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Civility

By Matthew Yglesias

"Civility"

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Eric Alterman has a great column up about “The Politics of Pundit Prestige.” The lede is worth the price of admission:

Back in the pre-Internet days of yore, political punditry was the best job in journalism and one of the best anywhere. You could spout off on anything you wanted, and almost nobody would call you on it, much less find a place to publish and prove you wrong. And once you had established yourself as “credible,” it required little work, save coming up with a few semi-memorable phrases. (George Will’s chef-d’oeuvre was opining that the Reagan Administration “loved commerce more than it loathed Communism.”) With the advent of television talk shows, riches arrived in the form of corporate speaking gigs that paid tens of thousands of dollars an hour just to say the same damn thing you said on television. When Fred Barnes famously pronounced on The McLaughlin Group, “I can speak to almost anything with a lot of authority,” he was right, at least to the degree that he was really saying, “I can speak to almost anything without anyone pointing out how full of shit I usually am.”

This, I think, is what a lot of the obsession with blogosphere “incivility” is all about. A lot of people in the media do things that bloggers generally can’t do. File dispatches from dangerous foreign lands. Investigate serious wrongdoing inside the government. That kind of thing. But lots of people in the media do things that are essentially the same as what bloggers do. Offer commentary on things they read about in the newspaper. Summarize what they think the most salient elements of a high-profile speech were. Point out some noteworthy portions of a press conference. Journalists don’t like the competition, don’t like the criticism, don’t like the threat to their economic model, etc., etc., etc. So there’s a tendency to seize on semi-arbitrary things that distinguish blog posts from op-ed columns. We don’t write “fuck” or call people “wankers,” we don’t say mean things about other journalists, we’re civil, and so forth.

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