Eric Garland has written a thought-provoking piece about why the celebrity "big-thinkers" are starting to be called on the carpet:
It would be positively idiotic to somehow blame Messieurs Lehrer, Gladwell, Zakaria, Ferguson and others like them for the hot mess of American leadership over the last couple decades. However, their brand of “thought leadership,” it must be said, did wonderfully in a world of authority for its own sake. People still needed to feel as if they were talking to somebody who knew what was going on, lest they sink into a horrific depression realizing that nearly all sectors of American leadership failed catastrophically all at once. Media properties were looking for towering figures who could stand up across a wide variety of platforms, as billions of dollars of content sales were now concentrated into the hands of a few companies: Disney, Time Warner, News Corp, CBS, and others who owned publishers, TV, radio and more. Speaking agencies had to fill keynote spots for the billions of dollars of conferences held every year, and having superstars is a way easier sale than actually finding the right speaker for each occasion. (You want to talk international security? Great, here’s Thomas Friedman. You want to talk international business competition? Great, here’s Thomas Friedman. You want to talk about renewing American potential? Have you heard of Thomas Friedman? He’s very influential, you know. Only $50,000, too.)
If you notice the career arcs of those who attained success against the teeth-gritting backdrop of constant leadership failures, you’ll notice that none of these high-minded intellectuals tend to rock the boat too much. Gladwell, for example, has been pre-eminent in the world of publishing for more than a decade, a period of time covering all of the collapse of character and values I have described above. Can you name a single controversial opinion the man has taken? Has he ever gotten up in the grill of anyone who might hesitate before shelling out his $75,000 speaking fee? I actually think Gladwell is a good writer, but as far as the paragon of intellectual virtue in the Western world for the last decade, shouldn’t some part of the last decade’s clusterfuck have struck him as worthy of spending a little built-up credibility and inspired him to call some people out on the carpet? I don’t mean a Network/Howard Beale cri-de-coeur, I mean maybe some minor article recognizing the dramatic drop in results from our leadership, something in tune with the times. Lord knows he could have always regained some ground with a nice book on how people get successful. Fear of starvation was not holding him back.
The piece is pretty extensive and Garland does a great job of looking back at the last 30-ish years to explain how we came to this point in our culture where we are being led by folks who really don't know what they're talking about, much less what they're doing.