THE BLOG
08/10/2010 12:07 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Pundit Plutocracy - They're Not "Regular Folks"

We need to adjust our perspective on the pundit plutocracy. Wipe our glasses and take a clear-eyed look. I like Chris Matthews. I like "Hardball." I look forward to it each evening at seven o'clock, so much that I tell certain friends who see it at its original time of five o'clock to keep the details to themselves, please. There's nothing worse than being told about some spirited discussion on the show with my friend finishing by saying, "You'll love it." Well, not if you've already told me all about it. There is one thing, though, that Chris Matthews does that really annoys me.

Have you ever heard the promo MSNBC runs for Matthew's program? The one where he's telling you how he thinks "Hardball" is like sitting down and having a family talk around his dining room table. Chris Matthews and his relatives. I think he says something similar to - "It's like listening to your liberal uncle." Or is it one of your conservative relations? Whatever, you get the idea. Regular folks having at it about the issues of the day. What annoys me is the "regular" designation for himself and his usual guests. When we really look at our television screen and see exactly who these people are, they sure ain't the kind of "regular folks" most of us know. They are instead the pundit plutocracy. Yes, I do know the meaning of plutocracy.

Chris Matthews is reported to make $5 million a year. That's what MSNBC pays him for "Hardball" and other assorted on-air stints. Five million bucks. Do you know what that is, assuming MSNBC pays its people twice monthly? Its $208,333 each pay period - each payday - each check - twenty-four times a year. Hard to imagine for most "regular folks." So, when Chris Matthews is sitting around his little studio table - thinking about his kitchen - who's he talking to and how much money is seated there? How "regular" is that crowd? What do people like Pat Buchanan and Mike Barnicle get paid for their services? Hundreds of thousands? Probably. Barnicle makes a couple of hundred thousand just writing for The Boston Globe. Does God even know how much money Pat Buchanan has? How much more does MSNBC add to that? What does it take to get these pundits to show up before sunrise for "Morning Joe" and then come back later to hang around Chris Matthews' kitchen? Of course, we do our part. We believe we're watching "regular folks" - people like you and me. Maybe you can see your liberal cousin or your Tea Party brother-in-law among them. My eyesight's not that good.

You might be surprised to learn that Chris Matthews is among the lowest paid of the pundit plutocracy elite. His MSNBC colleague, Keith Olbermann is making $7.5 million a year as part of a multi-year contract. Even Rachel Maddow is said to earn $1 million and with her great success (she has much higher ratings than Matthews) she's no doubt in for a substantial increase and a long-term deal like Olbermann's. Good for them. I always root for labor. And, politically I agree with them, especially with Olbermann and Rachel, most of the time. The thing is - they're all fabulously wealthy. That's not "regular." Its exceptional. They are nowhere near "regular folks." They are the pundit plutocracy. But, they're only part of it.

CNN, which some people say can now count all its viewers by hand, pays Anderson Cooper $5 million. Who knows how much more CBS puts in his pocket. FOX NEWS, never known as cheapskates, supposedly pays its guy, Sheppard Smith the whopping sum of $8 million a year. If you thought cable news was small-time, think again. And we can only guess at the exact amounts - well into eight and nine figures! - for the fattest cat pundit plutocrats like Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck.

Still, the true royalty of the pundit plutocracy resides at the over-the-air broadcast networks. Kati Curic is the unrivaled Queen. She gets paid $15 million to do the CBS Evening News. So far that's about two bucks a viewer. Diane Sawyer, at ABC, is paid a million dollars a month. How do you like that for "regular folks"? And poor Brian Williams, who just happens to do the #1 rated news show in America, only makes $8 million or so. He's more "regular" than the others, but really... The pundit plutocracy includes a host of other TV talking heads, the usual cast of characters, not a one of them "regular folks." For example, a journeyman TV figure like Harry Smith can pull in $3 million a year. A nice payday for "regular folks."

Here's a way to revolutionize TV news broadcasts. Have the crawl at the bottom of the screen show the earnings for whoever has their face up in the picture at the moment. When we watch Chris Matthews talking about the working man in western Pennsylvania, like he knows him and his lifestyle real well, lets see this across the bottom: MR. MATTHEWS IS PAID $5 MILLION TO DO THIS SHOW. Perhaps, during one of the roundtable discussions, a staple of the TV news/talk format, how about a crawl showing the combined compensation of all the participants? Or, when Kati Curic pops up, live from Haiti for a day or two, why not have the CBS crawl read: MS. CURIC IS PAID $57,692 PLUS EXPENSES FOR EACH DAY SHE SPENDS IN HAITI.

Fitzgerald was right. The rich "are different from you and me." They are not "regular folks." We need to correct our perspective on the pundit plutocracy.