The 10 Commandments of Punditry
FP obtained the following top-secret document outlining 10 iron-clad rules that the best pundits must follow in order to have fruitful careers and multiply their earnings.
After a long internal debate, we decided to share this vital—but possibly dangerous—information with you, our loyal readers. Enjoy.
The foreign-policy scholar was searching for inspiration. He walked on high, to the TV Studio of Knowledge. And the Lord of all Pundits revealed himself in a flash of klieg lights. And it was said unto him, “Follow these Ten Commandments and you and your think tank shall forever be a People of Pundits close to my heart.”
- Thou shalt be the Expert, on Everything. If the press asks you for comment, always bless them with your “expertise and analysis.” It does not matter if the issue is Iraq, Darfur, trade, or bird flu—your knowledge is infinite and your opinion final. Never refer the reporter to a researcher who has actually studied the issue for years. Remember, you are the Alpha and the Omega, because you, holy of holies, have been on TV (plus, if you don’t know what to say, you can always lift ideas from the executive summaries of their journal articles).
- Thou shalt not waste “time in the field.” Your 10 minutes chatting with the taxi driver on the way from your four-star hotel to the first-class lounge at the airport is enough to provide unique insight into what “the street is thinking.” The same goes for that night you spent in a hotel inside the Green Zone. You are Dr. Livingston back from the wilds, Achilles back from the front lines of war. Upon your return, write an op-ed, hold a press conference, and go on the talk-show circuit. These are far more worthwhile activities.
- Thou shalt be Non-Partisanly Partisan. Learn the code words and the tax code. If your organization is “Progressive” or “Conservative,” it can toe the party line but still technically be “nonpartisan” and thus not have to pay taxes.
- Thou shalt be neutral, but not always. Normally, a pundit must present him or herself as a “nonpartisan, disinterested analyst,” who “cares only about the facts.” But the Middle East is the exception to this rule. You must pick a side: Red Sox or Yankees, Sharks or Jets, Zionists or anti-Semites. Your side is always right and the other side is always wrong, and evil to boot. Plus, if anyone disagrees with you, they are most obviously a bigot and/or a terrorist.
- Thou shalt not commit the sin of Footnotes. If you want to go primetime, you must wisely invest your energies in writing 700-word op-eds and jetting between press appearances, not the humdrum of actual book research. However, you need not waste the opportunity to make manna out of all that public exposure. Slap those op-eds together into a book, so that you have something to flog in your bio line.
- Thou shalt not misuse the title of “former.” The three months that you were principal deputy under assistant secretary in the waning days of the Harding administration give you a knowledge that is supreme. It must be cited upon all occasions. Your data may be years outdated and your title may start with “former” because you were fired for incompetence and indicted for corruption, but this matters not to a Pundit; the TV host will never introduce that part of your resume to the audience.
- Thou shalt remember the past day, by keeping it forgotten. There are no consequences for being wrong as a pundit. Call for an invasion and it turns out not to be a “cakewalk?” You never said it. Advise a political candidate who was indicted for prostitution or, even worse, lost the election? Never met the guy.
- Thou shalt be who you need to be. A good pundit must be a chameleon, able to test the winds and portray him or herself according to the circumstances of the time. If a war is popular, you are a supporter. If it starts to go bad, you have “always been a critic from the start.” If you must present yourself as a regional expert, don’t worry about speaking the language or even having been to the country in question. The only requirement is keeping a straight face and a not-too-shiny forehead for the TV cameras.
- Thou shalt not commit the sin of Common Sense. The press loves contrarian ideas, even if they have no basis in fact or even a lick of common sense. So, when the news cycle is slow, go ahead and toss that half-baked proposal out there in op-ed form, as if it reflected real research or analysis. It is not like there are any consequences (That is, unless a policymaker actually implements it. If so, see Commandment 7 and deny you ever wrote it).
- Honor thy Funder. The funder giveth and can taketh away. The funder is not paying you to break new analytic ground; they are paying you to validate their own ideas and preconceptions. Work backwards. Their conclusions come first, then your “research” explains why. If donors ever get upset, name something after them. They like that.
The scholar thanked the Lord “for having me on today.” And it was good. And he spread the 10 Commandments of Punditry to all the think tanks of the Earth.
The scholar works at a think tank in Washington, D.C. and is a sinner of the first order.