Yesterday I went on The Ed Show, which is being guest hosted this week by The Nation's Chris Hayes (who is doing a really incredible job) opposite the terribly smart Reihan Salam of National Review, discussing financial reform and Social Security. I'm assuming at some point this week they'll call Tim Fernholz on to discuss felony voter disenfranchisement and enhanced interrogation techniques.
I want to take a second to talk about this experience, because I think it's instructive on the uselessness of the two-minute debate format. Last week I was contacted by NBC, told Chris was hosting, and asked if I wanted to be on the show next Tuesday. I said sure. Yesterday afternoon I was told what the topics would be -- FinReg, Social Security, and Democrats trying to get incriminating videos of Republicans. Knowing that these weren't really my areas of expertise, I asked Tim, who has some chops on these issues, if he had a suit coat at the office and could go on in my stead. He didn't.
Salam, whatever my disagreements with him, is a genuine social policy
expert and has written a book on social policy. I merely have generally liberal views about who should bear the financial burden of social programs. I brushed up with a smart blog post by Dylan Matthews on Social Security and got Tim to give me the run down on FinReg. Conclusion: After a few minutes of research, a reasonably intelligence person can go
on television and pretend like he isn't punching a hundred pounds out
of his weight class.
This isn't a knock on Chris, who I think is making a good-faith attempt to make cable news programs a little less mindless by picking some heterodox guests. The problem is the two-minute debate format, which is completely irredeemable. Case in point, a while ago I did a segment on Gitmo, a subject on which I've done actual reporting, with a RedState blogger who was clearly lost. Despite that, I don't think that anyone learned any more from that appearance than they did from the one above. The level of expertise you have on an issue just doesn't matter when you have 15 seconds to express a point of view over a period of two minutes. You can fake it, and even if you're not faking it, there's no time to say anything meaningful.
Does this mean that I'm going to stop doing these two-minute hits? No. I think the good they do in raising TAP's profile outweighs whatever small moral victory I would earn by defying the vapidness of cable news. I just figure that dishonesty isn't really the right way to start a relationship or a blog. Next time I do one of these, you'll know exactly what I'm thinking.