A week and a half ago, I wrote a post over at the Plum Line with a couple of suggestions for how the Sunday shows could become less terrible. Some commenters pointed out that the real audience for these programs isn't actual people, but those within the Washington bubble for whom status and influence are everything. So my suggestion that the shows should never again interview a White House communication director or a "party strategist" of any kind—in other words, people who are there solely for the purpose of spinning—was unlikely to get much of a hearing. And my suggestion to drastically scale back on interviews with elected officials, who are also exceedingly unlikely to say anything interesting, would likewise fall on deaf ears.
Which is perfectly true, and it hasn't stopped me from complaining about this topic before. But lo and behold, on yesterday's Meet the Press, something remarkable happened: They booked Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic and Avik Roy of Forbes to talk about health care. You can count on one hand the number of reporters who know as much about the topic as Cohn, and Roy is one of the rare conservative writers who actually takes health care seriously and makes an attempt to grapple with its complexities, even if I may not agree with his conclusions. Was it because of my post? Probably not, but still.
Before the show, Cohn tweeted this:
So here we go, let's get to that wonky discussion! And what did we get? Well, Cohn and Roy both did their best to bring as much light as they could to the topic, and there was no bickering. Chuck Todd, the substitute host for the day, asked six questions, three of which dealt with the policy of the Affordable Care Act and its real-world implications, and three of which were about the politics. That could have been better, but it could certainly have been worse.
But the big problem was that the segment lasted a grand total of five minutes. In that time, it's almost impossible to have a discussion that gets beyond the most superficial level, no matter how smart and informed the guests are. Then they moved right on to an interview with a politician, and then the roundtable, featuring the profound insights of Rick Santorum.
At the end of the segment with Cohn and Roy, Chuck Todd said, "You guys are two of the most thoughtful guys that have been debating this on opposite sides; we wish more political debates were this way." If only there were someone with the power and platform to make that happen!
So we can give NBC a little bit of credit for at least dipping their toe in the pond of substance. Now they should give their viewers a little credit, and when they book people who know what they're talking about, actually give them a chance to talk.