The Public Interest

The Family Linen

Martha Bayles

Winter 1981

ON TELEVISION, where he has recently made his debut as a talk show host, Tom Cottle comes across as a sort of academic version of Tom Snyder. Like Snyder, Cottle has made a career of empathy. But although Cottle seems to be doing fairly well on TV, his best routine is still within the university. There he wears the cloak of authenticity, of having just blown in from the real world.  Unlike many of his colleagues in sociology and clinical psychology, Cottle describes his research in a few simple words: “I have sought people out and asked permission to speak with them and write about them.” Its an effective claim in academia, to have been “out there” getting to know ordinary Americans-creatures viewed, on some campuses at least, with an awe bordering on the anthropological.  Its such an effective claim, in fact, that I for one have always approached Cottle’s work with skepticism, thinking such a good hype couldn’t possibly have any content. But it does. 

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