should not be forgotten.
      …And speaking of worthy female voices, Nanuq is a case in point.

      Reply
  7. Dave Katz

    Seems we’re dying of stale revolving punditry on just about every front. Time for…. Innovation! (I’d prefer legitimate maintenance, myself)

    Reply
  8. C Patullo

    Jess Wilson, formerly of Channel 17, now Exec director at RETN, used to be my local election coverage go-to person. Terri Hallenbach at SevenDays is a very solid reporter on politics. Anne Galloway, is often called in on the VPT weekly news show, in addition to her great work at VT Digger. Alicia Freese has been banging out stories as an up an coming reporter, again at SevenDays. But yes, the 7D political column is primarily covered by Paul Heinz. VPR hands off the reins of the mid-day show from Jane Lindholm to Bob Kinzel when it come to the Friday politics.
    And I agree, we could be doing better just a microcosm here of the national and international skewing of focus.

    Reply
    1. John S. Walters Post author

      I was writing specifically about pundits. Hallenbeck, Galloway and Freese, among many others, are fine reporters. And they do appear on VPT’s usually=somnolent Friday talkfest. But they don’t fill the specific niche of political pundit — opining about and analyzing Vermont politics. Those people are all men.

      Reply

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