This past week I found myself at the headquarters of Fox News in midtown Manhattan. I wasn’t there as part of some post-Occupy Wall Street protest; I’d actually been invited to the studio to be a guest on Fox radio. This wasn’t one of those talking-head screaming matches where Sean Hannity or Bill O’Reilly try to rip the “crazy” liberal guest a new one. Instead, I was invited onto the Fox liberal oasis, the Alan Colmes Show. If you’re not familiar with Colmes, he was the non-Hannity portion of the long-running Fox show Hannity & Colmes. In a brilliant piece of “fair and balanced” casting, the skinny, nerdy-looking Colmes was pitted against squared-jaw Sean Hannity, both to act as his punching bag and to give the liberal perspective on news stories. Because he survived, I guess, they gave him his own radio show.
So last Monday, I trekked to the News Corp building on 46th Street and Sixth Avenue to talk about the state of hate in America and my experience infiltrating hate groups, including white supremacist organizations, the Westboro Baptist Church, and various anti-immigration groups. The show ended up going great. The guest host, Barry Weintraub, was very sympathetic and gave me this wonderful tagline about my work: “Telling tales of extreme hatred with a smile on his face.”
But that’s not always the case when you’re on right-wing radio. It usually ends with the host attacking you and placing the blame of all things liberal on your back. This forces you into the position of defending an entire cross-section of society, even if you’re really just there to promote a book or something. The first time I was on conservative radio, I was booked as a guest on the Michael Medved Show—the conduit for one of America’s top right-wing talk radio hosts. Medved, author of The Golden Turkey Awards, used to be a famous movie reviewer; then, somewhere along the line, he transformed into a staunch conservative and radio host.
Our rapport wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared. During commercial breaks I took the opportunity to question him on his statement that Plan 9 From Outer Space, according to The Golden Turkey Awards, was the worst movie of all time. We would chat cordially about movies, and once we were back on the air he’d take digs at me for not being conservative. But I kept it funny and lighthearted, and he seemed genuinely intrigued by some of the weird places I’ve infiltrated. But while Medved wasn’t so bad, his listeners were horrible. When he opened up the lines for calls, a stream of angry conservatives screamed at me simply because they had a liberal available to scream at.
Many calls boiled down to, “You liberals are living in a dream world! The right to have a gun is in the constitution! Blah blah…Ted Nugent…blah blah.” I hadn’t said a single word about gun control in my conversation with Michael Medved, but that didn’t matter to the callers. Another listener referred to me as a “moonbat Bay Area leftist.”
All of this was a cakewalk compared to being a guest on the “most listened-to Christian radio show in Michigan," the Bob Dutko Show on WMUZ-The Light. Dutko refers to himself as “the fearless defender of the faith.” The other guest on the Bob Dutko Show the same day I was booked was a guy who claimed to have "scientific" proof that the Earth is only thousands of years old. As host Dutko quipped on air: This is a statement "which, by the way, scientifically, I agree with. Not just because the Bible says so, but that's what the science actually says. We're not going to deal with emotion, we're going to deal with fact and science!"
After the show's theme song, a Christian version of Tom Petty's “I Won't Back Down,” Dutko introduced me as a “flaming liberal,” already making an effort to get under my skin. It seemed Dutko only invited me on the show to be a liberal punching bag, without having read anything I’ve written. He used unrealistic, extreme comparisons to make his points, arguing against teaching schoolkids about homosexuality, especially in a positive light, and using that as a jumping-off point to explain why it is okay for Christians to shun gays. "You want a Hindu to be a good Hindu? Do you want Hindus to now start eating cows?” he asked. "If you respect other people having their beliefs, why not respect Christians having their beliefs as well?"
I slowly realized this was like talking to a guy who thinks Spider-Man really exists and can point to all the exact Marvel comic issues to back up his claim.
Another tactic the “fearless defender of the faith” used was to act as if the group he represents, no matter how massively powerful, is actually the poor victim of the opposition.
"Let me bring up something I consider to be one of the ultimate ironies in the liberal-versus-conservative debate," Dutko began. "That's the use of the word 'censorship.' It amazes me that liberals in this country will point their fingers at conservatives and accuse conservatives of being the book burners and the censors and the ones denying free speech."
He said evil liberals are censoring the voices of those who oppose homosexuality and support abstinence-only education and Intelligent Design theory in schools. "Those people are silenced!" Dutko exclaimed.
My response was, "Do we let Scientologists come into our schools and teach that we all evolved from volcanoes?"
His response: "Teaching that we all evolved from rock and sand, you don't think that's mythology? 'Cause that's what's being taught in our schools right now. We all evolved from rocks. Rocks and sand! Do you think that's mythology or do you think that's sound science?"
I learned that it shows weakness if the host gives in to any points of the opposition. Bob Dutko avoided this by being really patronizing while repeatedly cutting me off.
"Would Jesus want his message to be told through Christian black metal—the heaviest of heavy metal?" I asked, referring to one of my stories.
"I'm not a fan personally," Dutko replied.
"So would you not see the satire and irony and humor in that?" I ask.
"Weeeeelll, see now, I don't get the irony 'cause ..."
"What about Christian hardcore punk? Punk originated as anti-establishment, anti-religion. Now it's used to spread the word of Jesus. Would you find anything funny in that?"
One thing Bob Dutko did find funny was the Promise Keepers, a non-profit Christian organization for men: "I've poked fun at Promise Keepers from time to time." Explanation: "Sometimes it gets around to guys in a circle of five crying on each other's shoulders. I've poked fun before, saying they turn into Promise Weepers. It’s not a good rally if somebody doesn't cry."
My response: "So you're saying Promise Keepers are the only Christian arena I'm able to poke fun at?"
"I don't have a problem with you poking fun at it."
The final right-wing pundit tactic Bob Dutko used was to pose a large, extreme question in the last few seconds that couldn't possibly be answered articulately with time running out, thereby making the guest seem incompetent.
Sixty seconds left and Bob Dutko had an argumentative epiphany: "Why should the Promise Keepers be criticized for their supposed oppression of women when in Islam and throughout the Middle East women are treated far worse than anything the Promise Keepers do?"
He then asked: "Do you find it ironic that Promise Keepers is made out to be this anti-women group?"
"So, wait, you're giving me 30 seconds to give a little sound bite on that?"
"Mr. Leon, I know we don't see eye-to-eye, but I do appreciate your willingness to come on and go round and round on some of these issues."
"I would suggest before you have someone on as a guest, maybe read something they've written," I retorted.
This is just some of the fun you can have when you’re a flaming liberal moonbat booked onto right-wing talk radio.