Let’s Simplify And Go With “Talking Head”

If you always suspected that those cable talking head classifications (political contributor? strategist? analyst?) were arbitrary and about as meaningful as the segments on which your average “GOP Strategist” goes head to head with his Democratic counterpart, Politico’s Daniel Libit reports that you were correct.

Of the label “strategist” Libit writes: “Now used as a catchall tag for a whole host of people with varied — and often peripheral — backgrounds in electoral politics, the term has all but lost its meaning.” Unless, of course, the “strategy” involved is to overwhelm viewers with shouted talking points. Then, well, “strategist” is entirely apt.

How has this been allowed to happen? How is it that the networks “keep handing out the term ‘strategist’ like it’s candy?” How has this mislabeling “trend” —which Libits reports “has been afoot for years” — “reached a new apex this election cycle? It has been “fueled perhaps by the interest in attracting a more diverse crew of expositors,” to have a dozen panels, “multitudinous voices.” Which leads to the following, as an unnamed “high-ranking cable news executive” explains:

Many of these sort of more junior folks who have sort of made it into the ranks of analyst/commentator/strategist are only too happy to talk about things they don’t know about. Part of the problem is that because, again, they’re very glib, they’re good on TV. And if you ask someone the question and they give you a good-sounding answer, you might not know by asking them that it’s not their area of expertise.

I suppose we already knew from that New York Times “military analysts” story from back in April that we shouldn’t expect the networks to actually ask their “experts” about their backgrounds. And so, when it comes to talking about politicians on cable TV — as often seems the case for actually being a politician — “glib, good on TV” beats actual experience and knowing what you’re talking about.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.