I got into a back-and-forth on Twitter this past weekend with someone who is a fan of soon-to-be former CNN political analyst Roland Martin. The writer took umbrage with some of my tweets regarding Martin’s departure from the network. My position? Let’s resist the urge to make Roland Martin out to be some wrongly aggrieved talking head. He is a marginally knowledgeable loudmouth who was more sizzle than steak. No academic training politics and government. No significant campaign experience. No experience as a political reporter at a major media outlet (He wrote opinion pieces at CNN). He is lucky to have had his turn. So to those who are shedding tears following the announcement of his departure from CNN: Your time would be better spent applying pressure to the cable networks to put minorities on who actually know something about politics and government.
America’s public discourse on politics and government is infested by too many people with thin or nonexistent credentials. They are on television and radio because there are either well connected, telegenic, or otherwise project the image the network wants you to see; expertise is not at the top of the list of traits. Their exposure gives them a level of popularity that legitimizes their analysis while, concurrently, inoculates them from criticism of their inanity (“they’re on X network, so they must know what they’re talking about”). While Roland Martin is the subject here, he is not the only person I’m thinking about. There are many experts on television, but in political media, those who know are almost outnumbered by those who don’t.
I wonder why we accept this. We wouldn’t listen to a science and technology analyst with no academic or employment history in the fields in which he or she is commenting. We wouldn’t listen to a Wall Street analyst with no academic training in corporate finance or employment as a stock and bond trader. We wouldn’t listen to a medical analyst with no academic medical training or employment. So why should we listen to a political analyst with a similarly thin background? We deserve better from our media. We deserve a political discourse that includes real experts, not just well practiced-talking heads.
Roland Martin is an overrated political analyst. But because there are so few political analysts of color getting serious run on cable news networks, we accepted his inane, somewhat self-promotional pundit routine (And were happy to see a brother on CNN). I hope as we continue to debate where CNN is going after reducing the role of talented people like Soledad O’Brien or not renewing Roland Martin’s contract that we also include discussions about the kinds of backgrounds we want in our political analysts. I also hope the conclusion results in our demanding more of an emphasis on expertise. We can have expertise and personality. We will all be better for it.
And if you’re interested, there is a long list of Black political scientist professors who actually know politics and government. Let me recommend a few (although I could easily give you 50 more names): Michael Leo Owens, Khalilah Brown Dean, Pearl Ford Dowe, Sekou Franklin, Wilmer Leon, Keesha Middlemass, Audra Gillespie, Mark Sawyer, Lester Spence, James Lance Taylor, and David Wilson.
Michael Fauntroy is associate professor of public policy at George Mason University. He holds a Ph.D. degree in political science from Howard University and an undergraduate degree in political science from Hampton University. He served as an analyst at the Congressional Research Service (CRS), where he provided research and consultations to members and committees of Congress. Prior to joining CRS he was a research analyst in civil rights at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights where he developed expertise in voting rights and ballot access issues. He blogs at MichaelFauntroy.com. Twitter? @MKFauntroy