One of the great qualities of the best journalists is that they're not sure of anything. That's the main reason they get their butts out of their chair and actually go talk to somebody. My God, sometimes they even talk to somebody different from themselves, someone who views the world differently. They're interested in what others have to say and how the world looks from behind someone else's eyes.
Alas, today's journalists -- especially the biggest stars -- are increasingly sure of themselves and their own knowledge. Fox News and MSNBC are particularly known for hiring people straight out of the partisan political world: Chris Matthews, Karl Rove, Sarah Palin and Robert Gibbs. They're smart. They're argumentative. They take no prisoners. They get great ratings.
The latest to join the party is David Axelrod, famously a big part of President Barack Obama's political success, who has joined NBC News.
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius has taken notice, saying in the Washington Post's Post Partisan blog: "NBC boasted in its news release about how 'for nearly three decades Axelrod guided successful campaigns at every level on the ballot.' Once upon a time, that would have been a disqualification for a news organization."
These are people who are sure of themselves and of their opinions. (Of course, smart people who were sure of themselves and their opinions started the Vietnam War, the Iraq War and a few other misguided ventures.)
Don't expect Axelrod to innocently question either a Democrat or a Republican. He's damn sure of what he knows. It's the people -- like me -- who aren't smart enough to be sure of ourselves who used to ply their trade in journalism. People like me actually were interested in what others had to say -- especially when they saw the world differently. It was one of the basics of good journalism.
True, there are still those who play it that way, but they don't get the high ratings and don't get the huge number of page views. They're the ones who at the end of the day can be found at the grocery store or watering their lawn. The smart, opinionated media stars are more likely to be whisked away in their limo, on their way to exclusive fund-raisers. We're rewarding the smart people whose are sure of their opinions.
As Ignatius says "No wonder the American public increasingly mistrusts the news media. We are obliterating the line between the political players and the people who are supposed to act as commentators and referees."
POSTSCRIPT: Not every political person wants to sit and pontificate. Buried deep in today's news is a story about recently retired Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, joining a think tank called the Bipartisan Policy Center, where she will co-chair the group's new Commission on Political Reform. The group will study the causes and consequences of partisan politics -- and will even look toward government reform.
Don't expect much coverage from the likes of Rove and Axelrod. They wouldn't get the ratings that way.