A pundit (sometimes called Talking Head) is someone who offers to mass media his or her opinion or commentary on a particular subject area (most typically political analysis, the social sciences, technology or sport) on which they are knowledgeable (or can at least appear to be knowledgeable), or considered a scholar in said area. The term has been increasingly applied to popular media personalities. In certain cases, it may be used in a derogatory manner as well, as the political equivalent of ideologue.
In the English-speaking West, pundits write signed articles in print media (blurbs included), and appear on radio, television, or the internet with opinions on current events. Television pundits may also be referred to as Talking Heads. In a BBC television interview following the murder of John Lennon, former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson insisted that in selecting the Beatles for the Order of the British Empire, a British honour, he was acting on his belief that the pop group was doing something new that ‘the pundits’ (by which he presumably meant people such as newspaper music critics) had not recognised. This derogatory use of the word is an indication of the low esteem in which commentators (particularly cultural commentators) are held in Britain (particularly by politicians).
Punditry has become a more popular vehicle in nightly newscasts on American cable news networks. A rise of partisanship among popular pundits began with Bill O’Reilly of Fox News Channel. His opinion-oriented format led him to ratings success and has led others, including Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, and Nancy Grace to express their opinions on matters on their own programs. Andrew Bolt, popular columnist for Australia’s highest circulated newspaper, The Herald Sun, is a pundit whose popularity equals that of O’Reilly and his successors.
At the same time, many people who appear as pundits are recognized for having serious academic and scholarly experience in the subject at hand. Examples are pundits Paul Krugman, who received a Nobel Prize in Economics, and Stephen Biddle, who received U.S. Army Superior Civilian Service Medals in 2003 and 2006.
In sports commentating, a “pundit” or color commentator may be partnered with a play-by-play announcer who will describe the action while asking the pundit for analysis. Alternatively, pundits may be asked for their opinions during breaks in the play.
In Germany, France, Russia, and Italy many pundits achieve a status of public intellectual. They typically hold academic jobs and are known for their personal accomplishments in art, philosophy, economics, and similar fields. Unlike in America, such qualified intellectuals tend to be more widely known among the populace and their pronouncements achieve wide currency. Examples include Jürgen Habermas in Germany, Michel Foucault in France, Umberto Eco in Italy, and Andrei Sakharov in Russia.
Alterman was hired by MSNBC in 1996, both appearing as a commentator on the cable channel and writing a column posted on its website. In 2002 MSNBC engaged him to create the blog daily Altercation, one of the first blogs hosted by a mainstream media news organization. In September 2006, after a ten-year association, Alterman and MSNBC parted ways. Media Matters for America hired him as a Senior Fellow and agreed to host Altercation, effective September 18, 2006. Regular contributors to his blog Altercation included sportswriter Charlie Pierce and historian and military officer Robert Bateman. On December 22, 2008 Alterman announced that Altercation would be moving to The Nation’s website in 2009, and would appear on a less regular basis than its previous Monday through Friday schedule. He is also an prolific contributor to BloggingHeads.tv, where he often takes part in video discussions with other media personalities. He also works as a history consultant to HBO Films.
He published his first book, Sound & Fury: The Making of the Punditocracy, which won the 1992 George Orwell Award, while studying for his doctorate in US history in Stanford in 1992. Alterman also published a number of other books, including the national best-sellers What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News (2003, 2004), and The Book on Bush: How George W. (Mis)leads America (2004). The others include: Who Speaks for America? Why Democracy Matters in Foreign Policy, (1998), and a second edition of Sound & Fury (2000). His It Ain’t No Sin to be Glad You’re Alive: The Promise of Bruce Springsteen (1999, 2001), won the 1999 Stephen Crane Literary Award. In September 2004, Viking Press published When presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and its Consequences — a version of his doctoral dissertation —- on lies of major consequence told by presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush.