Tonight several people objected to a comment that I made on twitter about Phil Robertson from the reality show Duck Dynasty discussing ISIS with Sean Hannity (see Robertson's comments) so I thought that I'd blog about the issue. I argued that I could care less about Robertson's stance on the issue and that he shouldn't be operating as a commentator.
Why? It has nothing to do with Robertson or his beliefs. Rather, what concerns me is that Robertson is commenting on a political matter on a program viewed by more than a million people (last Friday Hannity had 1.126 million viewers) not because he has some special expertise or knowledge, but instead because his celebrity, brought about by a reality television program, makes him a ratings draw worthy of interview time.
Decades of polling and surveys show us that the public is relatively poorly informed on even the most basic rudiments of American government, politics, and public policy, let alone the nuance of complicated issues (see among other surveys http://tinyurl.com/7sd49k9, http://tinyurl.com/4ym4u8q, and http://tinyurl.com/puy9k5g).
It can't be good for the country that "news" outlets put a celebrity on to discuss the issues instead of an expert who spends his/her time studying the issue, or who has some sort of special knowledge on a topic (for example, someone with long government service dealing with a topic). Robertson is certainly entitled to have and voice an opinion. But by letting him air it on a "news" network, there is an opportunity being lost for people to better understand the issues.
Even the commentators themselves, who many ideological opponents might assert lack the requisite knowledge to comment on an issue, spend hours preparing for each show and reading about topics in the news. For those who might think I'm just airing typical liberal bias against a prominent conservative, I'm not. I'm simply arguing that the country would be better served by Hannity interviewing Dick Cheney or John Bolton on ISIS than Phil Robertson.
To put it a little differently, with whom would you rather discuss a medical condition, your doctor or Kim Kardashian?