More than a decade ago, when we were all living through the annoying Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, Stanley Pearlman had an idea.
At the time, my dad was president and CEO of his own executive search firm (which, in normal speak, means he owned his own business). Dad’s gift, along with being really smart and really clever, is a lingering desire to see how he can, well, tweak societal norms. For example, he once wrote a letter that got published in the New York Times under his name, Stan Pearlman. Then, using his business name (Stanley Herz—long story on that one), he wrote a letter to the Times, completely disagreeing with Stanley Pearlman’s letter. That one ran, too, and permanently sealed my father’s God-like status in my mind. Another time, just to further explain, my dad and I were in Washington, D.C., visiting my grandmother in the hospital. This was when I was a young teen, and for no real good reason, we took down a couple of cardboard local candidate signs from a tree (it was election season), brought them home to Mahopac, N.Y. and hung them near our house. Why? Because we’re Pearlmans. It’s how we do.
Anyhow, I digress. During the Clinton-Monica stuff, Dad deemed himself an expert on corporate executives engaged in extramarital affairs. Now, my dad has never had an extramarital affair, and he certainly hasn’t taken any classes on the subject. But, just like the letters and the signs, he wanted to see what he could get away with. Hence, he contacted the local TV station, explained his knowledge and … wound up on the air, talking all things Bill.
I bring this up because, early this morning, I made my debut on the Today Show. I appeared on the screen for, I believe, 1.2 seconds, and uttered a grand total of 20 or so words. The topic was the NFL’s recent tragedies—last week’s murder-suicide, this week’s DUI death. A friend of mine who works at the Today Show kindly reached out, asking if I’d consider coming on to talk. The schedule worked, they sent a car, it was an exciting experience—hey, why not?
Here’s the thing. Even though I was on for but 1.2 seconds, I’m not complaining. I shouldn’t have been on for more than 1.2 seconds. Why? Because even though I’m a sportswriter, and even though I wrote a book on the Cowboys, and even though I’ve covered similar circumstances in the past (athletes dying and such), I’m no expert on these two incidents. I’m an observer, just like you, you, you, you and you. An observer with a pen and some street cred, perhaps. But, ultimately, an observer.
That, to me, is the funny thing about television journalism, and all the “experts” who roam from show to show to show to show, talking about the keys to loving marriages and how to buy the perfect dog and whether the Chargers need a new QB. Together, as a group, we’re all sorta full of shit. Yes, we have some background knowledge. But, ultimately, we’re guessing; trying to figure out to convey an idea to a massive audience. We put on our suits and dresses, powder our noses, sit in front of a camera and nod and grin and emote and take our best shot.
Which is, again, totally fine. Because somebody has to fill in 24 hours of airtime per day.
But, if we’re being honest, there are very few true experts out there; very few people who have a genuine grasp of a moment; who have not only been in a similar (if not equal) situation, but who possess the verbal and mental ability to explain it.