Agreements don't make for good television.
And for good reason. When two people agree on a given topic, no matter what the topic may be, a person watching engage in one of two possible actions: he or she will be in agreement with the conversation and will keep watching or he or she will be in disagreement with the conversation and will then turn the channel. Even if this viewer is in agreement with the topic at hand, there's no guarantee that he or she will continue watching for an extended period of time. This viewer could very easily say, "Um, yeah, we know that. This isn't news" and then could flip the channel to another station. In other words, showing two people agreeing on a subject has a 50% chance that a viewer will continue watching and even then, it is unlikely that the viewer will continue to watch for much longer if the information being provided already matches his or her existing beliefs.
In the early 1990s network executives began to see this theory being played out. One of the earliest television programs to utilize conflict to gain viewership was the MTV show The Real World where the entire premise of the show was to have seven strangers picked to live in a house to "find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real." The show was first broadcast in 1992 and became a ratings hit thanks to prodding questions that manufactured drama as well as selective editing. Contestants on the show would go down to a room in which they would record a "confessional" about their fellow cast members. During this time, they would be asked leading questions by producers to try and get the contestants to say something inflammatory about one of their peers. In addition, after all the footage for the entire season was captured, editors of the show would go back and create storylines and narratives to create a heightened sense of drama. Good deeds were often downplayed but a single night of debauchery could create a multiple-episode story arch even though many cast members would later recall that one night as not being particularly memorable. Despite this kind of manipulation, The Real World became a ratings hit and is now seen as the first successful reality show program.
But how could cable news create drama without manipulating the viewers?
The answer: arguments. Bring together people from different political walks of life, put them together in a studio setting, and let them have at it. This solved the previous viewership problem as it brought together two different points of view and it helped maintain interest as viewers wanted to make sure the person who supported their views won the argument. An early example of this was CNN's Crossfire which had been around since 1982 but really began to take off in the late 1990s and early 2000s when Robert Novak and Tucker Carlson would argue on behalf of Republicans while James Carville and Paul Begala would argue on behalf of Democrats. The show did fairly well until October of 2004 when Daily Show host Jon Stewart came on and derided the show's format that encouraged partisan talking points rather than engaging in real, honest discussions. Stewart said it was "hurting America" and that Crossfire was a political debate show in the same vein that "pro wrestling was a show about athletic competition." The public agreed with Stewart's claim and after three months of declining viewership, the show was cancelled in January of 2005.
Crossfire may have failed but that seed of argumentation had been planted: viewers would watch a program when they felt personally invested in a political discussion and the best way to do that was to provide a situation where there would be potential disagreements. With this idea in mind emerged a new market for political pundits, especially those whose party was currently out of power. During the Bush years, a whole slew of Democratic pundits made a name for themselves coming onto network news programs and stating their opinions. During the Obama years, we've seen a whole slew of Republican pundits make a name for themselves sharing their opinions. This has been an especially good time for a network like Fox News as the party out of power always has a lot more to criticize than the party in power. For the last seven years, there have been ample opportunities for those on the right to bash President Obama in an effort to undermine the man, his administration, the Democratic Party, and liberal values at every turn. The business of criticizing President Obama has been especially lucrative.
Which is why for the past seven years we've also seen a number of progressives jump on this bandwagon. There is money to be made in being a turncoat, and we've seen a number of so-called "progressives" chose to turn their backs on President Obama in an effort to remain relevant as the world passes them by. Among these Democrats-in-name-only are people such as Bill Press, Thom Hartmann, H.A. Goodman, Cornel West, Ben Jealous, and Cenk Uyger just to name a few. This ragtag group of faux liberals have been staples on the media circuit for the sole reason that they present an anomaly: they are all people who should be supporting the president but simply aren't. They have become a safety net for the networks anytime they want to criticize the president but don't want it appear to partisan. Instead of saying, "Of course Karl Rove disapproves of this, he disapproves of everything Obama does!" viewers instead are left saying, "Wow, if a progressive like Cornel West says that, maybe he might have a point!" It's a win-win: networks can claim to be unbiased in their reporting and each of the six men mentioned above has a chance to keep their name in the spotlight for the time being.
So it should come as no surprise that all six of these men have become rabid Bernie Sanders supporters with West and Jealous being official Sanders surrogates, Press, Hartman, and Goodman openly advocating for Sanders with their writings, and Uyger and his team at The Young Turks openly and unapologetically supporting his candidacy. For them, the Sanders campaign is a gold mine: it gives them a chance to bash President Obama as Sanders has continuously done and it also gives them a chance to bash Hillary Clinton, who is not only running on the Obama legacy but is also well on her way to becoming our next president. Which means that once elected, there will be a built-in market for these six men on the cable news shows. What better way to question President Hillary Clinton's actions than to bring on a former supporter of Bernie Sanders who has long since had reservations about Hillary Clinton? Their support for Sanders not only helps them out now but it has the potential to help them out for the next four to eight years as well.
Because that's what you do as a political sellsword: you offer your services to the highest bidder. Being a supporter of the political party in charge is not news but if you happen to be a member of the political party in charge and you don't support the face of your party, well that, my friends, is newsworthy! That gets you gigs on the Sunday talk shows. That gets you in Crossfire-type situations where you'll debate a member of your own party. That helps create the illusion that there is disunity within the party which could potentially become an even bigger news story. "All Democrats Agree on President's New Proposal" is not a very enticing headline. But "Disagreement Among Democrats on President's New Proposal" helps create headline news that has the potential to last for days on end. When the networks can fabricate that kind of drama, people tune in to watch, advertisers watch profits rise, and men in fancy suits reap the political and financial benefits of a job well done.
Cornel West. Ben Jealous. Bill Press. Thom Hartmann. H.A. Goodman. Cenk Uyger. All are actors being paid to play a role. In fact, deep down inside I'd be willing to wager that a lot of them agree with both President Obama and Hillary Clinton on a wide range of issues. But they know how the game is played. They know the Obama-bashing, Hillary-hating, Sanders-supporting personas they have created will keep them in business for the foreseeable future. Like Ann Coulter, they have all created a faux character to get themselves on TV, and more importantly, stay on TV after President Obama leaves the Oval Office. They're in the same business as Fox News in that they will whine, kick, and scream if Hillary Clinton is elected but deep down inside they will be relieved because it will keep them and their brand in business for the next four to eight years. Because without a Democrat in the White House, all six of them would return to living a life of obscurity.
And that is something that none of them is prepared to do quite yet.
Agreements don't make for good television.