There are some guests who simply refuse to go on the air with other particular people or with anyone at all. Likewise, there are some people who no one else wants to appear with. It's rarely discussed, because the bookers who mediate these ego wars are bound by contract—and their own interests—to keep quiet. And hosts rarely mention the snubs on-air, since they want guests to come back. But snubbing happens all the time, and conversations with bookers, producers, and guests reveal that some divas are especially notorious.
This part stood out for me:
The biggest offenders are usually the ones whose egos are too big to accommodate any company: Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Alexander Haig, and others who figure they have better uses for their time than debating some flack on the air. "They would only go on if they could do the show alone," says a former producer for Crossfire. "Brzezinski won't debase his cable currency by being a two-box," explained a current booker, referring to the practice of displaying guests on a split screen. Another booker cited Brzezinski's refusal to go on with Pat Buchanan—"probably because he thinks he's an anti-Semite." (An assistant to Brzezinski says: "It isn't true that he will only appear alone. He has appeared many, many times with other guests." Maybe so. But bookers say he doesn't do so willingly.)
Here's a piece of advice to TV bookers -- surprise these mooseheads with another guest just before they're going to go on.
Why? Because, in my experience, when mooseheads at the Kissinger-Brzezinski level are alllowed to pontificate at will, they are unbelievably boring and rote. On the other hand, they are at their best precisely when they are challenged by someone. Maybe they get riled up at having their authority questioned, or maybe they want to smack down the young whippersnapper tring to unseat the Pundit King. All I know is, when they are poked and prodded, the analytical sharpness that got them to their exalted position comes out, and then the fun starts.
I've seen this in person -- but Josh Marshall David Kurtz captures an example of this on video. Zbigniew Brzezinski doesn't like it when he's challenged on the Middle East -- watch what happens:
Oh, and it makes for good TV -- though in this case it has the added frisson of Mika Brzezinski's uncomfortable body language.
About Daniel W. Drezner
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at Tufts University's Fletcher School and a contributing editor to Foreign Policy.