My Life As a Talking Head
Just came back from the live talking head gig on CNN’s Reliable Sources, chatting about the wildfires. (Additional supporting links have been added below; scroll down or click here.)
Pretty much exactly what I expected: six or seven minutes of dearly wishing that every damn thing wasn’t so frequently framed as partisan, and wishing I wasn’t contributing to it.
As I said (or tried to, anyway) on the show, science itself should be in no way partisan, and both Republican and Democratic lives and livelihoods will all clearly be in greater danger for years to come. This should never have been framed this way. Maybe if I’d been asked on in some other format or framework. I dunno. But man, nobody giving aid and shelter and food down at Qualcomm this week asked for party affiliation. Democratic and Republican firefighters work together side by side without a thought. Politicizing a huge and growing future problem this way so debases our ability to solve it together.
But how do you plead for bipartisanship when (a) you’re already tagged before you speak as being the lefty voice, and (b) the current administration, which is Republican, is actively censoring science? Just pointing out objective reality looks partisan in that context.
Still, I went on because the science on climate change and its relation to wildfires is much clearer than I think most of the media has reported (see some of the links below for starters), and I wanted to get the information out there. Southern California is my home. I care about this greatly.
I don’t naturally like to talk over people or be talked over, but the format almost demands it. The time limitations force you into this weird haiku of talking points, pushing each side to try to score points rather than just talk. Plus, even in normal conversation people often need a couple of shots at getting what they mean into words, so in this compressed environment, someone will almost inevitably say something inaccurate. (I know I did at least once, not meaning to.) So I suddenly found myself talking over the other guest a couple of times even though I was trying not to, and probably vice versa. And amid the babble I have no idea if anyone gained any useful information. I kinda doubt it.
Frankly, that there are people who actually enjoy this process baffles me. I have no idea what sort of emotional worlds professional pundits must inhabit. But I don’t think I’ve ever even visited.
I’m also saddened to notice that even people on "my" side of things were evaluating the appearance not just in terms of how much information I got out, but also in how I looked to them in comparison to the other guest, which is so dearly not the real point. (btw, I’m sure she’s quite bright, kind, and good-willed. Sincerely, I mean that. Most people are pretty wonderful, given a chance. Not fully grokking the various ecosystems in California and how they are managed differently is perfectly understandable. At a party, we probably would have had a great time, disagreed, chatted amiably, found common ground, and moved on. Instead, I kinda had to confront her in a way that would be rude in any other context, and I feel lousy about it. This does not come naturally to me.)
What I regret not saying most of all: that those chairs should be filled with real scientists and experts with direct knowledge and experience, not bloggers, including me, for gods’ sake.
Then again, TV is a business, and they have airtime to fill. Y’know, it never really occurred to me before how much the 24/7 news cycle may itself have contributed to the fracturing of America and this tragic partisanship now so pervasive that it’s frequently mistaken for patriotism on both sides. (I’m guilty of that myself a hundred times over, btw.)
Our visual window on world events is constantly being filled with this left/right thing, imposed even when it doesn’t belong. It’s great, inexpensive, entertaining TV. But we now have an entire generation of people who don’t even remember a time when extreme partisanship wasn’t a frequently televised, culturally acceptable, mainstreamed part of our discourse.
How we ever turn back from this I have no idea.
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