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James Lileks weighs in on the Imus affair, and how the Beltway views the nature and size of the enemy we face.

Thursday, April 12, 2007
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HH: Joined now by Lileks, James Lileks, who’s the columnist extraordinaire for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Newhouse News Service, also blogs at www.lileks.com, where he’s also a mighty fine book reviewer. Thank you, James, for your most gracious review of A Mormon In The White House?

JL: Well, you’re welcome, you silver-haired honky.

HH: Well, there you go. Let’s get to the important stuff. They fired Steyn from the Atlantic Monthly, or at least they’ve had a falling out. Therefore, no one will do an obituary on Kurt Vonnegut. What say you about Vonnegut?

JL: Oh, boy. You know, when you’re in college, it’s incredibly deep stuff.

HH: (laughing) Exactly right.

JL: And out of kindness and deference for the man in his position in American letters, I’ll leave it at that.

HH: But did you ever reread him? I’m not going to let you leave it at that.

JL: No. No, never, never, never. And a matter of fact, even in college, some of them seemed to be a little bit labored, and I never quite…what bothered me was that he spawned a couple of banal catch phrases, which people would then repeat over and over again.

HH: Oh, so it goes.

JL: So it goes, which was used for years on overnight, which was a sort of early experiment in freeform network news television late at night on NBC that was quite good, and Linda Ellerby would end all of her shows with so it goes. But even by that point in my early 20’s, I’d sort of sluffled off the Vonnegut urge.

HH: Now given that Steyn is gone from the Atlantic…

JL: From this Earth, for all we know. The way that call ended, I’m thinking some orbital space laser may have gotten him.

HH: It could have been a snuff film. Have you seen the preview for the movie that’s the Hotel Snuff?

JL: No…

HH: It could have happened. Mark Steyn could have been in Room 1408 in a bad Stephen King room. Let me ask you, though, what is wrong with the Atlantic? I just wrote the by-line is now the brand. How could they do that?

JL: I haven’t the faintest idea. I’m dying to know the particulars. I don’t think we’re going to know them, but it’s regrettable on their side, and you know, somebody will pick him up, like Imus. I mean, not to say that Mark’s going to be reading obituaries on Sirius or XM Radio in the next couple of months, but I wouldn’t mind tuning into that show myself, which is probably where Imus is going to show up, incidentally.

HH: That’s where I was going next. What do you think about what happened? What do you think happens next?

JL: Well, he’ll be in the graveyard, he’ll be back there on Channel 175 between the Spanish Telemundo update channel and weather for Austin. You know, I have a bit of Prageresque ambivalence about this, to piggyback on what Dennis was saying, because while his comments were reprehensible, and just nonsense, I can’t stand that kind of radio, and you wouldn’t get me to listen to it if you pressed a pair of matched revolvers against both my temples. Leave the content aside. What I don’t like also are the people who get moral stature from this. The very idea that we have to go now hat in hand to Jesse Jackson of Hymietown fame, and Al Sharpton, of course, of the Tawana Brawley episode, that these people somehow bestow a matter of moral legitimacy when you’ve sinned in the public eye is just disgusting. Let’s remember also, one of the things I find interesting were the calls for his early termination. Barack Obama in an interview said that he thought that he should be fired. Let’s rewind the tape back to 2001, September, when Ari Fleischer got up in front of the White House press corps, and made a comment about how people should watch what they say. And if we all remember, immediately after that, Bill Maher disappeared, and has never been seen from again. I mean, that was taken, Fleischer’s comment, as a symbol of this new chilling effect that was coming down after 9/11. It was the government telling you to shut up. Well, Barack Obama is running to be the president of the United States, and if his instinct is that people should be fired for expressing horrible, reprehensible speech, but free speech nonetheless, then it gives you an idea into the window of the man.

HH: Now I have to disagree a little bit, because…actually, a lot, and I’ve been doing it all day long. I realize that Sharpton and Jackson are parasites on every story like this. But that there are parasites doesn’t mean that the story ought not to have its own legs, and that…

JL: I agree, I agree.

HH: …they only go there because the powers that be, the suits, didn’t immediately recognize you don’t drive off of the off-ramp, drive four blocks out of your way on a radio show, run over some college kids, back up over them again, and then drive back onto the freeway, and not blast him. They are responsible for their meltdown in their advertisers.

JL: I agree.

HH: And Imus launched the rocket.

JL: Completely agree, and neither of our points are mutually exclusive.

HH: That’s true, but I hate when people…I’m getting lots of e-mail, Don Imus’ crime was that he was white. I hate Sharpton, I hate Jackson, and you know, that is, it’s a false argument at this point.

JL: No, I don’t. I think it’s a sidecar argument to it. You can’t avoid it. When these people insert themselves, or inserted willingly by the participants who have committed this sin in the first place, then they become part of the story.

HH: Did you listen to Rush today, by the way?

JL: No.

HH: You should hear the Justice Brothers ads. They’re pretty doggone funny. The Justice Brothers are Sharpton and Jackson, and they’ve opened up a law firm.

JL: More Paul Shanklin.

HH: Yes, it’s wonderful stuff. Now I want to get to the serious stuff. Coming up next hour, Tom Ricks of the Washington Post, earlier this week, E.J. Dionne, Dean Barnett’s writing about this. Do you think the mainstream media, James Lileks, ever thinks about, much less has a clue, about the size of the enemy?

JL: That’s an interesting question, because I was hearing what you said with E.J. Dionne the other day. And I think that they do, but it’s sort of a vague, unspecific threat. It’s…I mean, if you’re convinced that you can solve crime with police tactics, you know, well then, that’s what you concentrate on, and you don’t really concern yourself whether or not there’s 10,000 cat burglars or 100,000. But this is not a matter of crime. This is matter of war, in which case the force of the enemy is a crucial matter. It doesn’t seem to be important to them, like the whole war doesn’t seem to be as existential to them as it does to other people.

HH: You see, when I asked that question, and they say they don’t know and they can’t quantify it, that means to them, it doesn’t matter if there are a million jihadists who want to kill Westerners, or 10,000.

JL: I’m sure they’d tell you that it does matter very much, but as you know in Washington, it’s all about sitting down with somebody and steepling your fingers, and having a sober and important conversation. And in that sort of bubble, it’s hard to really feel in your gut the nature of the struggle. I think that’s the problem. It’s the usual Washington Beltway insularity that keeps them from sometimes apprehending what those of us out here in the hinterland feel every time we open up the web and skirt around and see the news.

HH: You see, I don’t think it’s that hard. If there are 30 Islamic countries with jihadists within them, and we assume that in each of those 30 countries there are at least 1,000 people willing to die for their beliefs. That’s a lot of people to worry about.

JL: Yes, it is, but if your main thrust is the fact that Bush is responsible, or that Bush has been inadequate in stopping these people, then that’s what you’re going to concentrate on, because it gets back to the thing you love. It gets it back to the politics in your town, which matters more than anything else.

HH: Last question, will PBS show Frank Gaffney’s film?

JL: I don’t think so. I really don’t. They’re not the sort of organization I think that admits mistakes and does it. I think they’re just going to bury it and move along, and it’s a big battleship, and it doesn’t very often turn.

HH: You know, the pledgers are where that one gets decided. James Lileks, always a pleasure. www.lileks.com, America, a fine book review there today, by the way.

End of interview.

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