TV pundits are dicks

The TV was on this morning, and in an intellectually unguarded moment was tuned to the MSNBC coffee-klatsch nonsense called Morning Joe. I’ve changed the oil in my lawnmower engine more times than I’ve watched Morning Joe. So as luck would have it, this morning I saw the pundit Mark Halperin call the President of the United States, Barack Obama, a dick.

 As we all know, anyone can be a pundit, especially on TV. No-longer relevant rocker Ted Nugent is a pundit. The ill-informed Sarah Palin is a Fox News pundit. The thoroughly racist Pat Buchanan is a pundit. Even the deadpan actor Ben Stein – whose famous defense of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, charged with raping a hotel maid was, “Can anyone tell me any economists who have been convicted of violent sex crimes?” – is a pundit. So pundits can be consistently wrong, illogical, ideology-driven and rude.  

Now, calling Obama a dick wasn’t a simple slip of the tongue.  Right before he did it, the Morning Joe staff was giggling like a junior high gym class over the fact that Halperin asked permission to use a nasty world to describe what he thought of Obama’s press conference the previous day.  Sure, said hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, the show was on a seven-second delay.

The problem wasn’t that the show’s producer didn’t know how to work the seven-second delay button, as they all chortled after Morning Joe ‘s audience heard Halperin call the President of the United States a dick. Even if they had successfully bleeped out the comment, it would have been properly reported, to similar outrage. No, the real problem was how everyone reacted to it. They yukked it up. Made jokes of it. They even included a camera shot of the show’s producer, laughing and shrugging his shoulders and explaining how he’d hit the wrong button. The only one of the five people sitting around on the comfy couches during the segment who seemed uncomfortable with what had just happened – and even she seemed to be laughing a little – was Brzezinski.

When the group returned from a commercial break, slightly saner heads among the show’s executives appeared to have been heard. Halperin issued an apology that seemed genuine. The rest of the panel, particularly Scarborough, were still chuckling, displaying the same lack of judgment. Except Halperin. The smirk was gone. He looked as though he’d seen a ghost. He knew what was coming. Quite rightly, he was quickly suspended by the network.

So now we know: Pundits are dicks.

But why did Halperin think calling the president a name was OK? Why did most of the Morning Joe staff seem to agree? It’s not like Obama was suddenly Mel Gibson. Halperin was disagreeing with the president criticizing Congress for its lack of action on the debt issue. Here’s one of the points Obama made at Wednesday’s press conference:

We’ve got to get this done.  And if by the end of this week, we have not seen substantial progress, then I think members of Congress need to understand we are going to start having to cancel things and stay here until we get it done.  They’re in one week, they’re out one week.  And then they’re saying, Obama has got to step in.  You need to be here.  I’ve been here.  I’ve been doing Afghanistan and bin Laden and the Greek crisis.  You stay here.  Let’s get it done.

Millions of Americans cheered Obama’s comments. Perhaps Halperin thinks we’re all dicks, as well.