You, Too, Can Be a TV Pundit!

Slate‘s Jack Shafer offers tips for those aspiring to be television pundits. Particularly useful:

The toughest part of the job is developing the ability to reduce everything in the news to the party’s latest talking points. Make sure to get yourself on your party’s e-mail lists or otherwise learn the correct line. The booker will test your skills at assembling a one-sentence, easily digested sound-bite in the pre-interview. Treat the pre-interview as an audition for a part in a continuing TV drama, because it is. “Clinton was worse on this than Bush” or its opposite is a perfectly acceptable answer to almost any question. Don’t try expressing an original thought on TV or otherwise upstaging the host, or he’ll never invite you back. Remember, it’s his show and you’re just the replaceable talent.

And no matter what you do, don’t answer pre-interview questions with the preface, “It’s very complicated.” TV isn’t the place for complicated discussions of politics. Save your learned dissertation for that 500-word newspaper op-ed you’re hoping to place in USA Today.

Quite right. Sadly, I’ve yet to master this skill.

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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 and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Richard Gardner says:

    A few months back I remember seeing an article about a class being held in DC on how to be a talking head. Thought I sent you the link 😉

    I have been on local TV a few times, and have never liked the results when I saw the tapes (on one interview I had been up over 36 hours) – so I understand how tough it is to look your best on TV when they throw the microphone into your face.

  2. Todd says:

    Personally, I like John Murtha’s chances of becoming a talking head. Although, the ’08 presidency may be on his mind seeing he’s running strong with the gays.

    See how strong he’s running right here! Vote, too! And, vote Murtha!

  3. Peter says:

    Why you consider it sad that you haven’t mastered this so-called skill is beyond me.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Peter: True enough. Unfortunately, being a TV talking head is the apex of punditry. It’s certainly the most lucrative end of the business!