How to Sound Smart On TV

Don't worry too much about what they're going to ask you. Have a good quip at the ready. And act like you know what you're talking about.

UNTIL 1999 I HAD DONE almost no television. I was a print reporter covering the statehouse. Then the NBC affiliate in Dallas got me a gig on Meet the Press after George W. Bush’s announcement that he was running for president. My first experience on TV was on a roundtable at the end of the show with David Broder, Robert Novak, and Tim Russert. As it turned out, it went very well, because I knew what I was talking about. That’s one of the keys to being a good pundit: Know your material.

Another is, don’t think too much. Generally speaking, you know that what they want you to talk about is politics. The worst thing you can do is formulate paragraph-long answers in advance. My philosophy is: Keep it simple, stupid. Just respond to the questions they ask.

It’s best not to think up a long list of clever lines in advance, either. But part of being a pundit is offering up, supposedly in an offhand way, a throwaway quip. For example, whenever I’m asked about foreign policy these days, I will inevitably say that George W. Bush knows there are electoral votes in Paris, Texas, not Paris, France. When I was on Meet the Press during the 2000 Republican primaries, I was asked why Bush was distancing himself from the rest of the GOP field. What I said was, “Why join the Dalton Gang when you’re doing just fine as the Lone Ranger?” I came up with that line that morning, while I was brushing my teeth. I knew it was a success when I said it and David Broder started laughing.

You have to know who you’re supposed to be. Am I the guy who thinks Bush is dumb? The guy who knows Bush’s history


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