Replacement-Level Punditry

Jon Chait disagrees with me about Juan Williams:

Matthew Ygelsias applauds the firing because Williams is a mediocre, “replacement-level” commentator. That strikes me as a total dodge. Most commentators — most members of every profession! — are average. The question here is whether we want to create an atmosphere where commentators need to live in fear that even contemporaneous comments will be scrutinized by the strictest standards of tolerance, and a one-strike-and-you’re-out policy is generally applied toward their employment.

I didn’t call Williams “average.” Obviously being average can’t be a firing offense. I accused him of “general lameness and lack of valuable contribution to their programming” and on Twitter accused him of offering “replacement-level political commentary.” The latter was intended as a reference to baseball’s VORP concept and means that Williams is well below average.

Which is just to say that I don’t think I’ve dodged anything. Like Jon Chait I don’t like the idea of hair-trigger firings of people who step in it while making on-the-fly comments. At the same time, I’m against non-interesting non-insightful political commentary. And I’m very much against the idea, all-too-prevalent today, that certain kinds of punditry perches should be treated like tenured professorships from which people can only be let go for some kind of egregious misconduct. So while I wish this series of events hadn’t gone down in this way, I can hardly say I’ll miss Williams once he’s gone from NPR.