I Am An Enemy Of The People


Even before the election of Donald Trump — and his extraordinary declaration that the media are the “enemies of the people” — U.S. journalism was in trouble.
According to Gallup polling, American trust in mass media plummeted from an already low 40 percent in 2015 to a historic low of 32 percent in September 2016. The drop in the trust that Republicans have in the media was staggering: from 32 percent to a mere 14 percent. This last number applies as well to Trump supporters regardless of party affiliation.
If I were a Trump supporter, I’d probably look askance at the mainstream media as well. First of all, newspapers overwhelmingly backed Hillary Clinton for president: 240 editorial boards supported Clinton while only 19 favored Trump.
It wasn’t so much that editorial boards are generally liberal. In 2012, after all, Mitt Romney received 105 endorsements, while Barack Obama got Continue reading "I Am An Enemy Of The People"

Making America A Pariah Again


 
Donald Trump is holding up the severed head of the Statue of Liberty.
It’s a striking image for a magazine cover. But it’s not the front of the Nation or the ACLU newsletter. It’s this week’s issue of Der Spiegel, Germany’s version of Time magazine. To punctuate the point, one of Spiegel’s articles declares Donald Trump “the world’s most dangerous man.”
Der Spiegel is channeling a widespread European sentiment. It took only a couple weeks for the Trump administration to make transatlantic relations so toxic that Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, felt the need to slap an orange alert on the orange-haired president. The new administration has seemingly “put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy,” Tusk wrote in a letter read round the world. In his urgent missive, Tusk identifies the United States as an external threat to Europe comparable Continue reading "Making America A Pariah Again"

The Kremlin’s Kool-Aid

We were nearing the end of dinner when the eminent personage leaned in my direction and began yelling at me.

Up to that point, the argument among the five of us at the end of the long table at the restaurant had been heated but at a conversational volume. The fact that we were arguing at all was at least partly my fault.

After all, I'd brought up the subject of Russia. Just before the entrees arrived, I confessed that I found the political situation in Moscow troubling. I made it clear that I thought the Russian leadership in no way progressive and that I sympathized with the isolated dissidents concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The argument escalated. Just before the desserts arrived, the eminent personage told me in no uncertain terms that I'd gotten my priorities all mixed up. My concerns over human rights in Russia were nonsense. The number-one issue was to avoid nuclear war, which required close cooperation with the Kremlin. These sentences were delivered with all the finesse of an exasperated parent disciplining a misbehaving child.

As I stood up, mumbling something about my decision to forgo dessert, I suffered a brief spell of vertigo. I was suddenly not sure what decade I was in. I could have been having the same confrontation, more or less, in 1985 or 2015. I'd thought the Cold War had ended.

More importantly, I'd thought that the Cold War mindset had ended.

But as the science fiction writer William Gibson once wrote, "The future is already here -- it's just not evenly distributed." I'd somehow stumbled into one of those pockets of the past that coexist with the present and the future.

Alvin Toffler introduced the famous phrase "future shock. Continue reading "The Kremlin’s Kool-Aid"

From Journalism to Activism in Hungary

Many people are drawn to journalism because of their passion for social justice. They want to investigate wrongdoing. They want to expose corruption. They want to give voice to those who don't have any other way to bring their stories to the public.

Journalism can be powerful. It can bring down the mighty and elevate the underdog. But it can't by itself transform social mores. People, in the end, read what they want to read. Often, they don't read newspapers at all.

Szilvia Varro worked as a journalist for 18 years. She won Hungary's top journalism award for her investigative pieces on the extreme right and its approach toward Roma, the Pulitzer Prize (Joseph Pulitzer was born in Hungary). Her pieces were published in a prominent daily and weekly. If any journalist could have changed Hungarian attitudes about Roma, it would have been her.

But after 18 years, she quit. And started something new.

"When I got the Pulitzer Prize, I had to ask myself: what did I achieve?" she told me in her office in Budapest. "I had this feeling that I hadn't reached anything in my journalistic work. What did it mean to get the Pulitzer Prize if nothing had changed? Because nothing changed with the Roma question, I started Communications Center X: to somehow democratically influence social issues through communication. It was just not satisfying for me to write articles over and over again when nothing was changing."

Communications Center X (XKK) is a public relations firm with a purpose. It aims to mobilize young people in Hungary to transform their society. The Roma issue is one the agency's priorities because of the urgency of the situation.

"A racially motivated series of attacks of a kind unprecedented since World War II occurred against the Roma in Hungary in 2008-2009, leaving six dead and many severely injured," she explained. "XKK made four short films to commemorate this. The campaign was launched on July 22 with four short films disseminated on Facebook and in the Hungarian mainstream media. The campaign was carried out in three spheres: Hungarian and international media, Facebook, and offline events. We also launched a Virtual Commemoration Campaign. We asked companies, churches, and NGOs to take an active role in remembering the victims by posting and sharing our films on their pages and social media sites on the Internet."

The campaign was a success. Not only did it win awards, "with the Their Skin Was Their Only Sin campaign we reached over 1.2 million people, and people reacted to what we did. We achieved more than I did in the previous 18 years."

Journalism, Varro discovered, was not always part of the solution. "Several times when interethnic conflict broke out, I was among the first to arrive on the scene," she recalled. "One of my mistakes was looking only at the Roma agenda. The Roma called me and that's how I got there. So I entered the conflict through one door, and it was the door of the Roma. I never entered the door of the majority. On several occasions I didn't reduce the conflict but rather exaggerated it. It was almost as if I was promoting the extreme right in my paper because, looking back, I was exaggerating the problem, making it worse."

Now, with XKK, she offers a different strategy. "When we are working with the Roma and helping them with their communication, we advise them not to turn to the media," she said. "We teach them to avoid the media. Don't talk to them because it has consequences. Forget about the media. Try to solve the conflict by working together with the gadjo, the majority community. Find other NGOs, but don't go to the media."

We talked about how she managed to gain the trust of the extreme Right, how XKK hopes to reach young people in Hungary today, and her skepticism toward the current political choices on offer. I've also incorporated her updates on XKK activities since we originally talked last May.

The Interview

So, tell me about this organization.

Communications Center X (XKK) was founded in 2012 with help from Open Society Institute. Before this, I was a journalist for 18 years, writing for a Hungarian weekly Magyar Narancs and for the daily Népszabadság. I received the Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism in 2010 for investigating the extreme right here in Hungary. I started that work in the early 1990s, when Istvan Csurka was in parliament and quite powerful. In the mid 2000s, I followed the extreme Right party Jobbik and their paramilitary wing, the Hungarian Guard as well. I was investigating the far right and Hungarian Roma and the serial killings of the Roma between 2008-2009.

A racially motivated series of attacks of a kind unprecedented since World War II occurred against the Roma in Hungary in 2008-2009, leaving six dead and many severely injured. XKK made four short films to commemorate this. The campaign was launched on July 22 with four short films disseminated on Facebook and in the Hungarian mainstream media. The campaign was carried out in three spheres: Hungarian and international media, Facebook, and offline events. We also launched a Virtual Commemoration Campaign. We asked companies, churches, and NGOs to take an active role in remembering the victims by posting and sharing our films on their pages and social media sites on the Internet. We succeeded in partnering with the Jesuit order, which initially organized memorial services on the memorial day of the Roma holocaust. This was followed up on several occasions when the XKK team appeared at a number of seminars at various Jesuit youth events. The Their Skin Was Their Only Sin campaign won in two categories of Prizma Kreatív (Project of the Year; CSR solutions), the most prestigious award in the Hungarian advertising industry.

Why did you give up journalism?

When I got the Pulitzer Prize, I had to ask myself: what did I achieve? I had this feeling that I hadn't reached anything in my journalistic work. What did it mean to get the Pulitzer Prize if nothing had changed? Because nothing changed with the Roma question, I started Communications Center X: to somehow democratically influence social issues through communication. It was just not satisfying for me to write articles over and over again when nothing was changing. With the Their Skin Was Their Only Sin campaign we reached over 1.2 million people, and people reacted to what we did. We achieved more than I did in the previous 18 years.

Education became a big issue in Hungary because we basically have the same system we had in the 1980s. Not much has changed. And the current conservative government has made it worse than it was. So, education became a central issue. I also chose this topic because, as maybe you know, many young people vote for Jobbik, especially those with a strong party identification. The student demonstration on the street was the first sign that a left-liberal minority was forming -- that something was emerging not on the right side and especially not on the extreme right side. As a journalist I witnessed how Jobbik first emerged on the street, occupying the street, and that's partly how they became cool. They began to use social media. In the beginning of 2000s, they gradually became mainstream.

A new issue we are working on at the moment is how to mobilize young people, how to get them to vote. We know that Hungarian youth are allegedly disengaged from public affairs and invisible in the political arena. They do not read the news regularly and do not get informed about public affairs. Their news consumption rarely involves political articles. Watching the evening news is out, checking their Facebook feed is in. There is no medium in Hungarian mainstream media that would simultaneously supply entertaining, light content, and serious political content of interest to young people. That's what we want to try: to establish a set of platforms (homepage, blog, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter) in order to reach young people. We launched the Hello90 blog, where the content is generated by those born in the 1990s. It provides credibility, authenticity. Hello90 translates public affairs into the language of the young, while also sensitizing them to social problems. It should become a point of reference for the generation.

You said that you were frustrated by not seeing results. Do you think your articles contributed in any way to increasing knowledge about the extreme right and helping organizations that you see now emerging in their strategizing?

To read the rest of the interview, click here.

Following the Magic to Eastern Europe

In the early 1990s, Eastern Europe entered the list of expatriate wonderlands, like the Left Bank of Paris in the 1920s or Tokyo of the 1980s. Prague was the most powerful magnet: Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution was relatively cheap, jobs teaching English were plentiful, and the city was full of beautiful buildings and creative energy. Caleb Crain's new novel, Necessary Errors, chronicles the lives of the young and the restless who flocked to Prague in that early post-revolutionary period. Even the characters in Prague, the novel by Arthur Phillips, who lived in Budapest at that time, were all convinced that the real excitement was taking place in the magical city of the book's title.

But Prague was not the only magical place. The journalist Paul Hockenos was living in the region at this magical time. He freelanced for a number of publications, and his first book, Free to Hate, was the first full-length examination of the rise of nationalist extremists in the region. Like the characters in Prague, he lived in Budapest in the early 1990s; unlike those characters, he was delighted to be where he was. He arrived not long before the Berlin Wall fell.

"The bars were full of people, East Germans coming through, just everybody from all over," he told me in an interview at a restaurant in Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin in February. "It was just then incredibly vibrant and everybody was alive, and everybody was talking. You would have these conversations like, 'Tell me about second grade in Hungary!' And then they would say, 'You tell me about second grade in the United States!' Everything just seemed infinitely interesting: to talk to these people about the minutiae of their lives."

After a couple of years in Hungary, Hockenos moved to east Berlin where "there was still a lot of magic going on," he continued. "It was after unification, but still. You could walk down the street that Tacheles was on and there were four bars. You could get a beer at Tacheles, at a place called Obst und Gemuse, another place called Ansel. There were also places on the side streets, and they were absolutely fantastic, places you could go in and just talk with anybody all night long. Everything was still cheap. There were still East prices for a lot of things."

It's no longer cheap in that part of Berlin. Prenzlauer Berg is like an up-and-coming Brooklyn, bursting with bookstores and baby strollers and trendy bistros. There are still significant expat communities throughout Eastern Europe. But it's not like the early 1990s when everyone, east and west, was in wide-eyed discovery mode.

And it's not as easy to cover Eastern Europe any longer as a freelance journalist. Editors are no longer falling over themselves to solicit articles. "I've abandoned Eastern Europe and Central Europe, for the most part," Hockenos confessed. "On the one hand there's no interest anymore. With the Balkans, no one really wanted to understand the place, and when it was off the map they were glad they didn't have to try anymore. That was true also among Germans. On the other hand, the situation has stabilized. Some of these countries aren't doing so badly at all. Some of them are in the European Union. None of them is at war. The motor of change in Southeastern Europe is European integration. There's less interest in reading about it. But it's also less interesting. It's also less interesting for me. I'll read an article about Croatia on the most recent elections or how many chapters of the Acquis Communautaire they've made it through. I can read those articles once, but the second time the topic comes up I might not."

We talked about the exciting new trends in East European culture, the trajectory of eastern Germany's economy, and what it means to be a realo these days.

The Interview

Do you remember where you were and what you were thinking when you heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall?

I most certainly do. I was in Budapest. It was kind of strange: I was in Budapest when the Wall fell, and I was in East Berlin when the Romanian Revolution happened. When the Wall fell, we were preparing for a trip to Romania, which was one of the hairiest and most incredible trips I have ever taken, and it was at the height of the Ceaușescu dictatorship. That night I was in Buda, the first place where my friend Maggie and I were living when we arrived in Budapest. We had hitchhiked down from Berlin via Vienna, showing up in Budapest in late September, early October. When we saw the East German refugees coming through, I decided to stay, and well, she didn't have anything to do either, so she also decided to stay. We put up an ad: "two journalists, one from America and one from Wales, need a place to live." This young woman who today remains a very close friend of mine--she came to my wedding and everything--called us up. She lived with her mother in the Buda hills. Her mother was a seamstress and eventually threw us out. One of the things that actually distressed her as much as anything was our reaction when the Wall came down. My mother called me and said she was watching it on the news. We were getting ready to go to bed, but we flipped on the news - me, my friend Maggie, and this woman Dorothea -- and we said, "Oh my God, the Wall fell, it's incredible! Let's break out some beers!" or something like that.

Dorothea's mother was sleeping in the next room over. She opened the door and said, "What the hell is going on here?"

We said, "The Wall came down!"

And she said, "Be quiet, I have to work tomorrow morning."

Maybe it was because you hadn't specified which wall had come down!

"I got to work tomorrow morning"? Give me a break! We were like, "ohh", and then we went out and had some beers together.

What was your immediate thought? If you could remember back through all the subsequent thoughts you had.

I was of course surprised. But I had been in Leipzig and had been following very closely what was happening. As one Hungarian said to me, "If they don't let the Wall down, they're going to push it down." The demonstrations had become so big in Berlin and other cities and seeing what happened in Hungary, I guess I felt that the Wall's days were numbered and that the Wall itself, being up or down, wasn't the primary issue. It was very symbolic, but the transformations that were happening and that would happen afterwards were more than about just travel freedom. In East Germany, there had already been some concessions made, and it was clear that more were going to be made. Then, with what was happening in Hungary, it was just clear that the East German government couldn't maintain the status quo. Things were going to change. But I certainly didn't think that things would change as they did, that there wouldn't be two Germanies. At the time I probably still thought that East Germany would be a socialist Germany with some kind of free elections, like what was happening in Budapest, where the reform wing of the Communist Party had a certain amount of power alongside other elements outside the Party. In Hungary, there were the civil society people, the nationalists, the liberals. In East Germany, it was a little bit different, but these dissidents had what we would've at the time thought was a left-wing vision, a radical kind of social democracy.

Were you tempted to call off your trip to Romania and run over to Berlin?

As a freelance journalist, I was always going in a different direction than everybody else. If the "mainstream media" were at the Wall when it was falling, then it would behoove me to be somewhere different. It would have been a lot of fun, but Maggie, the Welsh woman, and I went to Ceaușescu's Romania, which was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, for different reasons. What we experienced there, I wouldn't trade for anything. It was the most terrifying, raw, totalitarian regime that I'd ever experienced. It was clearly on edge, and everybody else was as well. The tension in the air, in all of Romania where we were, was just so incredible. If you were living in Budapest, people were going to tell you how bad Romania was, and there was a lot of solidarity with the people of Transylvania, so I'd heard an awful lot of it, but it was even worse than all of that. It was worse than anything we'd expected. By the time we came back, it was almost too much for me. I was 24, 25 years old. I wrote an article about it for In These Times, but I wasn't even a mature enough writer to be able to tell this story the way it had to be told. To get across this kind of sheer terror, well, you have to see the film 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days. That hits the nail on the head. That's exactly the way it was. It was that ugly.

Did you get out to Timisoara?

To read the rest of the interview, click here.

Expanding the Fourth Estate in the Czech Republic

When Communism collapsed in 1989 in East-Central Europe, many industries collapsed with it. Factories closed, workers were out of jobs, and economies shrank. But one sector of the economy grew: the media. Where there had once been a state monopoly, now there was pluralism. There was suddenly an explosion of reporting, commentary, TV debates.

All these new media outlets -- newspapers, radio programs, TV stations -- needed journalists. So, many young people switched jobs and became the new reporters. During my travels in 1990, I met many of these newly minted journalists. One of them was Stanislav Holec.

We met in London in March 1990, when he was part of a delegation of Czech journalists. He was new to the profession at that time, having enlisted in the ranks at the time of the Velvet Revolution. He'd gone to school to study engineering but had soon discovered that he was more interested in rock climbing and foreign travel. The revolution couldn't have come along at a better time.

"Just as the Velvet Revolution happened on November 17, 1989, I was at one of the demonstrations," Stanislav Holec told me. "I said to my friend, I am unemployed just now, so I can help out during the day, even in the morning. This girl said, 'Come with me tomorrow morning, we'll go somewhere you can help out.' The next morning, we went to some Civic Forum activist and he said, 'You speak English, you speak French, sit down at this telephone and write down messages from journalists from abroad.'"

It wasn't long before the legendary dissident Petr Uhl plucked him from this lowly task. Holec continued: "After a few days of that, Civic Forum activist Peter Uhl said to me, 'You are young, non-communist, independent -- you can help me with this independent news agency, the East European Information Agency.' I said, 'Yes, but I'm not a journalist. I'd like to help you. But I don't know how to write." He said, 'If you have a degree in mechanical engineering, you have to be able to learn the difference between 'i' and 'y.' And you have to be able to study grammar.' So I bought a grammar book and studied it for two months, and I began to write."

It turned out that this universe of journalism was an oscillating one: expanding in the early 1990s in East-Central Europe and contracting a decade later. You can meet many former journalists in East-Central Europe today. Stanislav Holec, meanwhile, has become an entrepreneur and faces an entirely different set of challenges.

The Interview

You started out as an engineer and then you switched to journalism. When did you do that and why?

Under the previous regime, I grew up with anti-Communist parents. Their parents were Masaryk supporters. Therefore, I didn't want to cooperate with the regime. When I grew up, I wanted to have more and more freedom. I didn't want to work in this Communist establishment. In school, I studied mechanical engineering. I was focused on cars, airplanes. It was good for me, this technical university, because there was almost no politics: mathematics is the same even according to Marxism. I was an independent student, ultimately not involved in Communist youth organizations.

But I didn't start to work as a professional engineer. During my studies, I began rock climbing. It was also a kind of emigration. I wanted to travel and meet people. I studied languages. I went to East Germany, Hungary, and tried to meet Western people there. While I was suffering under this dictatorship, I dreamed about traveling abroad to countries that were liberal and democratic.
Then I worked for a year as a worker painting roofs with a climbing club. Then I went into the army for one year of compulsory military service. When I finished, I thought that after a year of manual labor, maybe I should work more with my head. I wanted to get some job at a technical university.

Just as the Velvet Revolution happened on November 17, 1989, I was at one of the demonstrations. I said to my friend, I am unemployed just now, so I can help out during the day, even in the morning. This girl said, "Come with me tomorrow morning, we'll go somewhere you can help out." The next morning, we went to some Civic Forum activist and he said, "You speak English, you speak French, sit down at this telephone and write down messages from journalists from abroad."

After a few days of that, Civic Forum activist Peter Uhl said to me, "You are young, non-communist, independent -- you can help me with this independent news agency, the East European Information Agency."

I said, "Yes, but I'm not a journalist. I'd like to help you. But I don't know how to write."
He said, "If you have a degree in mechanical engineering, you have to be able to learn the difference between 'i' and 'y.' And you have to be able to study grammar."

So I bought a grammar book and studied it for two months, and I began to write. I was employed at the former samizdat newspaper Lidove Noviny, which tried to support this independent agency. In June 1990, I realized it was nonsense to devote one's self to something small and non-professional when the main media already was writing independently. So I quit this job. The Czech news agency was looking for someone without a Communist history and with some journalistic experience and some knowledge of English. I had an American girlfriend at that time in Prague, so I'd improved my English quite a lot that way!

So, I began to work as a junior reporter at the Czech news agency on a one-month probation. Even on that first day on the job, I helped them cover an event they'd missed. I knew the minister because I used to take care of his grandchildren at home. So I went with a recorder just to ask some questions and then wrote down the answers. Another day some American diplomat came and I was the only one from the home desk who was able to speak English. They said I'd done a good job and changed my contract to a several-month contract. I worked very hard because I felt that it was a very interesting job. I wanted to learn about the world. I didn't want to just work in the same field until retirement. Then I learned that journalism is the one job where every day is different.

Probably my advantage as a journalist was that I had a good logical way of thinking. I was able to choose the most important elements from a lot of different facts at a press conference, for instance, and construct a news story around this simple information. Even graduates of the journalism program at the university had problems with this. They were good at writing, maybe even writing a novel, but they had problem with news. A lot of them couldn't pick out the most important point from all that information.

After three or four years, I began to work as head of the home desk. I spent nine years in the news agency, even with all the layoffs and competition. And then I moved to a big Czech newspaper to develop its Internet news site. After a couple years I reached the position of multimedia division director there, which I held until 2009. Then I established my own company.

You went with Havel to Tajikistan?

No, I was in Tajikistan with mountaineers in 1987. Concerning Havel it was another trip. In 1995, I went with Havel on a big trip to Australia, New Zealand, Philippines and Singapore. It was with his first wife Olga. And one year after that, Olga died.

How long a trip was it?

Ten days. Not a big trip. It was quite quick, quite superficial. And I realized that my gathering of information about the world was superficial too. I knew how to get the news. I knew if there was some grammar problem, a comma missing. But I didn't know deeply about world events.

Did you learn anything new about Havel on this trip?

To read the rest of the interview, click here.

John Feffer: Playing the Pundit

As a pundit, I've had my share of uncomfortable moments. I've been in front of the cameras and suddenly blanked on the name of a former South Korean president or the precise year when North Korea conducted its first nuclear test. Such embarrassing lapses, for a Korean expert at least, are comparable to forgetting your own child's birthday. Still, you develop workarounds for these moments, and they pass.

The challenges began to multiply when I moved from being a Korea specialist to an expert in U.S. foreign policy more generally. Suddenly I was expected to know something about practically every area of the world. I grew accustomed to conducting last-minute crams, just like high school the night before a test. I became a temporary pundit on political strife in Yemen, territorial disputes in the South China Sea, drone strikes in Pakistan. I was, literally, all over the map.

Sometimes late-breaking news has hip-checked my scheduled interview topic clear off the agenda. On television, of course, you don't have the luxury of digging up an apt statistic on the computer or even your smartphone. Sometimes you just have to wing it.

I once arrived at a TV station to talk about Libya just as the news was breaking about a suspected Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington.

"We'd like to ask you about this breaking news," my handler told me. When I confessed that I knew only as much about the topic as I'd gleaned from a subject line in my email inbox, she directed me toward a computer.

"We have a couple minutes before you're on the air," she said and walked away.

Punditry is never having to say, "I don't know."

Performance is an essential element of punditry. Once you sit before a microphone or in front of the cameras, you become a different person. Academics have to master the art of the sound bite. Journalists have to make their words come alive. And policy wonks have to attempt the impossible and become entertaining. For any of these talking heads, ignorance is not an option. The interviewer -- and by extension, the audience -- expects answers that are short and sweet, and that, preferably, predict the future.

The transformation into a media-friendly pundit comes at a price. "For $4,000 to $10,000 a day, trainers who are as ethically and intellectually diverse as journalists themselves teach the art of performing for the press," Trudy Lieberman writes in a 2004 article in the Columbia Journalism Review. "Thirty years ago many members of Congress did not have press secretaries, let alone coaches to show them how to behave in front of a camera. Today it's a rare public soul who had not been media trained."

Lieberman outlines the basics of the training. Above all, take control of the interview, dodge the uncomfortable question if you must, rely on platitude if all else fails, but always remember to stay on message. Savvy pundits know what they want to say before the interviewer even utters the first question, and they rehearse their lines accordingly. They are expert at answering the questions they want to answer rather than the questions that are asked.

The unspoken requirement that pundits must now be performers explains, in part, the ease with which actors have turned themselves into spokespeople for serious issues. George Clooney on Sudan, Angelina Jolie on refugees, Richard Gere on Tibet, Sean Penn on Haiti: entertainers have increasingly taken time from their dramatic lives to play the pundit in front of Congress and the cameras. The politicians love them, and so does the media. Celebrities speak in quotable chunks, and they're pretty to boot.

Going the other way, however, is relatively rare. Pundits, after all, usually have faces that are made for radio.

James Carville has made cameos in the movies Old School and Wedding Crashers. On the other side of the aisle, Grover Norquist, the anti-tax maven, has a bit part in the upcoming Ayn Rand blockbuster Atlas Shrugged. And, of course, media maven Marshall McCluhan appeared out of nowhere to bail Woody Allen out of a movie-queue confrontation with an intellectual boor in Annie Hall.

The cavalier relationship between pundits and the world they are commenting on provoked me to write The Pundit, a play in the New York Fringe this August that explores the dictum that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The main character, Peter Peters, is a pundit at a Washington, D.C., think tank. He's an expert on everything, even things he's never heard of. Adept at playing the inside game, Peters is on the short list for an administration appointment. Everything goes smoothly until he agrees to talk about a terrorist attack in a country that he can't even locate on the map. What starts out as a conflict in a far-off place eventually hits home.

In The Pundit, I've smuggled the drama of my media and foreign policy experience into the theater. I've exaggerated the political power plays of Washington, but not by much. I've played up the insularity of the inside-the-Beltway mentality, but even non-Washingtonians will instantly recognize the syndrome. The Pundit is a play, but it is also my reality. I'm grateful that I'm a pundit and that I can also play one on stage.

After my previous one-man shows, some of the most enthusiastic audience members urged me to quit my day job. The less enchanted few grumbled to their partners that I should keep my day job. This time around, with The Pundit, I can honestly reply to both factions: my dear, this is my day job.