Who Are Those Guys?

Or gals.  Either way, some political anthropology is in order.

Via Drum, Dave Weigel objects to the media narrative about the supposed new Republican flexibility on raising taxes on those making more than $250,000:

When I carp about Meet the Pressistan, this is what I’m talking about — a mobius strip conversation among the same handful of people, giving the illusion that a broader conversation must also be moving the same way. For two weeks, Tom Cole has been on the record for raising the top rate. Tom Coburn has been talking this way for two years. When will somebody sit down the Sunday show bookers and tell them that the votes of reluctant House members, very vulnerable to primaries, matter more than whatever a compromise-friendly Republican senator is re-re-re-re-stating?

Before you can influence your target audience, though, you need to know something about them.  And in this case, Blue Blogistan has little actionable intelligence on Meet the Pressistan; who are these Sunday Show Bookers anyway?

I’ve been wondering this for a while.  We all know that John McCain has been on a Sunday show something like 765 straight weeks.  But who makes this decision and why?  Many of the normal variables don’t seem to apply here.  Because people want to look at him (aka “the Megyn Kelly Effect”?).  That won’t work, unless my straight male body is really missing something.  Is it because McCain gets great ratings?  Unlikely, because the point of ratings is that you are trying to present something new and different.  In any event, IIRC, none of these shows gets good ratings: they are loss leaders for the networks and maybe even for the RNC Fox. 

If we really want to try to advance what is called, in one of the great political euphemisms of all time, the “national conversation” (in the euphemism department this even beats “enhanced interrogation techniques”), then we really need to know who makes these decisions and on what basis they are made.  I don’t even know if there are people who really have the job of “Sunday show bookers” — probably someone called a “producer” or “associate producer” or some such.  How does one get those jobs?  Are they journalists?  Who tells them what to do?  What are their or their bosses’ incentives?  The Sunday show seems to me one of the great paradoxes of what passes for modern journalism: the cognoscenti spend a great time watching them and complaining about them but few people really seem to know how they actually work.

And if we don’t know that, we might as well find ourselves jumping off a high cliff into a river.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

14 thoughts on “Who Are Those Guys?”

  1. Based on all the commercials from Archer Daniels Midland and other corporate welfare queens, the target audience for the Sunday talking heads programs is politicians, bureaucrats and policy wonks, not the hoi polloi. It may be possible that the programs can charge enough for access to that demographic to make them worth while in spite of low ratings.

  2. I did watch some of Meet the Press yesterday, with Newt Gingrich as one of the guests. We can be thankful for small favors; David Gregory addressed him as “Newt” rather than “Mr. Speaker” which is how he has been addressed by past episodes of the Sabbath Gasbags. Some progress is better than none.

  3. i just used the contact addresses for each of the sunday morning shows and left the following message–

    What is the name(s) of the person or people responsible for selecting the guest(s) each week, what is the job title(s) of the person or people who do this, and what criteria are used for making the selection?

    i’ll let you know if i hear anything.

  4. I have been thinking the exact same thing and booking for years. I usually think about it in terms of Democratic guests but you’re right, republican booking is as important too.

  5. Dear Mr. Zasloff: In general for shows with guests, the actual “bookers” are younger people with some variant of the term “producer” in their titles. They have large rolodexes and do what they are told by senior producers.
    It is important to realize these programs are no longer intended to be journalism. They are in effect lobbying by the huge mass media industry companies which broadcast them and the huge companies in other industries which support them through institutional advertising. Free air time for a politician is a far more effective bribe than a lousy campaign contribution. If these programs are skewed to the Republican point of view, that’s what the people spending money on them desire, and that’s how they work. The “bookers” identities are irrelevant.

    1. I think they are intended to reach the totebagger class that isn’t affected much by the screws applied to the mid- and lower middle class, and which likes to purchase its opinions ready-made, but likes to think of itself as discriminating. The same people who read the Atlantic and buy lots of high-end consumer goods. I agree, look at the advertising: it’s the kind of messages that Dave Barry once mocked with the reply “but what do you want me to DO?”

    2. On the margins, though, the bookers can be influenced, particularly because they’re generally young and not terribly well versed in anything. So if you can get people into their address books (by insertion at the right parties or restaurants or other events), inertia will get those people called at least once.

      Another side of this, of course, is that people with real work to do — as opposed to political shills — may not have the time and energy to go on these shows on a regular basis. Contrast with, say, John McCain, who really appears to have nothing else to do.

  6. Inertia. The whole Sunday show thing is running on the fumes of inertia…
    They are dead and merely falling forward until friction finally buries them.

    The wise do not mistake these falling masses for the flutter of future life.
    They stinks on ice because they are dead.

    I submit the “McCain Live Again!” numbers as proof.
    “Why McCain?” Zasloff asks. Because these corpses are so static, so defunct, they are still adhering to the “sticky” version of McCain:
    McCain the great straight-shooter, willing to speak the truth against Ds and Rs.
    Yeah… that McCain, whether he existed or not…

    QED: The shows are as dead as that version of McCain is dead.

    And by the way, what Frank Rich wrote about McCain the other day, could be edited to reflect the truth about these Sunday cadavers as well:

    For the good of the country, it’s time to fetch a butterfly net for McCain. At a moment when the Middle East is on fire, you have a United States Senator threatening to hold our State Department hostage for no coherent reasons other than to exercise his temper and to satisfy his insatiable desire for television coverage. It’s a measure of the fallen state of the GOP that this bitter, ever-more-incoherent hothead is now the party’s only elected official with a voice on foreign affairs — unless you count his boot-licking Sancho Panza, Lindsey Graham. (The saner Republican foreign policy hand in the Senate, Richard Lugar, was defrocked earlier this year when the crackpot Richard Mourdock, the now-vanquished tea-party favorite, ousted him in Indiana’s Republican primary.) McCain is so out of it that he even suggested that Bill Clinton be sent to the Middle East to broker negotiations — apparently forgetting that there actually is another Clinton in place in the cabinet to do that job.


  7. Everybody else has figured out going on these shows is a waste of time given their puny, elite audiences. McCain is simply too dumb to have figured that out and is thus always willing to go on these shows and spout his opinion which nobody hears or cares about. He’s on them because he’s who they can get.

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