Lessons Learned the Easy Way

In August of 2010, I made my TV debut on Emily Rooney’s “Greater Boston” show.  About four hours before show time, I was invited on to talk about the Fourteenth Amendment (specifically, repealing birthright citizenship). I read up on the subject for about three and a half hours, got myself into a suit, and went into Brighton.  The show was not aired live, but was taped straight through: Emily asked us (myself, a BC Law professor, and an immigration advocate) questions, we answered, we debated, and then the whole thing went on air at 7 pm.

That, my friends, is the easy way to not look like a complete idiot on TV. Anyone who watched that segment had context for our statements: anything we said was in response to a query or something someone else said. Even if she were so inclined, Emily Rooney couldn’t harass us by asking the same question five ways and then putting the worst answer on the show; no one could cut out the ten logical, articulate answers and leave in the one bumbling reply. What was on the screen in your home was what happened in studio.

Contrast with the Daily Show’s infamously bad treatment of conservatives and Megan McArdle’s commentary on ethical reporting:

There is no ethical reason that a reporter requires the ability to ask you questions without having those questions recorded. The reason they don’t want unedited audio is that you might release it and be revealed as a normal decent person, rather than a horrible fool. [….]

Seriously, don’t go on “The Daily Show.” They control the format, the questions and the editing process. There is no way you can win. Your purpose is to look like an idiot on the show, and they have all the tools they need to make sure you fulfill that purpose.

Like Megan McArdle, I recommend against going on The Daily Show.  But I also recommend against going on any television show that does heavy editing, does not tell you in advance who your co-panelists are, or is otherwise out to screw you.  I’ve been asked tough but fair questions on TV, and I’ve been asked tough and unfair questions. At least it’s all been live or taped and then played straight through.

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