HH: We start as we do every Thursday when we’re lucky with none other than the Columnist to the World, Mark Steyn. Mark, always a pleasure. How are you?
MS: Great, Hugh.
HH: I want to start by asking you a question I spent all day yesterday talking to different people about is if Mahmoud Ahamdinejad invited you to dinner at the Intercontinental Hotel to schmooze with him, would you have gone, Mark Steyn?
MS: No, I would not, and I love the Intercontinental, actually. And I’m rather disappointed that they took his booking. But I would not have gone. I feel that in a sense, whatever you do, you’re upgrading this guy. I don’t think the comparisons with Kruschev’s visit at the height of the Cold War hold up at all. The reality is that the Soviet Union was the other superpower, the big counterweight at that time on the United Nations. That was a fact of life. Every time you extend an invitation to Ahmadinejad, you’re not just legitimizing him, but you’re also inflating a puffed-up nothing of a guy into something bigger.
HH: Do you think that Brian Williams or Christianne Amanpour would have accepted an invitation from Pieter Botha when the South African Apartheid regime was trying desperately to get the world to look somewhere other than at their sins?
MS: No, P.W. Botha was ostracized, essentially, by the world community, including the world media at that time. And so the idea of American celebrities accepting invitations…if you recall, in fact, American celebrities who played Sun City, which was the big resort in South Africa, used to get into terrible trouble over that. So if P.W. Botha had been appearing at the United Nations in New York, he would certainly not have been able to call on Christianne Amanpour and the like. And the interesting thing is that pre-freeing Nelson Mandela, Botha’s successor, F.W. DeKlerk, the last white president of South Africa, would not have been able to count on the support of Christianne Amanpour, even though he was, by any sense, a moderate and a civilized human being, which Ahmadinejad is not.
HH: You know, that’s…my friend, Congressman John Campbell at dinner on Sunday night, had said to me it’s Botha. That’s the analogy. He’s the guy, because they were a near nuclear, or actual nuclear power…
HH: …with great strategic positioning in the world, about whom there was tremendous controversy and international sanctions.
MS: That’s right.
HH: It’s sort of like the perfect analogy. And of course they would never go to it. So the question is, diagnose for me, Mark Steyn, why are they blind to this? I understand going to cover him at the UN. It’s news. But why would you take from his china, his food, and his B.S., for an extended period of time?
MS: Well you know, I think there is a seductiveness about foreign dictators that appeals to a certain type of self-designated sophisticate who’s particularly present in the U.S. media. One of the things that I thought, Oriana Fallaci was a controversial figure at the end of her life, the Italian journalist who became a great crusader against the sort of jihadist and Islamifying influence in Europe. But one of the indisputably great things she did was she interviewed foreign leaders in the 1970’s. And she stood up to them, and she called them out on all their witless stupidity, including interviewing the Ayatollah Khomeini, and ripping off her chador, her head covering in front of him, and tossing it on the floor, and in effect, stomping out. And what you have with a lot of these other figures is people desperate to kiss up to these dictators to pretend that in some sense, they are no different, that dining with Ahmadinejad is no different than accepting an invitation from the foreign minister from Norway. And it is completely different, and it is completely contemptible. And Christianne Amanpour, unfortunately, it’s no great surprise from her. I was slightly more disappointed, in fact, to see that Kevin Spacey has been kissing up to Hugo Chavez, because I wouldn’t have put those two in the same room together.
HH: Well, maybe Chavez likes the theater. Who knows? Mark Steyn, let me ask you about the Columbia fiasco. My audience knows exactly what I think. I’ve talked way too much about it, in fact. But what did you think of the invitation, the Bollinger speech, the follow up by Ahmadinejad, and then what I’m calling the hapless Dean’s non-cross examination?
MS: Yes, I’m kind of demoralized by the whole thing, and I think that to say that in effect it worked out well because Bollinger, the president of Columbia, was forced by the hostile reaction to this invitation to deliver this stinging introduction to Ahmadinejad, and that that somehow redeemed the whole thing, I think that’s very much a one step forward, three steps back way of looking at it. You know, for a start, I think if that’s really the way this guy felt about Ahmadinejad, that’s all the more reason not to extend the invitation. But secondly, there was no serious questioning of him. There never is of foreign dictators. You simply can’t do that, so that all you end up doing is having this rather stilted artificial thing, which looks like a huge triumph when it’s played back on TV in Iran. It looked like a huge triumph for Ahmadinejad when it was played on TV stations throughout the Muslim world.
HH: Did you see that yesterday, seven chancellors and presidents of universities in Iran sent a stinging letter to Bollinger, accusing him of rudeness? It was like reaping the whirlwind of your propaganda pratfall.
MS: Yes, exactly. And you know, to be honest, I think there’s a kind of point to that in a way. Bill Buckley, my boss at National Review, wrote a piece about this in the early 1960’s. I’m not sure if it was Columbia, but another Ivy League college was going to invite the secretary of the American Communist party to debate there. And he said really, this is a lose-lose proposition, because you either give some fawning introduction, or you do something like Bollinger did in the intro, which is just sheer rudeness to invite a man and then in effect spit on him. And in any case, Americans are a naturally polite people, so that what happens is that when the guy gets up there, as Ahmadinejad did, then people clap politely. And it does sound as if it’s the foreign minister of Norway expounding there. And the other thing is that regrettably, American education has declined considerably since the early 1960’s, so that when someone asks him a question about homosexuals in Iran, and he denies that there are any homosexuals in Iran, nobody has the wit and invention and skill to actually then nail him on the horrifying things that are done to homosexuals in Iran.
HH: Yeah, it was remarkable. That dean is clearly the least prepared for a confrontation…well, I guess he’s very Upper West Side. That’s just what happens, is that polite instincts take over. Let’s switch over to a couple of less important subjects by far, Mark Steyn, just so we don’t end up dreary and demoralized. Across the Universe has come out. It’s an interesting little picture that’s supposed to be a story of the 60’s and the 70’s set to the music of the Beatles. Have you seen it, and do you think it could possibly fly?
MS: No, I haven’t, and to be honest, I haven’t seen it, and to be honest, I’m a bit Beatled out. I’m not sure if I never heard another Beatles track again, it wouldn’t be too soon, and I’ll tell you why, because my children are in grade school, and they have, their teachers are baby boomers. And the baby boomers, instead of…when I was at school, they introduced me to Bach and Mozart and Beethoven. These music teachers now seem to essentially be recycling the greatest hits of their youth, playing them the Beatles as if it is some tremendous sociological document of the age. And I’m not so sure you can place that kind of geopolitical burden upon it.
HH: Now I have to pause for a moment. The prospect of Mark Steyn at the PTA meeting, and at the Back To School Night, have you done those?
MS: Well, you know, I served on school board, on school board committees, dealing with high school negotiations for high school tuition fees, and that kind of thing. I do get mesmerized by that kind of thing. And you know, the fact of the matter is I think you can’t really understand the way government works until you understand it at a nuts and bolts level.
HH: Do these teachers, though, know that they’re talking to the Columnist to the World? Do they have any idea what you write or what you think?
MS: Well, I did get a bit annoyed once. I was…you know, I was one these things where they…they like to teach you all about gayness very early on, and Laura Ingraham has a great bit about this in her book…
MS: In Massachusetts, where they’re teaching all about sort of transgender identity and everything in second or third grade. And you get the feeling they won’t be satisfied until they turn at least three class members of Grade 4 into transsexuals. And I was accused of being homophobic when I was mocking this.
HH: Oh, I would pay money to see the video of Mark Steyn on Back To School Night. Mark Steyn, Columnist to the World, www.steynonline.com.
End of interview.