Joshua Green on Meet the Press/Getty Images
They're everywhere: you can't escape them. Hear them loudly holding forth, barking their ungrounded certainties about anything and everything on the Sunday shows and cable shoutfests, in newspapers, blogs, and on Twitter. Should misfortune deposit you inside the Beltway, they'll oppress you in person, too, forcing their opinions on you in greenrooms and on elevators and at cocktail parties—even while sitting behind you on the Metro. Yes, pundits are a plague on us all. It is time we acted.
The crowning indignity, of course, is that they're usually wrong. Not just off-by-a-few-degrees wrong, but invading-Iraq-is-a-good-idea wrong. "Dow 36,000" wrong. And what are the consequences? There are none at all! You can blow the biggest questions of the day, time after time, and still claim to be a discerning seer.
Well, there ought to be consequences. It's not as if blogs and propaganda outlets don't keep track of this stuff. In Washington, regulation is back in fashion. If we can regulate tricky things like credit-default swaps, surely we can regulate pundits.
That pesky First Amendment prevents us from silencing them outright. But couldn't the more reputable media outlets reach a gentleman's agreement to stop inviting commentary from the very worst offenders, at least for a respectable interlude? Pundits should have to explain their bad calls (and grovel?) as a condition of return.
It's always amazed me that entire foundations seem to exist solely for the purpose of dispatching hordes of green-eyeshaded technicians to pore over transcripts and news clippings in a civic-minded effort to detect "bias" in media coverage. Who cares? Why not measure quality—or the lack thereof—instead? That would be useful information.
Regulating pundits needn't be the province of dull nonprofits and media scolds. It could be fun! What would be more satisfying than a Daily Show segment that routinely held the worst offenders up for public ridicule? Let's keep a list of them online—a surefire traffic-generator if ever there was one. Some reputable publication with a track record more often right than wrong could serve as sponsor and steward. And let's steal Gawker's inspired idea of "commenter executions"—the ritual humiliation and banishment of those whose opinions are the most punishingly tiresome and stupid. Together, we'll purge the violators from our blogrolls and kill their Twitter feeds. The terrified owners of sinking mainstream media outlets will quake with fear and snap into line.
Not only would this be a valuable public service, but I predict it would be a big hit. In fact, I'm certain. And if I'm wrong, you won't hear any more from me.