Tuesday, January 30, 2007

NewsBusters Vs DailyKos

To be precise its Mike Stark (contributor for Daily Kos and blogger behind Calling All Wingnuts) Versus Noel Sheppard (contributing editor of NewsBusters)

The issue they are debating over is that of little known blogger Spocko and his campaign to alert advertisers of a San Fransisco Radio station of the content their ads are being assosciated with. The Radio Station in question is KFSO, broadcaster of APF pundits Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Mark Levin. In particular contention however were conservative personalities Melanie Morgan, Lee Rodgers, and Tom Benner of the drive-time “Morning Show". Spocko was writing complaint letters to KFSO advertisers with short transcripts and audio clips of contentious segments. It's been reported that KFSO have lost large sponsors such as Bank of America and MasterCard, though the anchors claim they’ve only lost one. One thing we know is that this is big news on the blogs.

The big news on this blog isn't KFSO, Melanie Morgan or the rise of a once little known blogger. Its the cross-over of pundits representing two of the biggest ideological blogs, Newsbusters (right) and DailyKos (left). Both have sanctioned a debate where they can ask and must answer 5 questions provided by their counterpart. WOW!!!!!

I can't reference an equivalent wrestling scenario that actually happened, but its straight out of the wrestling playbook. The closest I can come up with is when Shane McMahon, son of WWE owner Vince McMahon bought out competitor WCW to upstage his dad. This started an 'Invasion' angle where there was a cross over of wrestlers from both federations. Despite the fact its a laboured analogy, its deceiving because every discerning fan knew that WWE had bought out WCW beforehand. Rather than two dominant parties momentarily putting differences aside and joining forces, it was actually a powerful party devouring an ailing one. To be fair its an unlikely proposition due to the cut-throat rivalries that exist in wrestling.

A better analogy is the Marvel/DC crossover. A 1997 comic mini series by the two behemoths of the comic world DC and Marvel. Our favorite heroes did battle with hitherto unseen heroes from the rival universe. Winners were chosen through fan popularity - hey not unlike wrestling. Capcom Vs SNK is another analogy i can think of, this time in the Video gaming world.

Its encouraging to see that in politics, it is possible to break bread. I'm glad this is one case where Wrestling was unlike politics.

"Finally, we can do more of this – cross-pollination between blogs of differing ideology. As long as there are almost exclusively liberal and conservative blogs blaming all of the problems in the world on each other, we’ll never see a more civil political discourse." Noel Sheppard, NewsBusters.org

The debate as viewed through the Newsbusters universe
The debate as viewed through the DailyKos universe

Monday, January 29, 2007

Politics is wrestling: Explaining the analogy

If you've just stumbled on this blog or its companion site
http://myspace.com/punditfight
you're probably wondering "what's it all about?".

The APF was conceived because I had come to the realisation that I was addicted to political punditry, from both the left and the right. I was consuming it during and after work, supposedly my 'down time'. I wanted to create a website that acknowledged this interest as well as manufacturing an excuse to make animations.

When friends asked me why I was so interested in politics, one of the analogies I would use was wrestling. At its root I saw it as a popularity contest, not a matter of 'what you do' but 'how you appear'. Obviously this is a cynical outlook, but as a graphic designer with a keen interest in youth marketing I had always been fascinated with the art of 'making people like you' or more aptly 'how to trick people into liking you'. In this way I see a lot of similarities in wrestling, politics and punditry.

Of course there are pundits I genuinely like and agree with, others whose artistry I admire and some who get on my nerves. One thing I didn't want my site to be was solely ideology driven and partisan. I wanted people to listen to pundits who they may ideologically differ from, deconstruct it and appreciate it for what it actually was.

One of the reasons I've used an analogy is to separate the pundits [even if its just one degree] from ideology but rather to look it strictly from a 'persuasion' point of view. Like wrestling I want the site to be community driven, the reaction and support of the audience will determine which pundits the public demand more of and which pundits don't connect.

With that said, I take politics seriously. Our political beliefs are to be taken solemnly as they are firmly held. But beliefs are only given power when actioned, tested in reality where its effects on our community and our livelihoods can be measured. Even then we must pressure those in power to carry out those tenets in good faith and for the benefit of the community.

Pundits whether through blogs, radio or TV are often at the forefront of debate and discourse on these crucial matters of politics. Whilst its partisan nature can be destructive, it can also inform much more incisively as it brings to the fore the key points of difference and base emotions and motivations behind each sides opinion.

Ideally the APF can be positioned as a lighter debating/deconstructing forum where people can discuss their favorite (or not) political talkers. I can only hope.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Independent Bill O'Reilly

Speaking of the State of the Union, I noticed something interesting in the beginning of Bill O'Reilly's exchange with Laura Ingraham on that subject.
Listen to O'Reilly riffing with Laura
BILL O'REILLY: [Introducing] Laura Ingraham who is a conservative, fair and balanced here. Not like in NBC where they're just running liberal after liberal after liberal pa pa pa pa pa poh. We have two liberals, I'm an independent which leans traditional. You're a conservative, that's the way we should do it.
LAURA INGRAHAM: I'm very confused. I'm just totally confused at this point
In wrestling, 'Kayfabe' is the art of staying in character to preserve the illusion that wrestling is real. Keeping the pretense is made easier by adopting personas and storylines that are extensions of or informed by a wrestler's real characteristics. For instance if a wrestler is Texan and has a blue collar upbringing, their gimmick may reflect that. This allows wrestlers to appear authentic even when they are shown out context (i.e on a variety show). The blurring of the lines between reality and stage is sometimes painfully realised, like when two wrestlers who really detest each other have a feud in the ring. This makes for exciting viewing as the audience is aware that the emotions are 'real' despite being portrayed on stage.

In the past one of the biggest insults to a wrestler was being asked "Is wrestling real?". Everyone of course knows that it is staged, but what is insulting is the dismissiveness that underlies the question. Apart from the heightened realism mentioned above, it discounts the fact that wrestlers are in effect athletes and actors rolled into one. They write their own lines, perform their own stunts, they also act (and adlib) live on stage in front of tens of thousands of people. Its no wonder wrestlers are defensive and sometimes violent when asked this question.

You're probably wondering what this has to do with Bill O'Reilly?

Bill O'Reilly calls himself and often reminds us he is an "independent who leans traditionalist". Its hard to argue O'Reilly's sincerity because he has largely created the definition and is the biggest proponent of the term. Its true Bill cannot be easily classified as liberal or conservative, though he has often been characterised as a conservative for his frequent criticism of the left. On such occasions Bill is defensive and is quick to assert he is an independent. Bill's claim as an independent was dealt a blow when the New York Daily news reported he was registered as a Republican, he would later re-register as an independent. Matt Lauer of the Today show mistakenly called Bill a conservative, to which he loudly retorted "I'm an independent, You know that!!"**. Terry Gross of NPR's Fresh Air pressed O'Reilly heavily on his independence, Bill walked out on the interview claiming her questioning was unfair.

Bill as a champion for traditionalist values, is convincing on his own show under his own terms. However like a wrestler appearing outside their natural element Bill O'Reilly's persona of an embittered crusader seems cartoonish especially next to lightweight hosts such as Letterman, Lauer and the Girls from 'The View'. Its no wonder that in this context skeptical people are more likely to press O'Reilly on his independence.

O'Reilly defensiveness on the independence issue is similar to a wrestler's reaction when asked if wrestling is real. I think Bill feels that if he admits that he is more right leaning, people might view him as an idealogue and no longer see him as a bipartisan critic. He also fears it would discount his progressive positions on capital punishment, gun control, gay marriage, marijuana and the environment.

Wrestling eventually gave up the pretense that it was real, rebranding it as 'Sports Entertainment'. Wrestlers when doing promotional media no longer had to defend and overcompensate when pressed if wrestling was real. It allowed people to appreciate the art of wrestling more because it was no longer pretending to be something it was not. I think Bill would enjoy even greater success and legitimacy if he did the same.

**I looked tirelessly for video of this exchange between Matt Lauer and Bill O'Reilly on The Today Show June 14, 2006. Lauer mistakenly refers to O'Reilly as a conservative early in the interview. I hope someone can assist by finding this video as it illustrates the post well. Its disappointing I couldn't find it.
Listen to Bill emphasizing his independence to Laura Ingraham
Listen to Bill O'Reilly on NPR's Fresh air
Watch Bill O'Reilly on 'The View'.
Watch Bill take on David Letterman.

Friday, January 26, 2007

PPVs Monthly

I'm hoping to feature wrestling style PPVs** (Pay Per Views) monthly centering around a hot topic for that particular month. It will entail making a logo an new animation and a roundup of pundit opinions on that particular subject. January's subject: The State of the Union.

*Don't worry, you won't actually have to pay.

The other OpinionMakers

The other day I heard an interesting discussion between APF pundit Sam Seder and Markos Moulitsas of the DailyKOs. They were talking about Opinion Makers and pundits but were not referring to anyone in the APF (nor anyone I would consider eligible for the federation). They spoke negatively of the Washington press and pundit class pointing out how wrong they've been, mentioning names like David Broder and Jim VandeHei.

I would often read in the blogosphere and listen to pundits like Rush Limbaugh bemoan and dismiss the 'elite media' for being wrong. I always wondered why there was a separation between the pundits, in my mind they were all the same. They were people providing opinions based on their expertise, though some did consider themselves more populist than others.

The feeling of populism comes from being a part of the New Media. Pundits who use outlets like talk Radio, blogs and Video journals are able to communicate directly to their audience. The 'elite' pundits would write columns for the National papers (think Washington Post and NY Times), they appear on the Sunday talk shows and nightly news.

However I wouldn't say those in the New Media were more accurate than the other pundits. The fluidness of daily talk radio and blogs just allows incremental shifts of opinion to suit new events. The audience's more intimate connection with the Opinion Maker also makes them more forgiving when their favourite pundit gets it wrong.

To beat a dead horse, I will be characterising the differences between pundits using the wrestling analogy. There are two types of wrestlers:

a) The 'respected' kind. Admired usually in their own circles and in their own minds. The type of wrestlers we see in Colleges and in the Olympics, the more modest and respectable outlets. They are more interested in the technical side of wrestling. They do not trade off their personality to win favour with the audience.
The respected pundits, usually referred to as the 'elites' will appear on respectable shows like 'Meet the Press' and 'Face the Nation'.

b)The 'Populist' kind. Usually dismissed by the elite because they are more focused on showmanship and personality and less on actual wrestling ability. They are still accomplished wrestlers nonetheless, referred to now as "Sports Entertainers". The reality is this type of wrestling reaches the larger audience, even those who don't usually pay attention to wrestling. Its the best way to make a name for yourself, to inject yourself into the mainstream and the population's psyche. It also gives you a better chance of earning a lot of money.
The populist pundits are known for their entertainment value coupled with informational analysis. Their appeal as entertainers allows them to access other more mainstream avenues outside of the political/news circuit (think Letterman, Dancing with the Stars, The View). It means that they can slide into other outlets such as books, radio and TV.

The same dynamic between technical wrestlers and professional wrestlers appears between technical pundits (old media) and populist pundits (new media). The Populist/New Media type pundit will be the kind you'll see representing the APF.

Listen to the discussion between Sam and Markos

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Main Event Battle - Stephen Colbert VS Bill O'Reilly

January 18, 2007 marks the day where 2 heavyweight pundits confronted each other for the first time. They did so twice.

Appearing on each other's shows, Stephen Colbert entered Bill O'Reilly's "No-Spin" Zone", whilst Bill was greeted with a "Mission Accomplished" sign and a few boos on Stephen's show. The national media and the blogosphere was abuzz analysing and recounting their favourite zingers.

Stephen Colbert is gaining 'household name' status for his caricature of right wing punditry, most notably Bill O'Reilly (whom he affectionately calls Papa Bear). Stephen on a nightly basis pretends to be an absurder more comical version of Bill, host of ratings hit The O'Reilly Factor. Garnering magazine features and TV profiles, Colbert's program became a destination for politicians to earn 'street' cred during the current midterms. It was only a matter of time before the real Bill O'Reilly would finally go face to face with his fake counterpart. It was going to be huge and was going to get meta.

In the showdown, O'Reilly remarked to Colbert that he wouldn't have a career without him and probably owes him a lot of money. Stephen countered by saying there's a big difference between imitation and emulation - imitation means he owes a royalty checque whilst emulation means he doesn't, "Check your lawyer!".

The encounter is noteworthy, it marks the collision of two heavyweight pundits with duplicate styles representing rival fan bases, Fox News and Comedy Central. Its closest wrestling equivalent would be a showdown between WCW Heavyweight Champion Goldberg and WWE jobber Gillberg however this is only a superficial comparison and falls extremely short.

Goldberg Gillberg Colbert Bill O'Reilly
Gillberg was a parody created by the WWE to irritate and undermine its rivals' (WCW) main draw. It was at best an exercise in character assassination. Goldberg was a far more imposing and formidable figure both in reputation and physicality. He would have clearly decimated him in a shoot fight or any fight for that matter. In essence Gillberg was a Goldberg "Mini Me", his character existed solely to trade off the value of the imitated. You could argue that there were no genuine Gillberg fans, his only support came from people who despised Goldberg and what he represented.

Gillberg and Goldberg never faced off. It could never happen. Apart from the fact they participated in competing federations, it would make no sense for Bill Goldberg to occupy any space near his caricature because it would completely diminish his cache of supremacy. Goldberg was a Heavyweight champion, top moneymaker and fan favorite. Gillberg just happened to look and act like Goldberg, albeit a goofier more compact version.

Stephen Colbert at worst could have been a lame parody piggybacking off O'Reilly's image. This Main Event showdown is a testament to what Stephen has achieved in such a short time. He has outgrown Bill's Shadow, his growing relevance means he now occupies the same space as heavyweight Bill O'Reilly. A man of influence.

The much anticipated match drew record ratings for Stephen Colbert, 1.7million viewers at the 11:30pm timeslot. O'Reilly received a spike to its consistently stellar ratings of 3million viewers at an 8pm timeslot

Friday, January 19, 2007

The forgotten pundits

At this stage the APF has 20 pundits, but this will surely expand. I encourage people to contribute their ideas on which pundits should be added.
To be frank, you are likely to see a pattern in the pundits populating the APF. Though 'pundit' is broadly defined as a 'learned person who makes commentary or judgements', I am narrowing the definition for acceptance into the APF.
1) The pundit must have a fanbase, or at the least a credible means for achieving one. Having listenership via a Radio show, viewership via TV show, readership via blogs, columns and books etc...
2) The pundit must engage the other pundits. To truly be a part of the APF they need to interact, they may contribute or debate on each other's shows. They might also reference, deconstruct or ridicule other pundits.
3) Be interesting or popular.

Below is an example of pundits that are relevant but most likely will never appear on the APF: from Jedediah Reed's piece on Radar Mag:
The Iraq Gamble; At the pundits' table, the losing bet still takes the pot
More specifically, since political pundits like Brooks play such a central role in our national decision-making process, maybe something is amiss in the world of punditry. Are the incentives well-aligned? Surely those who warned us not to invade Iraq have been recognized and rewarded, and those who pushed for this disaster face tattered credibility and waning career prospects. Could it be any other way in America?

The pundits mentioned in the article are no doubt influential but don't satisfy certain criteria (most likely 1 and 2). It is is highly probable that these pundits appeared as guests on some of the APF members shows. What is interesting about the article is that it supports the contention I had which started this whole federation: That punditry is a lot like wrestling. In Punditry, your ability to connect and draw in viewers is valued over honesty and accuracy.

Don't misunderstand the wrestling analogy however. It is not to discount or disparage pundits or punditry as a whole, it is truly valuable in providing insight on issues. Rather it is to dispell any notion that it is a meritocracy, just because you are the most seen, heard and paid doesn't mean you are the most accurate or should be the most trusted.

Teething

Welcome to the American Pundit Fighting blog. If you are reading this, you have stumbled upon an unfinished blog. At this stage the majority of work i've done in creating this Political Wrestling Federation has been on the 'community/fan feedback' sector which can be found here:
www.myspace.com/punditfight

The aforementioned site is where you can go to comment and directly express your feelings and find more about the pundits this Federation will be touching on. The reason it is on myspace is because the networking capabilities of that site shall allow me to collate information and better gauge the reactions people have towards each of the pundits. Just like in wrestling, fan feedback and response will elevate the status and exposure of a particular pundit (they will be discussed and featured more heavily on this blog). Conversely a lack of interest shown on a particular pundit will be noted here and could mean little to no discussion. Remember its negligible whether the feedback is positive or negative. I would encourage everyone to read through the pundit profiles and APF Glossary on the myspace page as it will help in understanding the jargon. I don't forsee that (myspace) site being updated too much by me, though i do expect (fingers crossed) a lot of activity there as far as receiving feedback on the comments page and email.
I hope to compile a video soon illustrating the Glossary terms which should illustrate the startling similarities between wrestling and punditry.
For the meanwhile tell your friends and keep checking in. The federation will only get bigger.