My Fifteen Minutes

My fifteen minutes of glory and fame (it was more like four or five years) have come and gone.

There was a time when I constantly appeared on radio and TV political talk shows: maybe ten times on Today, a dozen on (may God forgive me) The O’Reilly Factor, perhaps two dozen on MSNBC’s Hardball With (that blowhard) Chris Matthews (isn’t Chris mainly into bombast?), Sean Hannity, Joe Scarborough, and oodles more.

Sometimes friends ask me, “How could you agree to appear on O’Reilly?”

Frankly, I welcome the opportunity to stand up to bullies and to set them straight. Between Bill and Sean and others I was starting to feel like Fox News’s house lib.

In fact I consider myself not liberal but conservative.

I am, for example, a longtime supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is widely characterized as a liberal group. But are we really? Aren’t we the ones who truly support Thomas Jefferson’s notion that the best government is the least government, who believe that legislatures should stay out of citizens’ private, personal affairs (like telling people whom they can and, more pertinently, whom they can and cannot marry; like telling law abiding, tax-paying grownups what substances they can smoke; like dictating to women whether or not they can choose to have a safe and legal abortion)?

We are the true ‘originalists.’ We’re the authentic ‘strict constructionists.’ We’re the ones who believe the Constitution means what it says and says what it means.



Regarding reproductive rights, I am fiercely pro-choice and anti-abortion. I don’t know anyone among the pro-choice crowd who thinks abortion is a splendid, joyful procedure, a barrel of laughs, the default position for irresponsibility regarding safe sex and contraception. That’s why I support Planned Parenthood. Through sex education and distribution of contraceptive devices, no group has prevented more unwanted pregnancies and, therefore, more abortions.

Thanks to Planned Parenthood, surely millions upon millions of abortions have been avoided. How do you tally the number of abortions that did not occur?

My signature issue during the political media appearances was sex and violence. Every time the new Sopranos season would crank up I’d be invited to opine regarding the series’ express, explicit, mayhem and bloodletting. Given my retro hippie peacenik affect, not to mention my university professor stature, many would imagine I should bash all the whacking. Instead, my detractors denounce me as a toady for the studios, a company man, an apologist for Hollywood’s crass commercialism and malevolent excess.

To have detractors, of course, one has to be regarded as influential. That is why I feel my detractors honor me.

I view the violence on The Sopranos as wholly, painstakingly moral. Every once in a while, when Tony and his mobster buddies got too cozy, too amiable, too teddy-bear benign, writer/producer David Chase and his scribes considered it necessary to remind us who these folk really are and the crimes they committed.

My favorite O’Reilly moment came during a routine pre-broadcast telephone interview in which the producer runs the subject de jour past the potential guest to see if he expresses the position they want him to take. This particular day the subject was Bill O’Reilly’s belief that Hollywood (meaning American public and popular expression) is corrupt, corrosive, immoral, unprincipled, and that American film and television fuels anti-American sentiment abroad.

I asked the producer, “Does it bother Bill to find himself in lockstep agreement with Osama Bin Laden?”

I then hastily added, “Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting Bill O’Reilly is as evil as Osama Bin Laden.”

Letting down his guard, the producer replied, “That’s easy for you to say. You don’t work with him every day like we do.”

Here’s Bill’s own producer in a conversation with a potential guest comparing him to Osama Bin Laden!

On one occasion the subject was whether or not the FCC should seize the broadcast license of a radio station whose shock-jock hosts had committed a sacrilege, in a certain sense desecrating a Catholic church. The station had already fired the jocks. If I owned that station, I too would have fired them.

But that wasn’t enough for host O’Reilly and my counterpart on the broadcast, the late Reverend Jerry Falwell who, along with Bill, supported having the FCC seize the station’s license and put them out of business.

“Take that position if you like,” I told them. “But you can’t hold that view and at the same time call yourself conservative. Isn’t small government conservatism’s organizing principle? If you support the feds putting out of business a company due to expression you (and also I) don’t like, you’re not a conservative,” I said. “You’re and authoritarian. You’re a totalitarian. And to the extent that you preach one set of principles and practice another, you’re also a hypocrite.”

I gave them a moment to digest all that.

“I hear dreadful, offensive speech on the air every day,” I said. “It tells me that I live in a free country. You’ll never hear stuff like that in Saudi Arabia or North Korea. Are those the kinds of societies America should emulate?”

Finally, I said to Falwell, “Reverend, the most offensive language I ever heard on the air was your own commentary offered just a few days after the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center. You agreed—agreed!—with Osama Bin Laden that America had gotten exactly what we deserved. That it was God’s righteous wrath, his answer to people like me who support the American Civil Liberties Union and, among others, those whom you referred to as ‘the Lesbians.’”

I love the definite article ‘the,’ as if in the nation somewhere there are fourteen or twenty-nine or a hundred and twelve lesbians, and that they are all in agreement with each other regarding relations in the Middle East.

“I was deeply, keenly, profoundly offended by those remarks,” I said. “But you don’t hear me calling for the Federal Communications Commission to pull the broadcast licenses of the stations that carry your pal Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, on which program you offered those deplorable remarks.”

[Full disclosure: my cousin Douglas Karpiloff was killed in the attacks.]

Falwell’s response: “That was unfortunate timing.”

“Timing?” I said. “Tell me, please, what is the proper timing for ignorance and bigotry?”

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