The trick is NOT knowing…

A commenter on this blog recently asked me if I read Eric Alterman’s blog. This person detected a double standard in my comments about Alertman’s foray into media criticism with his new book What Liberal Media? Yes, I do read his blog regularly. The ones I read daily, and carefully, are those that resist these two things: 1) name calling and other mindless flaming, and 2) an overwhelming need to be correct. (Or, if they do these things, they’d better be offering some excellent insight.)

Be that as it may, I did read Altercation today (yesterday’s entry) and found this bit of interesting wisdom under the heading THINGS I’VE LEARNED: “The most hostile words you can utter on right-wing talk-radio are ‘I don’t know.’ They all–and I mean all–think it’s a trick.”

First, before anyone gets upset with me for “dissing” the political right, I think this goes both ways. What Alterman is identifying here is related to #2 above. It seems to me that people who have an overwhelming need to be correct (i.e. dogmatic pundits of the kind that populate talk radio) are just completely stymied by someone who has no such desire. The whole point of talk radio, or talk TV such as CNN’s Crossfire, is to pit two or more know-it-alls in desperate verbal battle for the entertainment of the audience. Geez…busting out with an “I don’t know” is like a pitcher asking the batter: “What am I supposed to do with this thing again”?

In a talk radio venue it is a trick. Or complete incompetence. Does anyone suppose that what happens on talk radio is similar to what happens in, say, a graduate seminar or an adult conversation of any kind in which those three little words, more often than not, signal one’s intelligence and good sense?