The D.C. Pundit Class — Chevy Chase Sketch Edition

We wrote a while back about Djilas and how he might analyze our current situation. Would he declare a new “Pundit Class”? What would be its characteristics? A more fully considered post on that awaits another day. But we offer a quick follow-on tonight limited to one famous D.C. suburb, replying in part to recent comments here.


Our sense is that many (but not all) outside the Beltway perceive the “Inside the Beltway” Pundit Class (loosely defined — and for our purposes tonight in existence) the only way they can — via television, Talk Radio, print or now increasingly in the pundits’ own awkward migration to the blogosphere. These impressions, however, are more realistically ephemeral imagery, fragmentary intellectual burps. The true nature of the class must be seen and observed in the social rituals and environment in which it operates, much like the old Soviet nomenklatura elites used off limits beriozka stores to buy Western ‘luxuries’ with illicit valyoota (hard-currency).

We also make some further stipulations for accuracy and intellectual honesty. First, our definition of pundit: for tonight’s purpose, it’s limited to the traditional media sense — and distinguishes mere talking heads from scholars or serious academics, etc. Second, we also exclude those who are truly members of the various strands of the Movement as their motivations and strategies (diagnosed at length here and at STSOZ 1.0) diverge from the traditional pundit class. Third, what we are about to say obviously does not apply to each and every individual pundit. We know a few of these pundits, some quite well. Below is a *general* observation — using Chevy Chase as one sketch. Finally, we include in our conversation the producers of shows, their bookers, etc. In other words, those who control the immediate oxygen valve for any given pundit.

A main pundit characteristic we observed — particularly during the era of Unified Authoritarian Government — was the quietly frantic worry about their individual brand viability. (In some cases the worry from some tv talking heads was an openly reeking stench, but we should all walk a mile in each other’s shoes, etc.) Brand viability defined not only soft power such as ego gratification via appearances on shows, getting coffee machines from the I-Man, etc. but fundamentally socio-economic standing. Those two intertwine necessarily. The collapse of the traditional media model is well known. The paper, network and radio layoffs, closings and firings sent shock waves through a group that was used to covering other peoples’ misfortunes. Job security was and still is an iffy thing.

The Administration’s unsurpassed punitive nature compounded pundit insecurity, particularly for those on the “Right”. Thus the mushrooming phenomenon of “pundits” openly opining and asserting things they did not believe in, sometimes blatantly with a shameless grin. Or offering memes they knew to be outright false. One pundit we have known quite well said to the Stiftung circa mid 2006, “I’ve lied to so many people about so many things on so many issues I no longer know what I really believe.” Not atypical. Gotta keep the ‘brand’ afloat. Need to keep the cable producers calling for appearances.

Want to hit the Warlord on this or that? Prove your brand viability by slamming home the Nativist/anti-immigration cant, even if you don’t believe it. It still keeps the brand alive. The Left/Moderates? Most traditional pundits suffered from and continue to inflict upon us their intellectual bankruptcy. Yet they too also competed in their own way to maintain branding niches. Very few traditional pundits fell on their swords defying the Warlord and conventional wisdom for the longest time. Very few. And here are a few possible tangential reasons why:

Friendship Heights

This is an area called ‘Friendship Heights’ in the heart of Chevy Chase. Chevy Chase used to be a small, leafy suburban enclave, kid friendly, small shops and without much pretension. All gone now. Wiped out in a sea of Imperial ostentation. In addition to Bulgari, Gucci, Saks, Tiffany’s, Louis Vuittton, etc.

It would be naive, sophomoric and inaccurate to assert that Friendship Height’s transformation from family friendly environment to Rodeo Drive vulgarity has a direct causal link to what any given pundit in the broader Chevy Chase area may say or write. Indeed, many living there don’t necessarily frequent these stores. But the entire tone of living in Chevy Chase has irrevocably changed. To maintain membership in the socio-economic strata that permits living in Chevy Chase and Bethesda up Wisconsin Ave. now comes with heavy golden handcuffs. Even outside the relatively modest sized homes a few blocks away (still listing in this down market at a million plus) the BMWs, Jaguars and Mercedes clog the streets like bad cholesterol.

Frankly put, once one is a part of this “scene”, the risks of non-conformity, of defying the “mainstream” view, or otherwise rocking the boat are very high. Particularly when the WaPo’s circulation spirals, networks are cutting back and bureaus from papers outside the Imperial City simply close. Of course, everyone sees the same ratings, everyone sees the same circulation figures. But it is no surprise to the Stiftung that even today Olbermann is relatively (if not absolutely) an aberration. Daily Kos keeps asking why if his numbers are so good more shows aren’t like it. Bomb throwing in a turbulent environment threatens the community.

Consider the social networks in Chevy Chase, the formal parties, the birthday parties, the schools, the lobbyists next door, the former ambassador up the street now representing Saudi Arabia, these also set the milieu for the Pundit Class. This is what can not be seen from CSPAN, or witnessed by some bloggers visiting DC for a few days lobbying on the Hill, etc.

It is again important to emphasize that we are specifically trying to sketch a quick picture of a social environment. And to highlight some imperatives and personal costs driving the frenzied Pundit Class “branding”. It’s not a new phenomenon by any means. The extent and scale certainly are.

Pundits don’t necessarily drive a Mercedes. (Novak has his Corvette, and Al Hunt almost ran the Stiftung over in his very appropriately mid-1990s soccer mom mini-van, with Judy next to him, etc.)* Many pundits do not live in Chevy Chase (although other neighborhoods we could name are not too different and have Tiffany’s, etc.). And some even in the Chevy Chase area may not (or argue that they have not) pulled their punches.

We simply offer this as a sketch. To keep in the back of your mind when wondering why X is said by Y on this show or in this column. A pundit’s gotta eat, too.

n.b. No disrespect intended in any way for other reasons a mini-van is a necessity for their family.


  1. Anon says

    The spirit would be smiling – just for the sake of observing inward division and paranoia – not for any particular reason.

  2. Comment says

    Here’s an example of the NY Times meaningless filler sentances in the Wall St/luxery article:

    “Super-luxury condominiums and hotels have opened in the neighborhood even as the exchange floor has been downsized.”

    What is this supposed to mean? Does the reporter really think downsized exchange floor means less money – “even as.” Probably not – Rather, the reporter probably assumes the reader does not understand. Etc

  3. Comment says

    Comment is always interested in NY history and we often enjoy typing various street addresses in newspaper databases and seeing what happened there in the past – But lately the Times annoys with its annoying way for framing stories. The first sentance of that article is annoying,

  4. Anon says

    Hey Doktor Strauss – Recall we brought up this idea a while back (but in the form of a play) – and we have long expected it. The musical idea really really gnaw at Steyn, especially if he is a character and made to look foolish in a clever and sophesticated and lasting way – anyway, though our idea for play is very different, a heavy weight like Webber could really do big things with this:

  5. Comment says

    We got purged from a Tom Friedman web page when the NYT website just got started – Why? Were we rude? No – we just asked Friedman some tough questions.

  6. says

    Just a little more Barnett piling-on: Just to keep the self-puffery going, he often puts up a postintt (‘Tom on the web’) that’s nothing but a list of links to sites that mention him. So I wrote a comment in that thread mentioning this very site and the discussion about him. Does it surprise anybody that my comment got purged?

  7. A Random Quote Note says

    Pipes cramed a lot of revision and subversion into those few words. Updating the Founders.LOL.

  8. A Random Quote says

    ” … Judge Aiken, a Clinton appointee, exploited law enforcement’s misstep to gut the USA PATRIOT Act. – That act provides some crucial updating; the Founding Fathers could not anticipate that US citizens one day would support al-Qaida, while Congress wrote FISA to counter Soviet espionage, not Hizbullah cells. – Should Aiken’s view prevail … Practically speaking, we will have returned to 9/10.”
    ~Daniel Pipes
    JPost Oct, 2007

  9. Comment says

    One thing funny aboout the quality of life in the beltway – all those congressmen who brag about being from the “heartland” never leave DC even though they claim to hate it.

  10. Comment says

    Somerby is very on point when he focuses his critiques on the so called liberal media elites – They are so much more damaging to the opposition than is fnc.

  11. sglover says

    Barnett’s only value is as the canary in the coal mine. If people in the upper tiers of the gummint actually take or took his jargonized bullshit seriously, it’s no wonder why old Osama’s living large in Waziristan. But you knew that….

    As far as the Chevy Chase cloister goes, Bob Somerby over at the Daily Howler has been making similar observations for years. In many ways, these people are in a wholly different reality than the country they purport to represent. I live in the Beltway, too, and the quality of life is pretty sweet. But I was born in Detroit. More and more when I go back for a visit or read news from the old hometown or Michigan, I keep thinking, it’s nice of folks in the provinces to send their sweet tax dollars to keep my city in clover, but what the hell do *they* get in return?

  12. Comment says

    The problem with Barnett is related to the Friedman problem – It’s the fact that those sort of pitches have a market available or a market made for them. The insulting stupidity of Leviathan/SysAdmin (Is this what Madison had in mind?) is there for all to see – But it’s not a joke and he has acolytes. It’s weird and sad and strange and unsettling. That Cantor Fitz detail you alluded to is a classic manuever for his personality type.

  13. Comment says

    Barnett has a strange sort of semi cult following online – whereing people repeat, without irony, his strange phrases and nostrums – in the odd formulations that he renders them.

  14. DrLeoStrauss says

    Frankly, we long ago stopped caring what TPB said or argued. He was only intellectually dangerous because of his former patrons within OSD, now gone. Sounds cold but there it is.

    To this day, why someone as smart as Art Cebrowski got suckered by TPB’s self-promoting policy hucksterism escapes us. Cebrowski told the Stiftung several times how highly he thought of TPB. When we saw TPB’s first PPT briefings at OFT and he was using his sick daughter and his *alleged* friendship with people at Cantor Fitzgerald right after 9/11 (and that stupid Law & Order wav file) to try and lay claim to some higher emotional morality to his analysis, it was such a blatant outrage. We felt like walking over and punching him in the face. (As if he was the only one who knew or had ties to the WTC, etc.).

    His analysis now out in the public domain remains the same Star Trek The Next Generation-esque pablum. Yorkshire Ranter pays him too high a compliment taking the time to deconstruct.

    [UPDATE: It is a cheap debating ploy to dismiss engaging the ‘substance’ of an argument by tarring the individual — we are keenly aware of that. But in this case, TPB’s ‘brand’ is what it is, and we simply don’t have the energy or interest to yet again walk through all the flaws in his presentation/books. We just simply don’t care. If he finds a new patron in a future OSD (God save us) who exerts meaningful influence on policy conversations, *then* we will take up the sword again and engage.]

  15. A Random Quote says

    “I thought that was the Catholics voting for the Mc.”
    ~Tweety explaining why he thinks
    McCain beat Bush in Michigan in 2000

  16. A Random Quote says

    “…the consolidation of the States into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.”
    ~Robert E. Lee
    Letter to Lord Acton, 12-15-1866

  17. Anon says

    Yorksrhire has a good post here – Doc , those MRAPs will not survive a direct hit from a number of projectiles and it will only get worse as insurgents grok the sweet spots and learn to target properly – But if they look cool after modification, then an MRAP has a chance of becomming a bit like the next HUMMER. re Tom Barnett is a byproduct of the Leviathan – He is just waiting to be totally discredited – but that policy cocoon is hiding him from mockery

  18. Comment says

    Admit it Doktor – driving up and down Wisconson Ave thru Friendship Heights, you’ve often wished someone would exercise the Grozny Option. As Pat said on the Group – “What’s wrong with Putin?”

  19. says

    Interestingly, I note that those new developments bear a close architectural resemblance to comparable structures off Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai, U.A.E. Specifically, the second; the Bulgari one doesn’t quite make it, not having the full-bore New Rome monumentality, and therefore just blinks into nonspecific drywall background.

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