Daniel W. Drezner

The trouble with academics on cable news…

Over at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about why he largely abstains from cable news appearances and why this is in and of itself a problem: The outlines of the problem are becoming clear–I’m a snob. More seriously, it’s my impression that much of cable news is rigged. Complicated questions are forced into small spaces ...

Over at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates talks about why he largely abstains from cable news appearances and why this is in and of itself a problem:

The outlines of the problem are becoming clear–I’m a snob. More seriously, it’s my impression that much of cable news is rigged. Complicated questions are forced into small spaces of time, and guests frequently dissemble in order to score debate points and avoid being intellectually honest. Finally, many of the guests don’t seem to be actual experts in the field of which they’re addressing, so much as they’re "strategists" or "analysts." I strongly suspect that part of the reason this is the case is talking on TV is, itself, a craft and one that requires a skill-set very different than what is required of academics. I’m sure many academics themselves share the disdain for the format that I’ve outlined. Finally, the handful of scholars who regularly appear on the talk shows, generally aren’t of the sort that hold my interests.

With that said, it’s very difficult to inveigh against these shows when you refuse to participate. The discomfiting fact is that cable news reaches a ton of people, many of whom–presuming they’re interested–could use the information (emphasis added).

As an academic who is occasionally asked to be on TV/radio after the producer has gone through their top ten options, I have similarly mixed feelings about the skill mismatch. Speaking from my own experience, I find that my biggest weakness in these venues is that I genuinely want to answer the question asked of me.

You’d think this would be a good thing, but it’s not, because it means that you’re a hostage to the interviewer’s ability to ask good questions. Usually if you’re asked to be on a program, you know what the news hook is, and you should (obviously) know your overarching take on the issue. The problem, for me at least, is that no interviewer asks, "So what do you think?" Instead, they’ll ask a more specific question — which I then try to answer specifically. I’ve rarely been able to integrate a specific answer with the larger theme I want to stress in the appearance.

I suppose I could just admit my failings and abstain from these kinds of media appearances. One of my 2011 resolutions, however, is to try and get better at doing this sort of thing.

I’ll have my list of proposed resolutions for the rest of the foreign-policy community tomorrow.

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