In my defense, I suggested to Gene Weingarten only that he do a story on the explosion of punditry -- on TV, on radio, on the Web and in print -- to coincide with the superheating of the presidential primary campaigns. My attorney advises me to be very clear about this next point: It was his idea to lock himself in a room, hooked up to a plethora of media, all tuned to a pack of braying pundits, for 24 hours nonstop.
I do admit that when he told me that was what he intended to do, I laughed out loud. It was so Gene to take an idea and run with it to the absurd extreme.
"Are you going to, like, sleep? At all? For a few minutes even?" I asked.
"No," he said, affronted that I would even suggest any dilution of the absolute purity of his plan.
I also admit that I then began to encourage this insanity. "You are like a martyr for the common man," I told him. "You will suffer for our collective sins. It will be great!"
On the day of his ordeal, I called him as soon as I got into the office. He'd already been at it for hours.
"Can't chat," he said. "I might miss something. But you should know, this may have been the worst idea in the history of journalism."
I called him again when I was about to leave for the day. He answered, sounding like a man whose wife had left him for his younger brother on the same day his dog had been flattened by the tow truck coming to repossess his Porsche. To say he sounded depressed, to borrow a riff from Gene himself, would be as big an understatement as saying that Hitler had been "rude."
"I have nothing," he said. "No. I take that back. Nothing is way more than I have."
Fortunately, I knew from long experience that whenever Gene is working on a story, he tends to, how shall I say, dramatize. His goal seems to be to make me as miserable as he is. But this time, he was too down even for that. And, I have to say, as I settled down between my high-thread-count sheets in my comfy bed that night, I couldn't stop seeing the image of Gene in a rolling desk chair, plastered against the office wall by the horrific G-force generated by unrelenting punditry. For a time, I felt miserable indeed, and throbbingly guilty.
But then I thought of the likely result of all this pain. I knew that, like many great writers, the more Gene suffered in the process of creation, the better the story would inevitably be. So on that happy note, I fell soundly asleep and dreamed pleasant dreams. And when I saw the story that begins on Page 12, I wasn't disappointed.
Tom Shroder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.