Thursday, December 11, 2003


The issue of people in the media business who studied to become or were actually practicing lawyers fascinates me. Strange as it may seem, there seem to be quite a few lawyers who toss aside the glamour of that most hated of professions to take up work in the media, which, oftentimes seems just as popular a vocation. Think: Charlie Rose, Geraldo Rivera, Ann Coulter, Steven Brill , Jim Cramer and even Laura Ingraham. Do these lawyer-journosl have any characteristics in common?

Well, one thing that fairly leaps at you is their aggression. Aggression is rewarded in the legal industry, where the term "shark," is, more often than not, a term of endearment. Ann Coulter exemplifies the lawyer-journo's aggression made good.
But my favorite aggression journo lawyer story involves Steve Brill taking -- quite literally -- a bite out of fellow lawyer-journo Jim Cramer back in the heyday of American Lawyer Magazine:

From James Cramer's autobiographical Confessions of a Street Addict:

"(Brill) never did know when to quit, though, and could not bear to lose at anything. At the firm's summer outing at Brill's Westchester mansion, he divided us into teams, placing us in his pool, and insisted we play a vicious game of water polo where dunking was encouraged and expected. He relished the contact, being a head taller than just about anyone else on the opposing squad, including me. Just as I was about to score what would have been the tying goal for my team, Brill sank his teeth into my throwing arm, spouting blood into the clear water in a steady stream. As everyone looked on in horror, I could only laugh. That was Steve all over."

Oh dear sweet Jesus.

Ambition is also common to lawyer-journos. Brooke Astor took Rose under her wing, Bloomberg sponsored his show, and Charlie has been chasing his courtier dreams ever since: whether on 60 Minutes II, or at a dinner party at Tina Brown's, Charlie is all about the bold faced names. Arguably, his entire show could be seen -- if you are feeling particularly cynical -- as a venture in bold faced names.

Bluster is another quality journo-lawyers have in spades. Geraldo Rivera is not affraid to talk smack and back it up with the old Bronx raspberry once in a while. Geraldo doesn't go by the code of journalists, no, he goes by the Brooklyn Law school tough Newyorican (well, Jewish Newyorican) punchy code. He will punch out white supremacists or threaten to bust a cap in Sadaam Hussein's somewher-in-Bagdad ass. He's old school like that. Geraldo also likes the ladies and has admitted to pitching woo with Marian Javits, wife of former New York senator Jacob Javits; Margaret Trudeau; Bette Midler, and Liza Minelli (well, partly) among others (hey. it was the 70s, who loves ya baby?.

HyperAchievement is another factor in the lawyerjourno. Steve Brill's towering After, which is perhaps the best account of September 11 th, is a prime example. Actually, Brill's After is probably the greatest rendering of the events surrounding a single day from a single location ever created. A mere journo could never have done that, no: only a lawyer-journo would have the guts and the towering ambition.

So what have we learned? One, that journalism, or, work in "the media" is more glamourous than the law. Journalism has what the Japanese call "face." Lawyers bring qualities that journos do not necessarily have. And lawyers are often more fun to watch and read than regular journos because they are so hyperagressive and ego-driven. But that's just my opinion.

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