I learned that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center when a television producer urgently called and invited me right over to the station. It's been a near-blur since then, busier than any other period of my life.
Statistics give the story in brief: My one-year mark tally stands at 1 book, 8 long articles, 80 short articles, 110 television appearances, 120 in-person lectures, 360 mentions in the media (that I know of), and 450 radio interviews. The daily visits to my web page increased from 300 per day before 9/11 to 2,000 after it. The recipients of my articles by e-mail increased from 2,000 before to 14,000.
Partly, this surge is due to my specialty, what with terrorism, Islam, Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Saudi Arabia dominating the news. Partly, it reflects a recognition that, pre-9/11, I saw the danger that militant Islam poses to the United States.
Here are some insights gleaned from my media year:
- Don't bother fighting your reputation — you can't win. My reputation is of having been ignored before September 11, 2001 (an example, here). Admittedly, it makes for a good story — a voice in the wilderness, a prophet unheeded — but it happens not to be true. Yes, my media profile increased many-fold post-9/11, but I did head a think tank before then, write a weekly column, appear regularly on television and radio, and lecture around the country. That's now down the memory hole and there is nothing I can do to shake the perception that life for me began when the planes struck.
- Take half of Gore Vidal's advice when he says "never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television." Going on television regularly really does improve one's status in life. Because it enables viewers to become familiar with one's face, voice, mannerisms, and persona, next you know, people call out your first name on the street, hostesses honor you at dinner parties, and businesses pay higher speaker's fees.
- Sundry television advice: Smile the whole time on the set — you never know when the sneaky producer will put you on air. Try for "one-on-ones" with the host, which permit for a real discussion (I even had a good one with Pat Buchanan.) Think twice about accepting an invitation when producers match you against your arch opponent; and if you do accept, take a shower afterwards.
- Pick fields other than the Arab-Israeli conflict or Islam if you want polite and reasoned discussions. Discuss my subjects on television and you soon enough have the joy of clashing with a lout like Hussein Ibish or with one of the Islamist motor mouths like Ibrahim Hooper or Sarah Eltantawi.
- Be careful with facts and ideas. From the get-go, I found my statements carefully parsed. Being careful is harder than it sounds, for caution is the enemy of eloquence, and the temptation is always to soar, not plod. One example: I was slow in public to hold Osama bin Laden responsible for the September suicide hijackings, needing to be certain not to be caught out blaming Muslims for an atrocity they would later be absolved of.
- Repeat yourself without fear of anyone noticing. On December 3, I sent out a the Wall Street Journal Europe version of an article about the Arab-Israeli conflict. As an experiment, on January 18, I re-sent it, slightly altered, when it came out in the Wall Street Journal's U.S. edition. To my surprise, not one person wrote me to point out that it was a duplicate mailing.
- Beware of getting submerged by e-mail. On an average day, I respond to 80 notes and on a busy one it can reach 120. It's wonderful to have a far-flung network that includes all the inhabited continents but it threatens to overwhelm the rest of one's life.
- Pay close attention to questions and insights from reporters, audience members, and e-mailers, which can bring new issues or ideas to the surface. I have written several articles in response to such comments, most recently my column last week on the dangers of a collapsing Temple Mount, which was spurred by a resident of Jerusalem who pointed out that this subject deserves more coverage in the United States.
Looking ahead, it appears that the next year will be as busy as the last one. That suggests to me the good news that Americans understand that they are in this war for the long haul and want to discuss alternate approaches.