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Hugh’s interview of Washington Post’s Perry Bacon interviewing Hugh

Wednesday, March 4, 2009
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HH: I am going to tell you, oh, a few days ago, Perry Bacon of the Washington Post sent me this e-mail. Mr. Hewitt, writing a story about the GOP and the stimulus opposition, and the role of talk show hosts in that, wonder if I could speak with you sometime this week. And first of all, no one ever calls me mister, but I was intrigued and I wrote him back and said sure, come on the show and we’ll do it. And he said well, let’s do it, well, I don’t want to give my story away. And I say well, okay, we’ll tape it on the 18th of February, and we’ll run it after your story runs. And so that’s when we’re running it, on the day that his story actually ran. Perry Bacon, welcome to the program, good to talk to you.

PB: Thank you, Hugh, thanks for having me.

HH: Well, it’s good to have you. Now all the Posties who show up here eventually, Chris Cillizza and E.J. Dionne, they all figure out that the talk show hosts out there are not long-fanged vampires ready to suck the blood out of MSM’ers, so it’s good to have you.

PB: (laughing) I’m a regular reader, so I realize, I don’t hear your show, but I read the transcripts of it, so I’m aware you’re not going to…yeah.

HH: Well, what’s the story about? Tell me what you’re looking for.

PB: I’m curious about talk radio’s existed for a long time, and is very influential with Republicans particularly for a long time. I’m curious, and it’s what I wanted to ask you a little about, whether you think that is your role becomes more important, less important, how it changes when there’s not a Republican president, there’s not a sort of an obvious Republican leader who’s a go-to person on every issue, there’s not…you know, I think right now, there’s not a Newt Gingrich. I would…there’s not even a Newt Gingrich, I would say. So just curious how that…I’ve got a couple of other questions, but I’m just curious first of all about if your role changes at all, what you do, is what you do more important now in some ways?

HH: I don’t think so.

PB: Okay.

HH: I think it’s the same that I’ve always done. I’ve been doing this for nine years now on the national basis, and I think that over the course of those nine years, particular legislative issues have come and gone and gotten very white hot intense, and I think back to the Harriet Miers nomination, the port deals, the immigration, and now most recently the stimulus, and I expect probably all the rest of the package that President Obama will be coming up with will be the subject of intense interest, and as a result, talk show hosts who talk about the specifics of them. I spent February 17th reading the GM bankruptcy plan over the air.

PB: Right.

HH: And a lot of the 18th show today, we’re talking about that and the home mortgage bailout. People are fascinated by the details of Washington, D.C., at least my audience is. It’s a very interested-in-the-facts audience. And so I think they get a lot of information from talk radio, and they act on it. So I don’t think that’s going to change. Whether or not we’re going to be as effective as we have been in the past in guiding public reaction to particular pieces of legislation, only time will tell, but thus far, the interest level is, if anything, higher.

PB: Yes, I think Obama in general has produced a lot of interest in my senses in politics, and we saw this the last few weeks. What…do you think that what, I mean, I saw that you had, you had several prominent members of Congress, I think DeMint was on, I think Lamar Alexander was on, I think Boehner was on, I may be wrong, but it seems like over the last few weeks, you got a lot of sort of prominent people involved in opposing the stimulus on the air. Do you think that, do you think that they, by coming on your show, what, what do you think, what impact do you think, what impact do you think they get from coming on your show?

HH: Well, I think they get their point of view out there. Among the other ones, not only the ones you named, but we had Tom Coburn, obviously, Senator McCain joined us, Senator Lindsey Graham joined us, Jon Kyl’s a frequent guest on the program, Mitch McConnell joined us. On the House side, Eric Cantor comes on, Congressman John Campbell on the Joint Economic Committee, I try to get as many of the people that are wired in, and I always try and find Democrats. I’ve been working on Tim Ryan forever. Tim Ryan and I went to the same high school, so I’m trying to get Tim to come on. Howard Berman has said he would join us. Howard’s a very smart Democrat, and I’m looking forward to having Howard on frequently once we get schedules organized. And so I think they’ve learned at least on this program, and there are others, they’ll get a chance to actually talk about the specifics of the legislation and make an appeal to an audience which is national. This program’s not as big as Rush, obviously, but it’s bigger than most, and it goes from coast to coast, and it’s in almost every major media market except Washington, D.C. And as a result, they want to talk directly with a group of afternoon drive people who are often stuck in traffic, and willing to listen to a longer exposition of a position, and therefore that’s why they come on. They want to get public opinion with influencers especially. Talk radio, one of the interesting things about it, I think Rush built this over years, is that if you ask public opinion professionals who listens, they are typically influencers, that is people who have an enormous influence beyond their own vote. They guide other people’s thinking, they participate in public conversations, they’re leaders in their communities and their states. You know, we’re on in Sacramento, I know…

PB: So you assume your audience as people who will not only listen, but actually call in or call their friend and say you need to call Senator McCaskill, or you need to write a letter to Congressman Boehner, you assume everyone is going to do something with the information you give them?

HH: Not only do that, but for example, Perry, you mentioned at the beginning of the conversation, you read the website, www.hughhewitt.com.

PB: Yeah.

HH: Well, if they come on my show, and they want to have a long conversation about some aspect of the stimulus, there’s a good chance that not just Perry Bacon, but E.J. Dionne or Chris Cillizza or New York Times reporters who’ve been on over the years, that they will go there to read it. They know that this is an audience both broadcast and print, and since Duane puts up all the transcripts almost immediately of any consequence, that their message will carry into a secondary field of influencers. You know, Mike Allen of Politico, he’s on the show once a week, reads the site, listens to the program when he can, and ditto, you know, we’re on in New York, I don’t know if any New York Timesmen will admit to listening to the program in the afternoon on AM970, but I hope so.

PB: You consider yourself a conservative leader?

HH: No, I am a pundit and an essayist and a talk show host. Leadership is for electeds.

PB: So you don’t consider Rush one, either?

HH: I think he’s an extraordinarily influential communicator, but he has often said he is in the business of putting together a great radio show, which he does. I think a lot…he’s sort of Oprah, and I’ve made this point over and over again. The two greatest communicators in America are Rush Limbaugh and Oprah Winfrey. Oprah is center-left, Rush is center-right, and really more conservative than Oprah is liberal in terms of being out and open about it. She is every bit as far to the left as Rush is to the right, I think, and both of them are mainstream. But they are extraordinarily influential in the way that people understand the world. But they’re not elected officials, they don’t want to be, that’s not their job. They’re entertainers. So am I.

PB: Do you, I mean, at some point, the national, I’m curious looking back a little bit, the National Mall, and the contraceptives that became very important parts of the public dialogue, do you think that you and Sean Hannity and so on, do you help, think you help drive that? Or was it more the members? Or was it more, what do you think helped drive that into the discussion so much?

HH: Oh, clearly talkers had a big role in that.

PB: Okay.

HH: And again, our audiences are pretty large, but Rush and Sean are much bigger than anybody else.

PB: Right.

HH: And so, and of course Sean’s got television, so if Sean decides to talk about part of the stimulus package involving re-sodding of the Mall, immediately millions of Americans are going to know about that, and they react, not because Sean told them to, but because it was such a dumb idea.

PB: Right.

HH: And so they have the biggest platforms. They use them, I think, very responsibly. There’s a reason why President Obama keeps picking on Sean Hannity, and that’s because Sean is the voice of the loyal opposition. And my colleagues at Salem – Bennett, Prager, Medved, Gallagher, we all do the same thing, and we all have pretty big microphones, and that’s good. I’m glad to see today, the day we’re talking, the President announced he’s against the Fairness Doctrine. That’s goo.

PB: Right.

HH: I mean, the essence of democracy is that you be an elected leader, and you be willing to listen to, as Bush listened to critics for eight years without getting angry, but paying attention.

PB: Let me read something. Do you know who David Frum is?

HH: Oh, yeah. I know David well. I’ve appeared with him a number of times.

PB: Let me read something he wrote on his blog, and I’m just curious what you think about this, and I’m quoting from him. “The relationship between these radio talkers and the larger Republican and conservative world has become parasitic and antagonistic. They flourish and profit to the extent they can polarize and radicalize. The GOP will only recover to the extent that it moderates and reaches out. They benefit from controversy that positions them as leaders, and designates them as speakers for conservative America. But the more visible they become, the more our party is shoved to the margins and rendered unelectable. What is good for Rush is bad for the GOP. What is good for the GOP is bad for Rush.”

HH: I’ll be right back to answer that question of Perry Bacon, Washington Post reporter. Stay tuned, America.

– – – –

HH: And Perry, I’ll tell you this, David’s very, very smart. I appeared with him last year at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. He’s selling books. He’s selling a website. He’s selling a point of view which is that the Republican Party’s too conservative, that it needs to become more moderate. In particular, David Frum is pro-choice and it upset with those of us who are pro-life, and thinks that the religious wing of the party is eclipsing its right and proper role. But he’s just wrong. He’s wrong about that, and his cartoonish explanation of what the talkers are, I wonder if he listens. And I think I’ve had David on. Certainly they pitched his book when he wanted to come on. He always goes on the talk shows when he’s got a book to sell. And I think to describe Rush in the way he did would be for me to describe National Review, for which he wrote for a long time, by virtue of the Drucker cartoons that appear in there. It’s one part of what Rush does, is to be conservative and to be controversial. But another part of what we all do is to, I think, more systematically and thoroughly inform the public of crucial issues than any other podium, and I’ll give you one example. Over the last three weeks when we taped this, and continuing for five more weeks, I have spent an hour at a time with Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett who wrote Great Powers: America And The World After Bush, by no means a conservative book, but a very influential book. And so once a week for an hour we talk about a different chapter because the book is so important. I had Thomas Ricks on Thursday after we taped this, a week after we taped this, to talk about his book, The Gamble, and I had on Bill Lobdell, the Los Angeles Times former reporter to talk about his book, Losing My Religion, long conversations. In one instance, an eight hour series, another instance, an hour, another instance, two hours. I often do three hour programming. My colleagues on the Salem Radio Network do much of the same thing off and again. So I think what David may not understand is that while he likes to focus in on an occasional fisticuffs breaking out between Hannity, Limbaugh, myself, or some other aspect of the public debate, by and large, if you look over the 20 hours a day of conservative programming that’s out there, whether it’s Mark Levin or me in my time slot, or Rush or Dennis Prager in their time slot, or Michael Medved and Sean Hannity in their time slot, it’s good, substantive conversation of the sort America is dying to have more of, not less.

PB: (typing)

HH: Now remember, we’re talking live here, Perry, so we can’t have you just type there.

PB: Oh, so sorry.

HH: It’s a radio show.

PB: (laughing) It’s a radio show. I think…

HH: (laughing)

PB: Well Hugh, those are my questions.

HH: All right, now I’ve got a question for you.

PB: Sure.

HH: Who else are you talking to in the course of developing this story?

PB: You know, I’m going to try to talk to Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh, but I think they are a little hard to reach on like a two-day deadline, or a two or three day period. So I’m going to talk to some other Republican consultants here in town, and again, a couple of, I talked to Jack Kingston. You know, him?

HH: Oh yeah.

PB: He’s a Republican Congressman…

HH: Georgia.

PB: And he gave me some talk show people he listens to who are in the Georgia area who might be a little bit more reachable for me in like a short time, so I’m going to try and talk to a few sort of local, you know, people who are influential in their communities, but not sort of have 20 million listeners and that kind of thing.

HH: Yeah, and my one suggestion to you is Ed Morrissey at Hot Air…

PB: Okay.

HH: …because Ed not only does internet radio, but he kind of patrols the whole waterfront I do for www.townhall.com, so I’m not going to send you to another one of my people.

PB: Right.

HH: But Ed is not part of www.townhall.com. He has his finger on, and often follows very closely all of the controversies surrounding talk radio in a way that very few journalists do in a very balanced and comprehensive way, so I think I’d suggest you go check him out at some point. Now let me ask you, you talked to Frum. Have you talked to K-Lo, Katherine Jean Lopez at National Review?

PB: No.

HH: Because K-Lo sort of built David into David. You know, he did a good job over at the National Review, but before that, he was at the White House as a speechwriter.

PB: Right.

HH: And now they’ve parted company if I understand right. And I think it may be because, it may be because David’s politics have departed significantly from those of National Review. And if there’s any better brand in conservative politics than the National Review, I’m unaware of it. And I think that Rush is to the radio what National Review is to magazine – the oldest and best-known brand of conservative thinking.

PB: So you see this in some ways as another example of sort of, there are some moderate voices, there are some sort of more liberal Republicans, some more conservative Republicans, and David is on a different part of the party than you are?

HH: Yes.

PB: Okay.

HH: Yeah, and we will vote together 70% of the time, and we agree on national security matters, and probably most economic matters. But I know we part company on most of the social issues, and that’s okay. I hope he stays a Republican, but we’re not going to win any presidential elections by throwing bricks at our best communicators, our most influential pundits. It would be like saying gosh, I hope the Washington Post dumps George Will.

PB: Right.

HH: I don’t want that to happen. So on that note, Perry, great to talk with you, I look forward to reading the story when it comes out, and I appreciate your playing ball this way. It’s the best way to do an interview.

PB: Thanks, Hugh, I appreciate it.

HH: Thank you.

End of interview.

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