We pick on Chris Cillizza quite a lot in these pages, and even though we will one day die and be forgotten, we’re proud of that fact. The former WaPo pundit and current CNN talking head is both a symptom and perhaps a secondary cause of everything that’s wrong with the mainstream media’s focus on “OPTICS!” over substance. He operates from the premise that the messaging, and the reaction to that messaging, should be paramount in political coverage, rather than the effects of the policies themselves. Cillizza is not alone, but he’s excessively visible, and is often producing egregious garbage seemingly designed to troll people who hate him, like the time he graded the GOP healthcare plan with emojis. As Roger Sollenberger pointed out, this was his actual mission statement at “The Fix”:
My job is to assess not the rightness of each argument but to deal in the real world of campaign politics in which perception often (if not always) trumps reality. I deal in the world as voters believe it is, not as I (or anyone else) thinks it should be.
And of course, this Fake Fairness doctrine does nothing so much as serve politicians who are least committed to the truth. Only someone with a brain like Cillizza’s could compliment Trump when he honored Caryn Owens—wife of the Navy SEAL who died in a botched raid in Yemen that Trump ordered, and later blamed on his generals—because of how it looked, rather than how it was.
In short, he’s terrible. And today on Twitter, courtesy of Brendan James, I ran into a video that seems to get to the heart of exactly why Cillizza is so bad…and the explanation comes from Cillizza himself. The short conversation happened in late 2012 during the Obama-Romney race, and even though the interviewer seems to be a bizarre crypto-libertarian who hates taxes, the way Cillizza dodges anything even remotely substantive gets to the heart of his hyper-relativist worldview:
My favorite part is when Cillizza won’t even answer the question of whether taxes are a thing. His refusal to discuss something that goes beyond the realm of optics is almost fanatical.
Q: Chris, does the Constitution exist?
A: Maybe you misunderstand what I do. I’m not here to debate whether or not the Constitution is a factual object. I’m here to discuss how politicians are received when they debate whether it exists as a document or not.
And a few of the real quotes are too good not print on their own:
“You’re outside of my realm; I cover campaign politics.”
“I offer no judgment on the term itself.”
“We may have a little bit of a misunderstanding in terms of what I do. I cover what the two campaigns say, I’m not delving deeply into economic policy.”
“I can comment on the issue in the context of the way the two parties have positioned themselves….in terms of a judgment I would offer…it’s not what I’m in the business of doing.”
“I’m a reporter…I don’t think about what the government should or shouldn’t do.”
“I don’t understand what you mean by principles.”
I cannot imagine a more vapid, useless approach to journalism, but hey, at least Cillizza is hilariously open about it. Now if only we could extinguish this type of spineless punditry forever.