One of the guiding principles of my life if that one of the worst things is to be boring. I would much rather deal with someone with wrong but interesting ideas than someone with right but dull ideas. I’m just not going to spend a pleasant hour about how we all should try to be a bit more understanding of each other. But I’ve always thought of it in a personal way. Now I think there is a political aspect to it. And that is nowhere so true as the Friday episode of The PBS NewsHour when Mark Shields and David Brooks come on to discuss the week’s news in way so boring that you won’t have a clue what they talked about five minutes later.
Part of the reason the segment is always so boring is that Brooks and Shields don’t much disagree. And this is due in large part to the fact that The NewsHour thinks that a well-spoken but extremist right-winger like David Brooks should be countered with a man whose own promotional materials say, “Mark Shields is free of any political tilt.” He’s also one who military giant Lockheed Martin seemed to like to have around to give what were doubtless well-paid speeches.
PBS Wants to Be Boring
But you can’t blame it all on Shields not being a liberal. When E J Dionne fills in for Shields, the segment is almost as boring. The truth is that The PBS NewsHour wants the segment to be boring. They want to portray the Overton window to be so small that it really doesn’t matter if you go out to vote. Because if you don’t you’ll either get one of two people who are pretty much the same. This is an amazing accomplishment, when you consider that while Mark Shields really is a Milquetoast, David Brooks is an extremist.
No reasonable person watching Bill O’Reilly thinks that they are getting the objective truth. They know that it is Bill O’Reilly’s opinion just as they know that he has a major anger management problem. But the calm discussion gives the impression of hearing the objective truth. And that’s really dangerous — especially when you consider the kind of people who watch The NewsHour. Because what you get is a lot of, “I agree, but…” I agree we should bomb Canada, but I think we should drop 20,000 bombs, not 40,000 bombs.
Boring Stops Debate
Listening to the first part of the segment last Friday, I learned that Shields thought that Obama’s comments on the Orlando Massacre were better than Hillary Clinton’s. Brooks thought the opposite because Clinton mentioned terrorism. And in so doing he got to go on for some time with the unquestioned framing that Orlando was a terrorist attack, even though there is nothing to distinguish this from any other mass shooting. Oh, except that the shooter was a Muslim. And there certainly wasn’t someone on the left to — even ever so gently — push back.
If The PBS NewsHour were not so intent on being boring, people might see that there are different opinions on these matters. Indeed: people might see that there are opinions at all and not just the God given Truth. So boring isn’t just a waste of time; it is also a deeply dangerous tactic of the power elite.