Monday, April 17, 2006

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The ins and outs of media whoring

Jennifer Jacobson has an excellent story in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the travails faced by academics who make regular media appearances. It's the perfect mix of serious and amusing.

The amusing stuff:

During the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the late 1990s, Cass R. Sunstein, a law professor at the University of Chicago, appeared on television regularly to argue that impeaching President Bill Clinton was wrong.

Then he got sick of it. He was bored with the cameras, sitting in the studio had lost its novelty, and, to top it off, his earpiece kept falling out. So after CNN asked him to appear yet again, he said he would agree only on one condition: that his dog join him on the air.

The network agreed. During the commercial break, the phones were ringing off the hook, Mr. Sunstein recalls. Viewers wanted to know where they could buy a dog like Perry, Mr. Sunstein's Rhodesian Ridgeback. "He was a big TV star," says Mr. Sunstein. The experience, he says, was "the highlight of my television career." [I must stipulate here that Perry is indeed a gorgeous dog... though not as gorgeous as Chester--DD.]....

On television-free days, Diane Ravitch doesn't wear much makeup — no eyeliner, eye shadow, or mascara. Some days, she says, she does not even apply lipstick.

She is not a fan of getting made up for television; in fact, she says "that's the worst part." There is, however, an upside to it, Ms. Ravitch says: The skillfully applied products make her look 20 years younger — for three minutes.

She realizes that is not a lot of time to share her views with the public. But it is a chance to reach a national audience, she says. Besides, most Americans get their news from television. "So if you can say something that's educational and valuable for them to hear," she says, "that's more than they'll hear for the rest of the day."

Ravitch's last quote raises an interesting question -- as Americans get more and more of their news off the Internet, will more public intellectuals start up blogs? [Duh--ed.]

On the serious side, it turns out that junior faculty should be wary of doing too much television. Who knew?

posted by Dan on 04.17.06 at 08:24 AM


Shouldn't that be Zimbabwean Ridgeback?

posted by: Mitchell Young on 04.17.06 at 08:24 AM [permalink]

+10 points to Mitchell Young for throwing in a little African history trivia. :-)

I am not particularly keen on public intellectuals going on the main stream media. My issue is not so much with their reputation (in fact I applaud the effort to spread their information) but rather with the format. Trying to present complex arguments in fifteen second sound bites in a debate against a B list Hollywood actor on CNN’s Crossfire is not helpful to anyone. I cannot count how many times guests have presented blatantly wrong “facts” to support their argument.

Blogs on the other hand allow intellectual to control the format. She/he can write as much or as little as needed to present an argument. This argument can be revised, facts checked, responded to, and even cited by other blogs.

posted by: Chris Albon on 04.17.06 at 08:24 AM [permalink]

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