Crisis of the public intellectual: Ta-Nehisi Coates

December 28, 2010

Here’s an interesting post, from Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic, just before Christmas.  He tells why he is reluctant to accept invitations to appear on cable news shows to discuss racism, something about which he knows a great deal, both personally and as a scholar and journalist.

The heart of it:  “The outlines of the problem are becoming clear–I’m a snob. More seriously, it’s my impression that much of cable news is rigged. Complicated questions are forced into small spaces of time, and guests frequently dissemble in order to score debate points and avoid being intellectually honest. Finally, many of the guests don’t seem to be actual experts in the field of which they’re addressing, so much as they’re “strategists” or “analysts.””

He recognizes that true intellectuals cannot say what they mean on cable news shows, but he doesn’t believe the fault lies wholly with these networks.  Academia has, “to some extent by its own actions, been cleaved away from public life.”  But/and he adds, “My sense is that the reluctance among people like me–and people smarter
than me–to engage, is as problematic as the form itself.”

About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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