Tune out and drop in: Why Matt Bai is right

Matt K. Lewis | Senior Contributor

Matt Bai, writer of the “Political Times” column at the New York Times, doesn’t pay much attention to cable news and social media these days. “There are people whose job is to make sense of it instantly, to put it into political context,” he said. But that’s not his job. “I have the responsibility to actually put it in some deeper context for a magazine and get beneath that side of the debate,” Bai told Howard Kurtz during a segment on CNN’s Reliable Sources.

That’s a fair point — and as someone who’s done his fair share of TV, I sympathize. If you allow yourself to get too enmeshed in the noise around cable news, social media, etc. — it can be very tough to bring something fresh to the conversation, to provide context, and to avoid engaging in groupthink. (If you don’t believe the pressure for instant analysis isn’t problematic, consider how Fox News and CNN botched the ObamaCare ruling.) Letting the news cycle define your career might be fine if you’re just trying to generate page views or even advance a cause on television, but it’s career suicide if your goal is to be an original opinion leader.

In some ways, technology has made it possible for everyone to — no matter where they live or work — to have an “inside the Beltway” mentality. We would all probably be better off if the talking heads didn’t just listen to each other all day, every day.

Bai’s comments were especially useful to me, because they come while I plan my summer vacation. While being inundated with information can make one susceptible to conventional wisdom, it can also lead to burnout or even depression. Creativity, the experts tell us (and I tend to agree), requires occasionally unplugging. And while I’d be a fool to suggest that someone like me can completely unplug from the outside world, I’m hoping to give it a shot this year.

So consider this my endorsement — albeit a tepid one (note the irony of Bai appearing on cable to bash cable news) — of Bai’s philosophy. Despite the temptation, it’s good to unplug. Personally, I have largely avoided watching cable news for the last month or so. I don’t miss it.

And this is a reminder for my readers. I do (really, I do) read your emails and tweets. Rather than being glued to cable TV and using this space to simply react to the news of the world, let’s drive the debate right here. Unlike cable news — which (by virtue or ratings) is geared toward the masses — and by its very commercial nature is limited by a scarcity of time (leading to sound bites) — we are free to explore some more nuanced, long-form, and interesting discussions here.

So keep sending me your thoughts and comments — along with ideas and questions that might inspire a post. And let’s keep trying do make this project do what the best blogs do — have a conversation.

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