Washington Babylon — July 10, 2008, 10:07 am

Is Fareed Zakaria the $75,000 Man?

Soon after posting my recent articles about the large speaking fees commanded by top journalists and pundits, I was contacted by someone who had once hoped to book Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria for an engagement. My source contacted Royce Carlton, the speaker’s bureau that represents Zakaria. My source was told that Newsweek’s man would be available at the rate of $75,000 for a one-hour speech. Not to mention first-class airfare and car service.

My research assistant Sebastian Jones contacted Zakaria by email back on June 22 and inquired about his speaking fees, his annual earnings from speaking gigs, and whether he saw any possible conflict of interest in accepting such engagements. Jones never heard back. Yesterday, he contacted Zakaria’s assistant at Newsweek by phone who said Zakaria is currently traveling. Jones emailed her some questions, and I’ll update this story if we get a reply.

Asked whether the $75,000 fee for Zakaria was accurate, Carlton Sedgeley, the president of Royce Carlton, told Jones: “[That] is proprietary information that we give out for parties interested in booking a speaker and is not for publication. We would be very upset if you were to publish that in any form.”

Compare Zakaria’s hourly fee with the median annual family income in the United States of $48,201; also, note that Zakaria, an ardent champion of globalization because it allegedly helps the world’s poor, has told Outlook India that (in the words of the magazine), “action is needed in order to bridge the gap between Washington policy wonks and the general public.”

In the same interview, Zakaria was quoted as saying that globalization might have “a dark side,” but that “cannot mean one wants to stop development. It is scandalous that urban intellectuals, living privileged lives, want to stop people from getting out of poverty.” Indeed.

So here’s another prominent member of the media establishment who, it seems, is comfortable accepting embarrassingly large speaking fees, but not at all comfortable taking questions about the subject.

Note: Sedgeley also declined to reveal the fees commanded by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. Friedman, too, failed to reply to requests for comment.

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Many comedians consider stand-up the purest form of comedy; Doug Stanhope considers it the freest. “Once you do stand-up, it spoils you for everything else,” he says. “You’re the director, performer, and producer.” Unlike most of his peers, however, Stanhope has designed his career around exploring that freedom, which means choosing a life on the road. Perhaps this is why, although he is extremely ambitious, prolific, and one of the best stand-ups performing, so many Americans haven’t heard of him. Many comedians approach the road as a means to an end: a way to develop their skills, start booking bigger venues, and, if they’re lucky, get themselves airlifted to Hollywood. But life isn’t happening on a sit-com set or a sketch show — at least not the life that has interested Stanhope. He isn’t waiting to be invited to the party; indeed, he’s been hosting his own party for years.

Because of the present comedy boom, civilians are starting to hear about Doug Stanhope from other comedians like Ricky Gervais, Sarah Silverman, and Louis CK. But Stanhope has been building a devoted fan base for the past two decades, largely by word of mouth. On tour, he prefers the unencumbered arrival and the quick exit: cheap motels where you can pull the van up to the door of the room and park. He’s especially pleased if there’s an on-site bar, which increases the odds of hearing a good story from the sort of person who tends to drink away the afternoon in the depressed cities where he performs. Stanhope’s America isn’t the one still yammering on about its potential or struggling with losing hope. For the most part, hope is gone. On Word of Mouth, his 2002 album, he says, “America may be the best country, but that’s like being the prettiest Denny’s waitress. Just because you’re the best doesn’t make you good.”

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