From Prosecutor To Pundit: How One Contributor Got From the Courtroom To Cable News

A year ago, Barbara McQuade was the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, leading the U.S. Department of Justice’s prosecution teams in and around Detroit. Last night, she was a guest on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” as a regular on the cable channel’s talk shows.

How did that happen?

On March 10th of this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked McQuade, along with her counterparts across the country, to resign, at the direction of the President. She complied and soon after agreed to join the faculty at the University of Michigan Law School, her alma mater.

On May 8th, she was attending new new employee orientation at the University when she got a call from a former U.S. Attorney colleague let her know that MSNBC was looking for experts to comment on the Congressional testimony of former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. McQuade agreed and appeared on “Hardball.”

The next day, the President fired FBI Director James Comey.

A Washington Post editor, who had seen her on MSNBC, asked her to write an opinion piece on Comey. It was published the next day, “and then I got a call from the Rachel Maddow Show to talk about that.” Soon after, she signed a contract as a contributor to MSNBC, which makes her a regular guest on the network’s shows.

Unlike the paid actors who play roles on pro wrestling style entertainment shows disguised as news, McQuade is actually doing old school expert analysis. She’s basically the anti-Jeffrey Lord.

“What I still try to adhere to is I don’t have any political spin here,” she told me. “I don’t have personal opinions to share. If I can help explain what’s happening so the public understands it better, then that’s what I’d like to do.”

She is educating the audience on legal processes and terms like grand juries, probable cause and search warrants, “explaining the legal issues behind the facts in a news story.”

She exchanges emails with producers based on news headlines so they can see how she might fit into coverage. “They’re not telling me what to say, they’re just telling me the topic. I can help the public understand what’s happening in the news.”

McQuade is essentially an analyst on call. She can easily get from her home when needed to one of two studios in Ann Arbor or, if more convenient, one in Downtown Detroit or in the Detroit suburbs.

She has become something of a celebrity lately. Her students and their parents tell her they enjoy seeing her on TV. She was even recognized at the mall recently, a true “Welcome To TV Moment,” even for someone who led the charge, very publicly, to put the former Detroit Mayor in prison.

McQuade says there are stark differences between TV and the law. “When you’re a lawyer and your court case is set for 2 p.m….you can expect that your case will be heard either at or shortly after 2 pm… Television really does react to the news cycle and it’s not so much planning.”

For McQuade, this role is a flashback to the early days of her career. Before law school, she worked as a newspaper journalist, after working in college at the school paper.

“I do think it has helped me…You learn the importance of accuracy and speaking in short, declarative sentences…and speak to be understood…I understand the importance of brevity…This is not an opportunity to give a speech.”

Good advice from someone who was in the right place, at the right time with the right skill set now trying to go beyond what many have come to expect from cable news.