Perils of a Talking Head

Anyone who regularly does TV interviews knows that one is always required to do a pre-interview in which a producer feels you out as to what you will say in response to certain hypothetical questions. It would be simpler if they just came out and said, “We are looking for someone to go on air and say Obama is the anti-Christ (or whatever). Are you willing to do that?”

Such a method, however, is crass and offends the dignity of potential guests, so instead the producer will talk around the issue. She (they are almost always female) will say something like this: “We are thinking about doing a segment on whether Obama is the anti-Christ and looking for guests who will debate this topic. If we had you on what would your take be?”

If you say that the idea is ridiculous you will be thanked and the producer will move on to the next name on her list. Eventually she will find a crazy person like Alan Keyes to say what she wants him to say or someone so desperate to be on TV that he will play Devil’s Advocate and pretend to believe that Obama is the anti-Christ for the sake of 5 minutes of air time.

Sometimes, however, the producer hasn’t been fully clued in to what it is she is supposed to do and accidentally books a guest unwilling to play the proper role. When this happens, the guest will later get a call canceling his appearance on the grounds that the segment “went in a different direction” or similar BS.

I bring all this up because a friend of mine, economist Richard Rahn, recently had a segment on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer canceled. In this case, however, it wasn’t because he had the wrong point of view, but because the show found a better guest to say the same thing. Again, this is part of the game. Policy wonks all know that if a producer can bag a congressman or senator to make his point he is going to get bumped. No problem.

What is funny about Richard’s experience is that he wasn’t bumped for a bigger name, but for another economist prepared to make his points in the form of rap. I’m not making this up. For a segment on the economics of John Maynard Keynes, this news program found someone who apparently has produced a rap video on the subject. Here is the relevant portion of the e-mail Richard got canceling his appearance:

“We just learned that Russ Roberts, a professor of economics at George Mason University, who was our second choice for the anti-Keynes position, is shooting a rap video about Keynes and Hayek next week in New York. He has written the lyrics (they are quite good), hired rappers and musicians, and tapped professional music video producers — there will be bling, babes, limos, the works.” (emphasis added)

Richard received this e-mail as he and I were having dinner and I almost fell on the floor laughing. The absurdity of being rejected for an economist who brings bling, babes and limos to the table was bad enough. The idea of making a rap video about Keynesian economics made it even more absurd. But what really cracked me up was the idea of Russ Roberts doing this. Even by the standards of economics professors he’s pretty nerdy. I can’t even begin to imagine how he could do a rap video of anything, let alone Keynesian economics.

I don’t know when or if Roberts’ video will make it on to the NewsHour, but I hope it does, if only to see how he explains liquidity preference.

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About Bruce Bartlett 76 Articles

Affiliation: Forbes

Bruce Bartlett is a columnist for, the online side of Forbes, the nation’s premier financial magazine.

He served for many years in prominent governmental positions including executive director of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, Deputy Assistant Secretary for economic policy at the U.S. Treasury Department during the George H.W. Bush Administration, and as a senior policy analyst in the White House for Ronald Reagan.

Bruce is the author of seven books, including the New York Times best-selling Impostor: How George W. Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy, and thousands of articles in national publications including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, New Republic, Fortune and many others. He appears frequently on CNN, CNBC, C-SPAN and Fox News, and has been a guest on both the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and the Colbert Report.

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