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Being a Cable TV Pundit

Everything I could ever tell you about…

By July 2006Comments

NAME: Paul Begala | AGE: 45 | HOMETOWN: Missouri City | QUALIFICATIONS: Former co-host of CNN’s Crossfire / Co-author of Take It Back / Political contributor to CNN’s The Situation Room

• The first time I was on television was when Governor Bill Clements executed the first person in Texas in years. I was a University of Texas student, and I was participating in a candlelight prayer vigil in front of the Governor’s Mansion. Longtime Austin anchor Judy Maggio, who was then just a cub reporter for KVUE, happened to turn a camera on me. I probably owe her a 25 percent royalty for everything I’ve done since.

• If you live by the quip, you die by the quip. It’s like saying something in a bar, except there’s a camera on. Of course, the producers love that stuff.

• As with a lot of things in life, you can’t want a career in television too badly. Like a thirteen-point buck or Miss Copperas Cove—I married Miss Copperas Cove seventeen years ago—if you’re trying too hard to get it, you won’t get it.

• I prepared thoroughly when I was a host. I spent hours and hours studying for every hour I was on TV. I read the guests’ books, and I checked the politicians’ votes. You’ve got to get it right. It’s a lot easier when I’m an analyst. The best prep for cable television commentary is to hit yourself in the head with a brick.

• One of the many gifts I received from Bill Clinton when I worked for him was a thick skin. Most people in public life don’t have a thick skin. They have no skin.

• I’d rather be amusing than boring, and I’d rather be a bit of a fool than be dull.

• I never did a show on a missing white girl in Aruba or Brad and Jennifer or Ben and Jennifer or whoever those people are. Instead, Crossfire did more shows on the war in Iraq than on any other topic. I’m proud of that. It was the one place you could go and hear the anti-war position. And if I shouted some then, I don’t regret it.

• Tim Russert taught me that the audience is smart. If you’re sitting there thinking that your guest is full of beans, then the audience is thinking the exact same thing.

• People used Crossfire the way a drunk uses a light post—more for support than for illumination.

• When Jon Stewart came on Crossfire and said the show was hurting America, I literally was reaching into my pocket to call my wife—live, while we’re on the air—to tell her to watch. But “hurting America”? I mean, c’mon. Even if the show’s harshest critics were right, thirty minutes of a couple of knuckleheads shouting at each other wasn’t hurting America.

• The peril of the business is that a lot of people are drawn to it because they’re insecure and they want to be somebody. I don’t have those kinds of issues. My momma loved me.

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