As Seen On TV
Wendy Murphy is right. Wow, I never thought I would tap out those words on my keyboard, but she is. Radley Balko posts about how loud beats accuracy when it comes to TV punditry, and points to Murhpy's own words in support.
“Lots of folks who voiced the prosecution position in the beginning [of the Duke case] gave up because they faced a lot of criticism, and that’s never my style.” She notes that she’s invited on cable shows to argue for a particular side. “You have to appreciate my role as a pundit is to draw inferences and make arguments on behalf of the side which I’m assigned,” she says. “So of course it’s going to sound like I’m arguing in favor of ‘guilty.’ That’s the opposite of what the defense pundit is doing, which is arguing that they’re innocent.”
From which Radley concludes:
It’s all theater, you see. She’s just playing a part. It’s fine if she slanders some people, ruins some reputations, spouts flat falsehoods, and generally dumbs down the public discourse. Because it’s just entertainment. It’s what pundits do.
Radley says she's "partially right." I say she nailed it. Not because I agree that this is how it should be, but because this is the mean lesson one learns from being a media whore. They want three things from their commentator: Look pretty, give provocative sound bites and fill air time. That you could be totally wrong, absurdly so, means nothing to them. They're just moving onto the next segment once you're done, after which everything is forgotten anyway.
It's not that they wouldn't prefer to have a pundit with a clue, provided they look pretty (which is the foremost criteria, especially for a female pundit). It's that they just don't care enough to let accuracy get in the way of a good sound bite. And they know a Wendy Murphy will always give good bite.
I've been there. I know it, only too well. Way back when MSNBC used to do 6 hour stints with lawyers doing the color commentary on the court case of the day, I was a regular doing the defense side. Once an hour, we would be expected to sit at a desk and do a five minute stint, me and whoever was doing the "former prosecutor" job that day. Our five minutes would consist of two questions, each taking up about 90 seconds including some mischaracterization of the nature of the legal issue, and concluding with the words "how do you feel?" We had ten seconds to respond before the talking head turned elsewhere.
One slow day caught up with us. The "former prosecutor" and I got bored playing cards, waiting for our next stint, and there was absolutely nothing worthwhile to say on the case du jour. We had just finished our stint with Ashley Banfield (back when she was blond and didn't wear her "interested" glasses), and some unknown kid in a peculiar Caribbean-green-colored shirt was the next hour's anchor. We decided to goof with the kid by switching sides. I would take the prosecutor side and the former prosecutor would pretend to be the defense.
The anchor, Rick Sanchez, was very nice and solicitous, as they sat us at our desk, and we nodded nicely back, knowing that there would be someone else we didn't know there in an hour. He ran through his question and we responded. Just backward. Rick didn't skip a beat, and we filled our five minutes like good little lawyers. Just backward. Nobody, not Sanchez, not a producer, nobody, even noticed. Our sound bites were good. Our time was filled. And everybody was happy. It meant absolutely nothing.
There are many new lawyers who would desperately love to have a shot at being on TV, doing some commentary so that their friends can see them on the Tube and they can tell the world how they are important enough to be television commentators. Yeah, the first time is pretty cool, a real ego boost. A while later, not so much.
So take a lesson from Wendy Murphy. If your purpose is to get your beautiful puss on the little screen, be loud and proud. Be outrageous. Be false if you want, since it's not like anybody can verify your claims. Just make stuff up if it serves your purpose. And if you've got the right smile and make wild enough noises, chances are pretty good that they'll ask you back. Hey, they always need lawyers to fill up air time, especially since lawyers will always work for free to get on TV and they have a ton of air time to fill.
Of course, if you have any interest in being accurate in your commentary, knowledgeable about your content and thorough and/or nuanced in your statements, you might not find being a pundit to your liking. They just don't have enough time or interest to allow for such irrelevant details, and they really don't need another high maintenance lawyer clogging up the works when they might find the next Wendy Murphy waiting around the corner for her big break.
And let's face it, wild, provocative talk makes for great TV. And that's what it's really all about.