About Editing

Why You Don’t See Editors on Sunday Talk Shows

By Jack Limpert

Watching the Sunday morning talk shows, I sometimes remember back to 1981 when ABC-TV redefined the Sunday morning talk show with This Week With David Brinkley. A regular panelist on the new show was Ben Bradlee, executive editor of the Washington Post, who was at the height of his fame after guiding the Post through Watergate and being played by Jason Robards in the movie version of All the President’s Men.

Bradlee, as tough and charismatic as any editor, lasted only a few Sundays before dropping off the show. He looked good but he didn’t seem to have much to say. My theory of what happened is that good editors are better at asking questions than answering them. Some of it also may be that editors are used to orchestrating the conversation, deciding where things are going, asking questions, listening to the answers, making decisions. Bradlee probably could have been good in the Brinkley I’m-in-charge role, but not as just another panelist.

I saw some of this when I was on on the board of the American Society of Magazine editors. I’d go up to New York City for the meetings and 15 editors would be sitting around a table discussing issues and you could tell that every one of them wanted to be in charge of the conversation. That’s the way life was at their magazines.

The bottom line: Editors are good at asking questions but put them in charge of any show they’re on.

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