Luke Zaleski came to my attention when he tweeted about the show –bot in a positive way– a few days back. So of course I invited him to be my guest. He joined me this AM:
HH: My first guest this hour, coming up next hour is Chuck Todd, United States Senator Mike Lee, Ambassador Mike McFaul, but this hour, Luke Zaleski. Now Luke is the legal affairs editor at Conde Nash Magazine, long-time research director of GQ Magazine, and not a fan of the show, from what I can gather from his Twitter feed. Luke, welcome to the program, great to have you on.
LZ: Hugh, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.
HH: Now you came to my attention when you tweeted out barfing emojis of my guest list the other day.
HH: So I gather you didn’t like Mike Lupica and two Republican senators?
LZ: Well, yeah, that’s elegant Twitter speak for my feelings that maybe the lineup was a little too conventional. Mike Lupica, you know, read his stuff, love sports, love New York, love the Yankees and the Giants, sadly, but you know, I’m interested in moving the conversation forward. I feel like the sports world in general, and I’m not the guy to have this conversation, but I feel like the sports world in general would benefit from having more people of color and women as sort of more prominent in the conversations. And so I was, you know, if I had any criticism of having Mike on, and I understand the book is really well-intentioned, and I definitely support that cause, I was, you know, I was sort of chiding you about that. And then as far as Cornyn and Cotton, you know, I just feel like the GOP, these guys are kind of the enemies of progress. They’re standing in the way of a lot of good things happening in this country, and it frustrates me.
HH: All right, that’s fair enough. Now what I want to do, though, your first time on, there’s a tradition on the Hugh Hewitt Show of asking first-time guests a few GPS questions so that the audience can get a sense of where you are politically. It’s not a debate. It’s just an interview. First of all, was Alger Hiss a communist spy?
LZ: No comment.
HH: You have no idea?
LZ: No, I mean, look, I, you know, I know what Wikipedia says about Alger Hiss. I’m not a historian. I’m not an expert. I’m not interested in conspiracy theories. I’m not interested in debating Alger Hiss. I’m not even sure why you’d ask me that question.
HH: Oh, I ask everyone that question, because among others, Cass Sunstein believes it’s the central divide in the 20th Century between people who are serious about facts and those who are not. But Alger Hiss, okay, decline to state. Have you read The Looming Tower?
LZ: No, this is funny. There was a tweet from a guy who had a Canadian flag lapel pin on his picture on Twitter responding to your and my conversation asking the same question. I am aware of the book. I’m aware of Lawrence Wright. I know he’s a writer for New Yorker. I’ve read some of the work. I haven’t read The Looming Tower, but I know the thrust of the arguments there. You know, you start scratching the surface of America’s geopolitical history and foreign policy, particular to the Middle East and some of the misadventures we’ve gotten into, it’s a very murky thing and it’s tough to know which way is up, and it’s tough to know who’s right and who’s wrong. And you know, I’m no more an expert on those things than anybody else. So again, I’m not sure why you’d ask me that question.
HH: Here’s two questions I asked President Trump during the debates and during his interviews with me on this show over the course of 2015 and 2016. What is your opinion of Qasem Soleimani?
LZ: I don’t, again, I’m not familiar with that person. I’m sorry.
HH: All right. So which part of the nuclear triad needs fixing the most?
LZ: I’d like to see global denuclearization. I don’t know that’s a realistic goal. I’m not sure that our government is particularly focused on that. I think that the Trump administration has been disingenuous in terms of the way its related our progress in terms of our goals in terms of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, and we are entering sort of a troubling phase with the Russians as well.
HH: That’s very close to exactly the same kind of specificity with which the President answered me, but I’ll try a second time like I did with him. The nuclear triad is a very specific group of weapon systems. They’re all old and completely falling out of usable mode. Which part of it do you think is most important to protect the United States?
LZ: You know, I think you should ask like a nuclear, you know, expert this question, Hugh. I’m, I was under the impression we were going to talk about other things.
HH: Oh, we are. We’re going to talk, this is my GPS segment. We’ve got a lot of time. But do you know what the nuclear triad is?
LZ: No. I mean, I’m learning from you.
HH: All right. And by the way, that’s fine. I didn’t know what hypersonics were until last week when I got a tutorial on them. Do you know what hypersonics are?
LZ: Well, my understanding is that’s a new kind of offensive weapon that the Russians are developing in terms of a little more faster delivery system.
HH: It’s a cruise missile that can be guided at a much higher level.
LZ: but again, I’m…
HH: It scares the crap out of me. So it’s okay not to know stuff. I just always say it’s interesting to declare I don’t know and learn as opposed to dodge, but you’re doing a pretty good job of that. When you write articles for GQ…
LZ: Oh, I do a pretty good of what, dodging?
HH: No, no, of just saying you don’t know. I like that.
LZ: Well, yeah, I mean, I’m being honest.
LZ: I don’t know, and I, frankly, I’m not an expert. I’m the wrong guy to be asking when, you know…
HH: Yeah, I think you should know who Qasem Soleimani is. I do think you should know what the triad is, but maybe you’ll go back and look. Let’s go to your article in GQ, which I found amazing, by the way. I want to give you a very big compliment on your article about letting your little boy play touch football with a caveat.
LZ: Thank you.
HH: You’re a Giants fan, so you don’t know anything about professional football, or you’d be a Browns fan.
LZ: Well, what’s your favorite team, Hugh?
HH: I am a season ticket holder, and have been, to the Browns since 1999, and I went to every home game from 1965-74, and we hate the Giants.
LZ: That’s awesome.
HH: Back in the old NFL, when it was the real NFL, we used to beat them.
LZ: That’s right. That’s right.
HH: Now, by the way, who should be starting at quarterback for the Giants, assuming that Eli gets healthy again?
LZ: Colin Kaepernick.
HH: (laughing) Really? Do you believe that?
LZ: Well, look, I think Colin Kaepernick is capable of playing in the NFL, but I like Eli, to be honest with you. He’s been a great quarterback over the years, and I haven’t seen anybody on the roster that could…
HH: Were you upset when they drafted Saquon Barkley at two?
LZ: Oh, absolutely not. I mean, I understand the arguments against it, but I love Saquon. The first time I saw him, I said to myself you know, playing at Penn State, I said this guy’s the real deal. And I think that bears out so far through whatever it is, 10 or 12 games. He is an outstanding young athlete. He seems like a great, young kid with a good head on his shoulders. He plays hard. He plays every down. He’s as good a receiver as he is a running back. I’ve just been so thrilled. And again, I see the arguments from the GM point of view, but I don’t know, he seemed like the most talented player in that draft.
HH: Well, Baker Mayfield was.
LZ: And the Giants haven’t had a running back for a long time.
HH: Baker Mayfield was, and he’s going to be the Aaron Rodgers forever. But I don’t mind you taking him number two. Let’s get back to your article. Explain to people what you wrote, because I would encourage every father of every son who’s thinking about taking up Pop Warner to read Luke Zaleski’s article in GQ about the agony of this decision. Would you expand on that a little bit?
LZ: Totally, and I appreciate it. And I think the title we went with was what kind of father lets his son play football, and you know, it was, I was going through the experience of a dad who had a son who was very eager to play the game and who was eight years old and not old enough to really make the decision for himself, and you know, didn’t really understand the risks that he would be taking on. And I had this kind of weird, emotional attachment because of my own history of playing the sport and giving it up and always sort of regretting that. And I lived with that decision for some months and ended up writing kind of a personal essay about it. Now I had worked on the story that became the basis for the concussion movie. A woman named Jeanne Marie Laskas wrote a story for GQ called Game Brain or something. I forget now. But you know, we had done a lot of the early reporting on the damage that CTE and these plaques were causing to a player’s brain. And from a factual point of view as the head of research, I understood the risks. But from an emotional point of view as a father and a former player, I still love the game. I still watch it, and I was confronting those sort of conflicts, and I used to say to people, I wrote a story about making the decision where the answer was I don’t know. At the end of the day, we take it one play at a time. He’s played three seasons now. He’s had a very, very good experience. We love the other players and coaches. We love the sport. You know, it’s one of the few times where young American boys of different backgrounds are on the same sort of level playing field with each other.
HH: Very touching part of that is when he was lined up against a big kid from another school. It sounded like he might have been African-American who was using some pretty aggressive blocking on him, and your son cried in the car on the way home. I just, I thought it was a great piece. I also thought you touched on something…
LZ: That was a big, tough kid from a town actually that I grew up in, and my son lives in a more, you know, for lack of a better way, a more affluent white town now. And our team is all white. And it’s not about, you know, color, but these kids don’t always get the opportunity to be around each other.
HH: Absolutely not. You know, if you grow up in Warren, Ohio, as I did, you run into all sorts of people. And when you come from affluent suburbs, you don’t. By the way, where’d you go to college?
LZ: I went to the University of Delaware. I’m a fighting…
HH: You’re a Blue Hen.
LZ: I’m a fan of Joe Flacco.
HH: And are you, since you’re the legal affairs editor, are you a lawyer?
LZ: No, I’m not an attorney, but I’ve been 20 years in the trenches as the head of research and fact checking for national general interest magazines. I was part of the team that won a Pulitzer for a Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah story last year on Dylan Roof and a few other reporting awards along the way. So I’m sort of the guy who stands in between the kind of editorial process and the legal sort of landscape for publishing.
HH: So if I were to ask you about the ESA case this week that was 8-0 from the Supreme Court, Weyerhaeuser, you wouldn’t know the specifics of it?
LZ: I haven’t looked into it, no, but I do keep an eye on, you know, generally 1st Amendment law and things like that. And you know, I’ve been, like I said, I’ve been working with attorneys for 20 years on publishing, you know, long-form investigative features.
HH: Okay, so I want to go back before we run out of time. We’ll have you back. I like talking to you.
LZ: I do, too, and I appreciate you reaching out, and I like talking to people that have different points of view. You know, I regrettably am not an expert on nuclear policy, but…
HH: Well, here’s the tough question, though. I’ve got a tough question for you. In your article about your son, you say you realized what being a role model is, which is he follows and imitates everything you do.
HH: Do you want him when he grows up to imitate how you act on Twitter?
LZ: That’s a good question. I mean, I would ask you the same. I think, you know, I said this to you before, well, on DM. You know, Twitter is sort of the bathroom stall of America.
HH: I don’t treat, I reject that. I have no embarrassment about anything I put on Twitter. Nothing.
LZ: It lends itself to, it lends itself to sort of blunt language. And there’s a lot of, you know, punchy stuff back and forth. I would say I wouldn’t want him to emulate the President.
HH: No, no, that wasn’t the question, because I’m looking at your tweet from November 18th. Rick Scott looks like a moray eel in a suit, which I think, which makes sense, I guess. Do you really want him to treat political debate that way when he grows up, since you’re his role model?
LZ: Well, I mean, that’s a fair observation and characterization, in my view. I don’t like the way Rick Scott has allowed the rivers and waters of Florida to turn red. I find him very questionable in terms of his ethics in office. The tactics in terms of the electioneering in Florida and other states troubles me. We have a lot of guys who are in power who aren’t necessarily representative of the people they’re supposed to be representing.
HH: Okay, since, but I’m staying focused. I’m staying focused on Twitter and your son.
LZ: And if I give him a little hard time on Twitter, I don’t really think that’s a problem.
HH: When you write on Twitter on November 26th, white Evangelicals is reduntant? No? That is ignorant of Evangelicals. Do you know what the ethnic makeup of Evangelicals is in the United States?
LZ: That was a comment relative to a particular line I saw in a story. I do think that if you were to research it, you might find that the preponderance of Christian Evangelicals that are relative to the story that I was reading at the time, demographically speaking, are white.
HH: Well, they are. A majority are white.
LZ: But excuse me, I was making a serious point, and you’re cherry picking stuff, and I was asking a question.
HH: Those are actually back to back.
LZ: I was engaging in getting people to talk about it. I mean, had you talked about that before you read that tweet?
HH: Those are just back to back. That was just back to back. I just picked two randomly back to back. Rick Scott looks like a moray eel in a suit, which I think makes sense, and white Evangelicals is redundant, no. So I’ve got one minute left. Do you want your son, who is going to emulate you in the playing of football and everything else, to treat Twitter the way you do?
LZ: Look, about a year ago, I started to notice that our political discourse was devolving as a lot us have. I think the President is a real problem. I think that there’s a lot of disinformation and misinformation online. I think that I have credible points of view that I try to engage and call things like I see them. I try to recirculate and republish and pass along information that I think is relevant to current events, to issues like health care and the environment, things that affect me and my son going forward. I think I’m as good a role model as anyone in terms of I’m honest with him. And I love him…
HH: Okay, we’re out of time, but here’s my only thing for you to think about for part two. We’re out of time. I’m up against a hard break.
LZ: And I work hard…
HH: …is that you’re not angry in real life. You’re not mean in real life. Why be that way on Twitter? That’s my only point. But Luke, I appreciate you coming on. Come back again, Luke Zaleski.
LZ: Well, I mean, that’s a characterization. That’s your interpretation.
HH: Yeah, it is.
LZ: I would submit that that’s not true.
HH: Okay, I’m glad, we’ll get you back. We’ll do it again. Up against a hard break. Luke Zaleski, legal affairs of Conde Nash, follow him on Twitter, @ZaleskiLuke.
End of interview.