‘Duck Dynasty’ Flap Unleashes Media-Pundit Quackery

Everyone's got an opinion about Phil Robertson; an informed one? Not so much

The flap over “Duck Dynasty” has unleashed a lot of silly geese, in the form of media pundits being asked to weigh in on the controversy. On Sunday, that was exemplified by two shows ostensibly devoted to analyzing media issues and shortcomings: CNN’s “Reliable Sources” and Fox News Channel’s Howard-come-lately alternative, “MediaBuzz.”

Robertson’s suspension by A&E over inflammatory remarks in an interview has served up a pre-holiday feast for cable news — tapping into, as “Reliable Sources” host Brian Stelter accurately put it, “the four-way stop of sex, religion, television and celebrity.”

Unfortunately, there are very few people who are authorities on all of those things, but hey, it’s just a few days before Christmas, so we’ll take whatever warm body we can find.

In the case of the Howard Kurtz-hosted “MediaBuzz,” that meant TheBlaze.com’s Amy Holmes, who spewed out a pretty impressive amount of misinformation in an eight-minute segment, saying Robertson had been “fired” (which Kurtz quickly corrected) and that “Duck Dynasty” is the highest-rated program on cable (which should come as news to “The Walking Dead”). Then again, she said the latter by way of trying to correct the Washington Post’s Charles Lane, who called the program TV’s top-rated reality show, which at the very least would require a few disclaimers about demos and subdivisions within the genre.

Even the “MediaBuzz” chyron, “Dumped by Duck Dynasty,” was oddly imprecise; “from,” maybe. But “by?” That follows last week’s screw-up, which referred to Fox News host Megyn Kelly’s “apology” over her remarks about Santa Claus being white, which Kurtz didn’t describe as such.

As for “Reliable Sources,” Stelter spent part of the segment debating why Robertson’s comments were swallowing so much media oxygen. At least Kurtz got that part right, saying the media are “happy to fan the flames and get ratings, as I suppose we’re doing here.”

If all this sounds like nitpicking, these observations speak to a larger issue. Because when you get so many little details wrong, it not only misleads the casual viewer but causes more informed ones to wonder what else these generalists of punditry are mischaracterizing in other stories about which they’re opining.

Mostly, it’s a commentary on harried TV news producer/bookers who are charged with lining up guests for these sort of exercises, usually on very short notice. As a consequence, some of them don’t really care how well versed the person is in the topic at hand so long as they look OK on camera and can help carry off a zesty discussion for a few minutes.

In that regard, there’s a twist on an old saying that’s probably worth remembering: Just because somebody walks and quacks like an expert doesn’t mean they really are one.

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