Paul Mirengoff has discovered the soul-destroying truth about television.
I first realized this truth a few years ago. I had spent the better part of a summer working on a gigantic piece of investigative journalism about a financial scam at a ritzy Virginia country club where a bunch of high-powered D.C. personages were taken in by a small clique of Hawaiian grifters. It was a great story. When the piece finally appeared in print, it promptly disappeared. No letters to the editor, no notes from readers. Or family. Or friends.
That same week I appeared on a cable-news show for 30 seconds, debating a 20-something girl whom I had never heard of, on a topic so inane I can't recall it now. The next day, I got phone calls from everyone I've ever met: friends, family, acquaintances from college. They were all incredibly impressed, not because of anything I said, but because I had been on TV. For the first time in my professional life, I went into a deep depression.
Print journalism leads inexorably to television. There's no way around it. The real money--and the real exposure--is in front of the camera. For a while I tried to fight this gravity, but in the end I gave in because the ugly truth is: I like it when my friends and family think I’m doing something interesting with my job.
The lesson is that if you’re going to live in the world of writing, you have to understand that while television gives you all of the peripheral rewards, it is neither substance nor sustenance. Writers who confuse television with those things turn into jerks. You know who I’m talking about.
Conversely, the writers who don’t give in are better for it. The four journalists I admire most in the world (Andy Ferguson, David Grann, Matt Labash, Anthony Lane) never do TV. For this purity of heart, they deserve our admiration.
10 hours ago