He served as chief speechwriter to Vice President Walter F. Mondale, and as executive assistant to the U.S. Commissioner of Education, Ernest L. Boyer. As deputy campaign manager of Mondale’s presidential race, he directed the campaign’s speechwriting, issues, and research operations. He also worked with Boyer on education policy while a program officer at the Aspen Institute, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, and a senior advisor at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
He worked at Walt Disney Studios as vice president of production for live-action feature films, and as a writer-producer under exclusive contract. He has credits on The Distinguished Gentleman, starring Eddie Murphy, a political comedy which he wrote and executive produced; Noises Off, a farce directed by Peter Bogdanovich, which he adapted for the screen from Michael Frayn’s play; and the action-adventure MAX Q, produced for TV by Jerry Bruckheimer.
He created and hosted So What Else Is News?, the nationally syndicated Air America Radio program. He has also been a featured commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered and on Marketplace, where his beat was the business of entertainment. Today, he is a Senior Columnist at The Forward. From its inception through 2017 he was a blogger on the home page of The Huffington Post. For 10 years he was also a columnist for the Jewish Journal. His columns have won six First Place prizes from the Los Angeles Press Club.
He was associate dean of the USC Annenberg School and directs the School’s Norman Lear Center, whose mission is to study and shape the impact of media and entertainment on society. His Lear Center research includes the political coverage on U.S. local TV news broadcasts; the effects on audiences of public health messages in entertainment storylines; the use of narrative for science communication; and the impact on democracy of the attention economy.
He graduated from Harvard College summa cum laude in molecular biology. As a Marshall Scholar he received a master’s degree in English with First Class Honours from Cambridge University. He received a PhD in Modern Thought and Literature from Stanford University.