Tom Shales Threatens to Leave the Washington Post

Venerable television critic says he’s planning to exit when his contract is up in December

Tom Shales, the Washington Post’s television critic for over 30 years, says he is ready to leave the paper when his contract expires in December.

“I’m gonna sign the document that says I’m going to be leaving on Dec. 31," Shales told on Thursday.

There’s a bit of contractual posturing going on here, to be sure, but Shales — who has been at the Post since 1971, winning a Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1988 — admitted that the Post probably won't play ball.

"Now they have said they can’t afford me anymore, even though I’m making a lot less than when things were all ducky," the 65-year-old said. "I'm just older than just about everyone in Style. It’s just weird, but I’m the last of the institutional memory, at least in the Style section. I can’t imagine those people being sentimental about me leaving."

If he goes, he'd be the second WaPo "institution" to leave this year. Earlier this month, Howard Kurtz, the Post's longtime media critic, jumped ship for the Daily Beast.

Shales apparently took a buyout offer from the paper in 2006, and has been a contract writer since then. Last year, he was replaced as the Post’s lead critic by Hank Stuever, and instead named “at-large culture critic.”

In September, Shales wrote this on Washington Post Co. CEO Don Graham’s Facebook wall:

Dec. 31, 2010 … you won't have me to kick around any more! After 39 years […] I'm being handed my hat.

"I was feeling ignored, I guess,” Shales explained. “I just wanted there to be some notice that I was headed for the last roundup."

Yet Shales — who said he either “frittered” away his buyout cash (“or the stock market ate it") — apparently isn’t bluffing.

“It’s scary, damn scary," he told the website. "I’m so heavily in debt and my house is underwater. Suddenly I'm a cross-section of the American public."

Perhaps he'll be able to pay off a little of that debt with an upcoming book he co-authored — "Those Guys Have All The Fun" — an unauthorized look "inside the world" of ESPN. If it's anything like his last book — "Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live" — it should be a mortgage-saving hit.