I just lived every author's dream. No, Oprah didn't call to tell me she's picked one of my books for her reading club. But ego-wise, I got the next best thing: an amazing series of eight, one-hour interviews on a nationally syndicated talk radio show to discuss my 2004 book, "The Pentagon's New Map" - chapter by chapter!
You have no idea how gratifying that is for an author who's spent years summing up 150,000-word books in more three-minute TV and radio appearances than I can remember.
As an upper B-list author - I've sold over a 100,000 books worldwide - who's made The New York Times bestseller list once in his career, my opportunities to broaden my audience are more varied than most. I write a weblog, these columns and magazine articles, plus I give a lot of speeches. But nothing compares to the kind of exposure you can get on television, where, quite frankly, if you want to discuss anything at length, there's just C-SPAN (Brian Lamb's now-defunct "Booknotes" made me a bestselling author) and PBS's Charlie Rose.
That's too bad, because given the serious times we're living in, we need a whole lot more national dialogue on the big issues that typically require book-length treatments, and we're just not getting it.
Instead, our 24-hour news networks chase breaking news far beyond any sane person's prurient interest - how important is Anna Nicole Smith's death in the grand scheme of things? - and the luckiest serious authors are reduced to straight-man appearances on Comedy Central. It's bizarre to say this, but Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, two magnificently talented comedians, basically outperform both CNN and Fox News on this score.
There are tons of opportunities to make three-minute appearances on national TV shows. It's just that you rarely get any chances to promote your own ideas, because you're typically paired against some "alternative view" to keep the atmosphere as competitive as possible.
"Jane, you ignorant slut!" was edgy "Saturday Night Live" satire a generation ago. Today, if you want to score regular appearances, be prepared to have any sentence you utter be condemned as "the dumbest idea I've ever heard."
And, if you do get on a show to describe your book or article, you've got to be prepared to have the whole segment suddenly diverted to whatever video news flash the program's just acquired. My favorite moment promoting a book on national TV was just minutes after all the networks started airing the tape showing American hostage Nicholas Berg being beheaded by terrorists in Iraq. The question I immediately fielded was straightforward enough: "Dr. Barnett, is there anything in your book that could have prevented this heinous act?"
But that's the extent of our collective attention-deficit disorder on issues of long-term strategy, whether we're talking the long war against radical extremism, global warming, alternative energy, the state of our nation's crumbling infrastructure, our health-care crisis - the list goes on and on. Just try explaining any of those subjects in three minutes or less and see if you're not reduced to mindless sloganeering.
But that's where my recent, drawn-out experience on talk radio was a real eye-opener for me. Given enough time, you really can talk through complex subjects in an intelligent way, no matter what the show's political bent.
My host over the past eight weeks was Hugh Hewitt, who's just about as conservative as they come. Me? I'm a life-long registered Democrat.
Frankly, the only political view we instinctively share is that old NFL teams - Hugh's Browns, my Packers - are inherently superior to those upstarts from the junior league.
Despite immediate catcalls from his most ardent fans - "He voted for Kerry!" - Hugh reached out to me primarily because he found my description of a post-9/11 American grand strategy to be so nonpartisan.
As a result, our dialogue was wonderfully cordial and, judging by the flood of e-mails we've both received, very rewarding for his audience, which clearly hungers for a discussion regarding our national security that doesn't devolve into sheer name-calling: "Cut and run!" "War criminal!".
As a nation, we're five years past 9/11 but no closer to any bipartisanship on national security strategy than we had under Bill Clinton. That's just pathetic, given the tasks at hand.
We have got to do better by talking amongst ourselves better.