How To Be a Television Talking Head

Not surprisingly, there is a glut of wannabe TV talking heads:

They are the minor-league pundits — political consultants, professors, activists, actors, journalists, bloggers and opinionated civilians — and they’re using 21st-century stunts to troll for airtime. Some try to break out of the blogs by repeating particular phrases in their written rants, designed to pop their sites up when TV bookers search for keywords online.

The gist of the article is that, to break through the pack, you have to be obnoxious, predictable, and available. Then again, you probably gathered that yourself if you’ve watched any of these shows.

Debbie Schlussel, 37 years old, supports her pundit habit by practicing commercial law in suburban Detroit. She is among the most proactive B-list pundits. Almost daily, she emails her appearance schedule, availability or sharp-elbowed conservative commentaries to 5,000 people in media and politics.
In the wake of North Korea’s recent nuclear test, a hawkish Ms. Schlussel hit the radio circuit, saying U.S. officials responded too mildly in calling the test “a provocative act.” “A Paris Hilton video is a provocative act,” she said. “What North Korea did was an act of war.” To get noticed, Ms. Schlussel says, “I’ve become the master of the confrontational sound bite.”


[Kedrosky, a venture capitalist from La Jolla, Calif.,] has learned to take clear positions. Many of his fellow B-listers have “too many hands,” he says. “They’re always saying, ‘On the one hand, on the other hand.’ ” As he sees it, punditry is “like pounding a volleyball back and forth. You just have to remember which side of the net you’re on. If you all stand on the same side, you don’t have a game.”

I found this rather amusing:

Class distinctions in the pundit trade are easy to spot. A-listers are offered limo rides by the networks. B-listers often drive their own cars or take a cab. Some A-listers are paid to appear as network contributors, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Fox, former Congressman J.C. Watts on CNN, and Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter on MSNBC. (Payments range from a couple hundred dollars per appearance for some regulars to several thousand dollars for the biggest names.) In lieu of payment, B-listers receive coffee mugs with a show’s logo.

I’m probably somewhere on the G-list but have gotten limo rides most every time I’ve been asked on. I apparently forfeited my right to a coffee mug as a result, though, because I’ve never gotten one.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.