The primary cable news channels – CNN, Fox, and MSNBC – are littered with hour upon hour of political talk shows every day. Most follow some iteration of the same format, a host (or group of hosts) introducing the topics du jour, talking to politicians, former flacks, or academics, all wrapped in a neat hour-long package that you forget about almost as soon as the show is over.
As political journalism has become more diffuse (Snapchat (?!) is just the latest entrant into the 2016 Presidential news space), reporters are trying harder than ever to create a brand, whether it is wonk/nerds like Ezra Klein and Nate Silver or being the town crier/summer camp chronicler like Mike Allen. To this list we add Mark Halperin and John Heileman, two long-time journos who leveraged the success of their book about the 2008 Presidential election, Game Change, into a level of celebrity that resulted in million-dollar-a-year deals to leave their respective publications (Time and New York magazine) to join Bloomberg News.
In addition to writing for Bloomberg, the two host a daily half-hour TV show called With All Due Respect, which owes far more to the groundbreaking work of Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon on ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption than anything produced by Bill O’Reilly, Anderson Cooper, or Rachel Maddow. Indeed, WADR is such a carbon copy of PTI I am surprised Bloomberg has not been sued for copyright infringement. Viewers familiar with PTI will quickly notice the similarities – an “A” block of headlines, a “Five Good Minutes” esque “B” block interview, and a “C” block with more headlines, some sprinkling of pop culture, and other ephemera. The WADR look is also similar – a scrolling list of topics on the right hand side of the screen, a countdown clock as time dwindles on each subject, and a bell to signify the discussion should come to an end.
But while Wilbon and Kornheiser direct an often jaundiced eye at sports, something most of us use as a diversion from the daily stresses of life, Halperin and Heileman’s cynicism is directed at something far more consequential - the people who govern and make decisions that affect all of us – which makes their snarky attitude troubling, not amusing. The almost exclusive focus on optics, the “horse race” (polling), and the talking points of candidates and elected officials underscores why so many people are turned off to politics and how lazy so much of the political journalistic class has become. What little time is spent talking about actual policy is done purely from the perspective of who stands to gain or lose based on the passage or failure of one idea or the other.
Of course, the pair’s unapologetic gorging on the superficial is catnip for the insular world of the Beltway media, which spends far more time speaking to itself rather than the public at large. Indeed, many of the guests, who are otherwise obscure political hands or behind-closed-doors operators, give WADR a behind-the-velvet-rope quality that does have its charm if only to see how vacuous the political process is these days and how unabashedly the people who live it, celebrate it.
With All Due Respect airs weeknights on Bloomberg TV at 5 p.m. and re-airs at 8 p.m.