Where Have All the Journalists With Good B.S. Detectors Gone?

By Jack Limpert

Monday’s post made the case that television and speaker’s fees have hurt journalism—the lure of the two showed a lot of talented print journalists that they could make good money—easy money—talking on TV and as paid speakers on college campuses and at trade association and other business meetings.

British journalist Henry Fairlie described in the Washingtonian the celebrity that comes with TV appearances and speaker’s fees: “Fewer and fewer young journalists are willing to be and to remain just good reporters. . . .The effect on Washington is that, trading in celebrity, the media trade also in the wealth surrounding the celebrity. The very profession that should be the relentless critic of the affluence and cynicism of Washington is now the most ostentatiously affluent and cynical profession in the city.”

One of the strengths of a journalist should be having a good bullshit detector. But my early experience on television showed that you pretty much have to put your b.s. detector aside if you do talk shows regularly.

In the 1970s, WRC-Channel 4, the NBC-owned television station in Washington, started a Sunday morning talk show. They wanted three local journalists, and politically correctly they picked a woman (Clare Crawford of the Washington Daily News), an African-American male (Bill Raspberry from the Washington Post), and a white male (me from the Washingtonian magazine).

They wanted us to talk about local issues and it was clear that they wanted more heat than light if the show was to get decent ratings. Every Friday morning we’d get on the phone and talk about the week’s news and how we were going to fight with each other. Then that afternoon we’d go out to the Channel 4 studios on Nebraska Avenue and sit down with moderator Angela Owens and tape the show for viewing on Sunday.

I think we kind of enjoyed it at first–it was one of the first TV talk shows featuring print journalists, we got a little money, and we hoped we were helping sell our publications. I was never sure how Clare felt about the charade but it didn’t take long for Bill and I to talk about the high B.S. factor: What kind of disagreement can we come with this Sunday?

After about two years WRC-TV moved on to other Sunday morning programming. The only long-term benefit for me, along with making me skeptical of print journalists talking too much on television, or on social media, was finding out that my AFTRA membership included health benefits that paid for the birth of our first daughter, now a journalist.


  1. I have been a long-time reader of The Nation and feel these writers have well cultivated their B.S. meters.The pandering of many journalist turned pundits is deplorable. However in our age of instant and ubiquitous media content, the loudest and most outrageous statements appear to get the best ratings.

    This is the modern rubber necking at a car wreck. Excitement is the goal and drug precipitating this folly.
    I agree that much good sense is being obscured. As the printed word has faded from the public view, we are left with ever shorter sound bites in this fast moving world.

    Thanks for your insight,
    Bill Grover

    • Yes, Jack, those were pretty good old days at WRC with you and Bill Raspberry. It was fun to disagree!
      My take on what has happened to tv news is that networks used to be required to do public service, before the l990s. And most made the news division their public service area with documentaries and less opinions. But when the public service requirement was abolished for a network license, news became a profit center and immediately entertainment to attract growing audiences and more ads became the purpose. So here we are.

      And, yes, those AFTRA benefits have been quite nice. Probably ruined our journalistic impartiality about labor unions.

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