Death By Pundit

Just say NO to political panels

Beverly Garside
5 min readNov 7, 2021
image from Freepix

They are legion, all over the news like a swarm of hornets at a picnic table. They have not come to discuss the news, however, but to hijack it. No matter whether it’s about the pandemic, another racially-based police shooting, or an approaching hurricane — the only important thing is how it’s going to affect a candidate in the polls.

The news itself is irrelevant. It’s just the background, a pretext for a panel of coiffed political consultants, campaign strategists, and other perfumed punditry to pontificate on what candidate X has to do.

Their message is loud and clear. You and I are nobody. The world we inhabit and the issues that matter to us are just a game board for political royalty to spar on in never-ending chess games. And for the pundit glitterati to cling to their coattails like hungry leeches, desperate to advise them on their every move.

An alien species

The rest of us are just an abstraction in this game, stuffed into categories to be herded like sheep into one of the competing teams. We are “suburban women,” “blacks,” or “non-college-educated whites.” Somehow, we’re all vaguely old white men wearing hard hats or overalls and in midwestern diners.

No matter who we are, we are referred to as “they” and “them,” right in front of our own faces.

But despite their neat little categories from a dog-eared political playbook written in 1972, we often confound them. When their expert analyses and smug predictions crash against reality, they struggle out loud to explain our attitudes and voting behavior. Over the last decade, in the cobwebs of my mind, I have stored some of these greatest hits.

There was the pundit who wondered aloud why congressmen were sparring over federal employees standing in food lines during the 2018–2019 government shut down. Why were the federal workers even in those lines to begin with?

I mean, they know they’re going to be paid eventually. Why don’t they just get a bridge loan?

There was the pundit who was mystified by a big controversy over school lunch programs being cut. He couldn’t understand why school cafeteria food mattered, much less why politicians were talking about it.

After all, my kids usually just have Cook make them something to take in.

Then there was the panel discussing a topic I no longer recall, flailing around over their (our) political reaction to the issue. I remember one of them lighting up like a Christmas tree as she presented her trump card to the other players on the stage.

No, this morning on the way to the studio, I asked my driver about that, and he said…

image from Freepix

A movement or a moment?

At no time was the punditry thrown into more confusion than in the aftermath of the 2016 election. The election itself threw them into turmoil. Their polls were wrong! Panicked by the egg on their faces, they rushed into fly-over country to investigate these strange MAGAs and the planet they inhabited.

Because suddenly we needed to understand them.

And when the whole world exploded into the 2017 Women’s March, they were sent into whiplash. With dropped jaws and bulging eyes they mused hopefully that this was just a moment, not a movement. For weeks afterwards they tried to pooh pooh the largest global street protest in the history of the world, continuing their scientific expeditions into MAGA Land, and insisting that we needed to start a dialogue with the hardworking rural Americans.

Was it feedback from the internet? Or was I far from the only one hitting the channel changer? Whatever it was it worked. They finally backed off the we have to understand them campaign.

For we did not need to understand the MAGAs. We already understood them as the very people who caused us to flee our rural, small-town communities and seek refuge in the cities in the first place.

The 1972 political playbook was dead. None of us were getting back into those pat little demographic boxes for them to comprehend.

By now we all know how the MAGA Revolution is playing out. But none of that really matters. According to the punditry, the darkening shadow over our democracy, the raging global pandemic, and the increasingly violent changing climate are not worthy of discussion.

What matters is how these crises are going to affect party A and candidate B in 2022 and 2024. What’s really important is what this one said to that one and what she needs to do to ward off a primary threat from this or that wing of the party.

Watching Flat

I wish we had a 24-hour news and commentary channel that did not reduce everything to an election horse race. I wish we had news and commentary programs that focused on how the news affects us, rather than what it means to politicians’ careers. I wish the news media didn’t engineer polls to show a tightening or widening of the race, just so they can spend the next three days on Molehill Mountain pontificating about how candidate A will be finished if she doesn’t follow their sage advice.

What do I do about it? The cable news channels hold the news hostage to political panels. If you want the news, you must endure their offensive prattle. In response, I use a strategy inspired by Lying Flat — I just stop patronizing it.

I sometimes watch network news (what little of it there is) because it does not use panels. I sometimes tune in to a cable news or commentary program for the headlines, then click away as soon as they bring in the panel. When something significant happens in the political realm, I have kept cable news off for days, because I know there’s no point even going there. Likewise, I decline to click on news articles about how the success or failure of legislation affects the president’s political capital instead of how it affects our lives.

I know I’m just one person. I can’t change the media. But I can at least stop feeding the machine.

And maybe I’m not alone in that.



Beverly Garside

Beverly is an author, artist, and a practicing agnostic.