Wag the Debate

[Ed. Note: Sam Seder, Janeane Garofolo and the Majority Report Team will be guest blogging this weekend on ThinkProgress.org from the HBO Comedy Festival in Aspen, CO.]

Greetings from Aspen!

We’re here in Colorado to broadcast our Air America Radio show, “The Majority Report,” live from the HBO U.S. Comedy Arts Festival. As part of the festival, tomorrow, our co-host Janeane Garofalo will be in a panel called “Wag the Debate,” sponsored by none other than the Center for American Progress.

Everyone on our staff is a big fan of the new thinkprogress.org project, so we jumped at the opportunity to guest-blog. And since we’re much, much better looking than Judd Legum (and, to be honest, than most of the thinkprogress.org staff), we figured we could add some much-needed show-business glitz to this thing. But then Judd vetoed our photo submissions, on the basis that radio doesn’t qualify as show-business glitz. After giving it some thought, we decided he was right, so we’re just sticking to the words.

One of the things we’ve focused on time and time again on the Majority Report is exposing the crucial role cable-news pundits and hacks (we’re still trying to figure out the difference) play in selling the Bush Administration policies to the public. We saw the same play used time and time again in the run-up to the Iraq war: unqualified, uninformed people going on television to dishonestly convince the American people that we urgently needed to send our sons and daughters to war in Iraq to prevent an imminent attack, perhaps even a nuclear attack, on our home soil.

And yet, even after this has been exposed in every possible way, almost two years since the beginning of this war, we still see the same tactics used to spin the news out of Iraq in the Administrations favor. But thankfully, some great people are stepping up to call a spade a spade.

And, of course, the liberal blogs — and radio shows, like ours — will crunch out as much commentary as we can about this. But sometimes, the best way to crystallize a situation, to make it digestible to the public, is through a narrative. And last week, the Right Wing Noise Machine M.O. triggered a little narrative that’s as enjoyable as it is important.

One of our Majority Report regulars, Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, is a bona fide Middle East expert.

But last week, Jonah Goldberg of the National Review attacked Professor Cole and attempted to undermine not just his ideas, but his credibility. Cole, besides appearing on our show, started making the pundit rounds on outlets like C-Span. Perhaps Goldberg figured that a mild mannered and qualified intellectual like Professor Cole would take the attacks laying down. He was very, very mistaken.

Professor Cole responded with vigor, calling Jonah Goldberg out as a case study in the art of a disinformation hack. On his great blog called Informed Comment at www.juancole.com, Prof. Cole popped the puff of people like Goldberg, who even though they know virtually nothing firsthand about what they’re talking about, still feel entitled to stump:

An argument that judgment matters but knowledge does not is profoundly anti-intellectual. It implies that we do not need ever to learn anything in order make mature decisions. We can just proceed off some simple ideological template and apply it to everything. This sort of thinking is part of what is wrong with this country. We wouldn’t call a man in to fix our plumbing who knew nothing about plumbing, but we call pundits to address millions of people on subjects about which they know nothing of substance.

The debate on whether a pundit should be at all qualified apparently isn’t over: next week, we’ve invited both Professor Cole and Jonah Goldberg on our show to duke it out.

— Sam Seder, Janeane Garofalo, and the Majority Report Team