The Pilot Newspaper: Opinion
The office was cramped and cluttered, with dusty posters of old TV personalities on the wall: Edward R. Murrow, Howard K. Smith, Walter Cronkite. The single window behind the desk was half open, letting in the noise from the street below.
“So, you wanna be on the network news talk shows,” the man behind the desk said.
He was a big man with a florid, jowly face and a cigar stuck in one corner of his mouth. He had his suit coat off, and his short sleeves were rolled up. The name plate on his desk read, “Mort Nuttman, Talent Agent.”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “See, I’ve been writing this political column for years, and I think I know a lot about the subject. I was wondering if maybe I could be one of those high-paid TV pundits.”
Nuttman grunted. He opened the folder of columns I’d brought and scanned through them. After a moment, he set it down. He looked at me, up and down, for a long moment, without speaking. “The question is,” Nuttman said finally, “how wrong can you be?”
“Look,” he said, “You wanna make the big money as a guest pundit on the big shows — “This Week,” “Fox and Friends,” “Situation Room” — you gotta show that you can be completely wrong. Not just once, but over and over. Look at the heavy hitters — Bill Kristol, Dick Morris, The Cheneys, Palin, even John McCain. You know what they have in common?”
“I don’t know if I can be like those guys,” I said. “I’m kind of center-left.”
He rolled his eyes. “Dear Lord,” he moaned. “Not a liberal.”
“That’s a problem?”
He shook his head. “Liberals are hard to work with, pal. They show up with facts, and figures, and” he made air quotes with his fingers and put a sneer in his voice, “reee-search.”
“Facts make people change the channel,” he said. “I don’t need another Alan Colmes on my client roster.”
“Exactly. Now, if you were an actual liberal, you’d be dead in the water.”
“What about Rachel Maddow?”
He waved a hand dismissively “One show. One network. Plus, she’s a looker. The big money’s in being able to do a lot of shows, and it’s easier to do that if you’re a far-right wacko. More entertaining. We can work around the ‘center-left’ thing, like we did with James Carville and Bill Maher. But you’ve got to be willing to do what it takes to grab people. Now, yell!”
“C’mon, yell! See if you can drown me out.”
I was confused. “Yell what?”
He handed me a piece of paper. “This script’ll do.” He began talking in a calm, measured voice. “One thing that makes the current border crisis more complicated is the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act
, which was signed by President George W. Bush…”
I looked down at the paper and began to read at the top of my lungs. “WHEN IS OBAMA GOING TO STOP BLAMING BUSH FOR EVERYTHING?!” I hollered, doing my best to shout Nuttman down. “A COUNTRY THAT CAN’T PROTECT ITS BORDERS IS NO COUNTRY AT ALL! AAAAAAH!”
I stopped and looked up. He was nodding.
“OK,” he said, “good projection, just the right edge of barely controlled rage. We might have something here. But you still need to have been wrong a lot.” He sat back down. “So,” he said. “Were you in favor of the Iraq War? Do you still think it was a good idea?”
“Oh, God, no,” I said. “It was a debacle that should never have happened.”
Nuttman grimaced. “How about Romney? Were you predicting he’d score a landslide win over Obama as late as Nov. 6, 2012?”
He pressed on. “Did you predict that Obamacare enrollment numbers weren’t going to reach predicted levels?”
He sighed. “Sorry, pal. You just don’t have what it takes.”
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “The people who have been consistently wrong about everything get to pull down fat salaries on TV? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“What do you think this is, kid? News? This is infotainment. No one likes people who are right. Audiences like people who agree with them. Loudly.”
“Especially if they’re wrong. People who know they’re wrong want someone to tell them they’re right, so they never have to admit it.”
“Don’t let it get around,” he said.
I shook my head. “I hate to say it,” I said, “but you’re right.”