Lights, Camera, Public Intellectual
Monday, May 01, 2006 :::
The stunned look is always a dead-giveaway. And the long-winded, jargon-filled answers confirm it. It's your fist time in front of a television camera, and you're thisclose to drowning in flop sweat. The Chronicle of Higher Education takes a
look at what makes an academic a successful television guest. Professional jealousy rears its head now and then. And so too does Larry Sabato:
The professor of politics at the University of Virginia says it is perfectly OK for academics to be public intellectuals as long as they are also private ones. "You do your teaching, publish your books, you perform your public service," he says. "That comes first."
Now that he has taught at the university for nearly 30 years, Mr. Sabato says, he does not encounter jealous colleagues. But he did early on. "You've got a lot of assistant professors," he says. "Everyone's coming up for tenure. They're doing their books. They're wondering why is this guy going on and not me."
But that is up to the producers, Mr. Sabato says: "I don't call them. They call me."
And they tend to call a lot, which can create some awfully one-dimensional analysis.
But for all the media exposure he receives, it hasn't necessarily made the Professor into a household name. I still recall when Waldo, Rick and I gave a talk before Sabato's class on election eve. I wasn't sure how to get to the classroom, so a graduate mathematics student offered to show me the way. When I told who's classroom I was looking for it didn't register. "What subject does he teach?" I was a little stunned. But surely, everyone knows Larry Sabato? Nope. Not even close. And after I thought about it for a while, that student's reaction actually made me feel a bit better about things, because it re-acquainted me with something that's easy to forget.
There's a big world outside the political bubble, where celebrity, glibness, and a top-drawer spot on a producers' PDAs are meaningless. Until they call you.
::: posted by Norman Leahy at 5/01/2006