Pundit Watch: Kevin James

If Chris Matthews has to ask someone "Why are you screaming?" then you know something interesting must be going on.

And that it was, on Hardball this week. Conservative Los Angeles political commentator (and occasional talking head on CNN and CourtTV) Kevin James was on to address President Bush's recent comment to the Israeli Knesset about some politicians wanting to negotiate with "terrorists and radicals". And that he did, insisting at the top of his lungs, over and over again, that what Barack Obama wanted was tantamount to the same thing that Neville Chamberlain did in appeasing Hitler in WWII. Problem was, James had no idea what Chamberlain had actually done in 1938—just that he was supposed to decry it, and vociferously. To make it worse, Chris Matthews bit on it like a pit-bull and brought that point out, saying "Your problem here, Kevin, is that you don't know what you're talking about." And then at the end of the interview: "If you're going to make a direct historic reference, get it right."

So who is Kevin James? (No, it's not the same guy from King of Queens.) Why does he have a talk show, and why is he on news networks offering commentary, ill-informed as it may be?

Honestly, Kevin James has more of a legitimate background than some of his more successful colleagues. He's not a former ad-salesman like Rush, or a top-40 DJ like Glenn Beck. James is actually a fairly educated guy—and appropriately so, in terms of political commentary—even if his knowledge of his own historical examples might be pretty thin. James earned his bachelors from the University of Oklahoma (one can safely assume his degree was not in History), and got his law degree from the University of Houston. He worked in entertainment law for some time, and as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney's office. Pretty good résumé, comparably.

James' educational and professional background would seem to qualify him for a gig as a talk-radio host on a station that advertises itself thusly: "Intelligent. Conservative." (Word is still out on whether or not the station plans to change that slogan, given this most recent television appearance.) But obviously, in terms of Hardball, it didn't.

Maybe it was laziness on James' part, not bothering to do his research before making his argument. But then, his law background should have taught him better than that. Maybe it was just arrogance, not thinking that he needed anything more than top-volume bluster. Not an unsafe assumption, given what's passed for commentary over the last decade or so. And maybe that arrogance isn't unique to Kevin James. It seems like most talk-radio extremists (and there are a few on the left who are guilty of this, too) have learned that loud is enough. That saying something over and over again makes it effectively true. Or if not true, at least believed. This is the lesson that modern punditry has brought us. This is the legacy of talk radio: the politics of belligerence.

Despite what the YouTube link above says, Kevin James didn't "walk into a smackdown." He created that smackdown, or at least the need for it, through his lack of knowledge and his willingness to argue blindly, to support without question. Kevin James is an intelligent man who's chosen to act unintelligently. He's fine with spreading disinformation when it suits the point he wants to make. He's one of many. His position on Hardball makes a good example of the sort of thing the press needs to call into question, to reveal as empty rhetoric each and every time it's attempted.

"You don't know what you're talking about." "Get it right." The fact that those simple sentences are gratifying rather than presumptive shows how far the press has fallen, and how much ground it has to make up. -- Teague Bohlen

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Sean Cronin