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Mark Steyn on MJ’s entourage, CNN’s airport audience, & Afghanistan’s tribes, & Obama getting Honduras wrong.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

HH: Joined now by Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. Mark, thank you for joining us a day early to go over a lot of news. I’ve got a special pre-4th of July show tomorrow, but I want to start with where we left off last week on Michael Jackson, because the wires are full of the story that a thirty car motorcade will take his body in sort of a procession from Santa Monica to Neverland. It will cost the state of California hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars at a time we are broke. What do you think about this?

MS: Well, if you are broke, then I guess throwing a six or seven figure sum down the hole with Michael Jackson isn’t going to make much difference in the big picture. I find it slightly unsettling what’s been happening these last few days, because if you were like some trashy novelist or screenwriter, and you were to propose a situation in which the government was advancing dramatically huge expensive and transformative legislation on cap and trade and health care and everything else, while the sated masses were agog watching 24/7 coverage about a self-mutilated freak who died prematurely, any producer would say no way, that’s far too crude, far too obvious. We can’t possibly do that. People won’t buy it. It’s too pathetic. And yet it seems to be happening. Now I don’t think a lot of people are on board with this. I think a lot of viewers have been turned off by the absurd coverage, particularly the evasive nature of the coverage. And if the state of California wants to go along with the joke and pretend that he’s some widely beloved Princess Di figure, that’s up to them. But I don’t think that’s going to be born out by the people on route watching this motorcade.

HH: I would refuse. I mean, I would say to them, we’re sending you a bill. And you’re going to clean up every toilet paper piece on the highway afterwards, Jackson estate, or it’s not happening, because you could drive him there in the middle of the night. No one would have known.

MS: Well you know, the truth of the matter is, you can send the Jackson estate a bill, but they’re not going to be paying it. I mean, according to some of these stories, he’s the best part of a half a billion dollars in the hole.

HH: I know.

MS: So that’s how successful the guy was. That’s how brilliantly he managed his career. In a way, he’s a guy who’s dead, according to some versions of the story going out there, because of the care he was receiving. He’s one of many celebrities who appears to be the victim of death by entourage. So in that sense, this idea that they’re going to do anything about the bill I think is highly unlikely. But you know, there is something grotesque about this spectacle, because he is not beloved…the idea that he’s sort of America’s sweetheart, that’s it’s Mary Pickford who’s dying or whatever, he’s not. And there’s something revolting and unpleasant about the media coverage of the last few days.

HH: You know, this afternoon, Karl Malden died at 97. Now I loved Karl Malden. I’ve always loved Karl Malden, because he’s such a character actor, and he’s had great roles as well. Now I feel bad about that, but I’m just disgusted. You used the word. I turn on Larry King every night. I think Larry King’s head is going to explode, because I think he’s done a hundred hours…

MS: Right.

HH: …of Michael Jackson questions to C-list, D-list, E-list celebrities with an occasional Liza Minnelli thrown in.

MS: Right.

HH: And it’s inane.

MS: Yes, and I don’t think, and the tragedy of someone like Karl Malden, who is a great actor, by the way, is that he outlives the peak of his fame.

HH: Right.

MS: And that’s true. You can see that in what I always regard as the saddest bit of the Oscar ceremony when they have the obituary montage. And famous people, you know, Myra Loy, who was as big a star as any of them in the 1930s, but lived a long and contended life, and so dies too old, and so doesn’t get the applause of some relatively peripheral person who happens to drop dead at the age of 40 or 45 or whatever. And in a sense, what those Hollywood stars are doing is applauding the impermanence of their own form. What those celebrities are saying is that even celebrities aren’t interested in their own predecessors once they’ve outlived their celebrity. And I think that’s why the media fell on this. They fell on this because they don’t often get the chance to do a celebrity who dies near the peak of his celebrity. And given that the problems the media have at the moment with their sinking audiences, you can understand why, you know, CNN is dying. If it weren’t for airports, if it weren’t for the fact that America’s lousy airline industry somehow thinks it will put you in a better mood if your three hour delay at the gate is accompanied by three hours of Wolf Blitzer, there would be no audience for CNN. And I think that’s essentially, they seized on this thing as a drowning man clutches a straw. And the straw in this case I think is toxic.

HH: One last Jackson question, because there are two other huge, important…there are lots of important subjects. And I’m just fascinated by the cultural overreaction here. That is that there’s speculation that Neverland will become Graceland. I want to go to Graceland. I will never set foot on a pedophile’s ranch, Mark Steyn.

MS: No, and I think also, the fact is that, I think I said this last week, Hugh, that what is sad is that Michael Jackson, who had an abused childhood, and it clearly had an impact on him, and he retreated into a second-hand fantasy. Neverland is not Michael Jackson. It was invented by J.M. Barrie for his story about Peter Pan. So Neverland was cooked up by some guy in Victorian London a hundred years ago. So what is pathetic is about this, whatever you feel about Elvis, who took an antebellum mansion and turned it into the sort of shrine to his own rather limited interests, but it is at least authentically the expression of Elvis. Michael Jackson’s Neverland is just one sad freak’s attempt to latch onto a second-hand fantasy. It’s not even organic to him. I don’t think that’s going to be any kind of big tourist attraction.

HH: All right, later in the program, let’s turn to important stuff, I’m going to talk with Steven Pressfield, author of Gates Of Fire and The Afghan Campaign, and of course Killing Rommel, about a series of videos he’s made at about tribalism in Afghanistan. Today, the wires are carrying the story that the United States Marines have launched a huge operation in Afghanistan. They’re descending on the Helmand River Valley in helicopters, armored convoys. I mean, they’re going over to the offense during the fighting season.

MS: Right.

HH: A lot of people are pessimistic, Mark Steyn, about the ability to bring if not peace, then calm to Afghanistan. What do you think?

MS: Well, it’s one of the most difficult parts of the world to organize, to organize. The British concluded that they did not want Afghanistan formally within the British Empire simply because they did not have the will to do what would be necessary to make it a civilized part of the world as they understood it. And so they contented themselves with a more or less friendly regime in Kabul, and essentially tribal regions carrying on pretty much as they always had done. And in a sense, that system worked until the overthrow of the Afghan monarchy in the 1970s. Afghanistan didn’t progress, but in a way, it was manageable. It was kind of super-decentralized. The King’s write didn’t really run thirty miles from the palace. And tribal, local tribal chiefs more or less got on with life as they always had done. And I’m not sure anyone has yet come up with a working model for Afghanistan that is any better than that. And trying to impose order on the Helmand Valley in particular, I think is something that as I said, the British felt that even, who had as much imperialist swagger as anybody, felt that that was even beyond them. And I’m not sure the United States, with its general preference for a light footprint, is likely to be any more successful there.

HH: And a last question, Mark Steyn, your reaction to the ongoing drama in Honduras? And today, the organization of American states are giving ultimatums to Honduras, which are somewhat silly, because to be threatened to be thrown out of the Organization of American States means you don’t get to hang out with Castro and Chavez anymore, and the Bolivian guy. What do you think about what’s going on down there?

MS: Yeah, well this is ridiculous. At one point, whenever it was, I think it was at the time of the 2001 Quebec Summit, the whole point about the OAS was that it was an all-democrat, the Americas were all democratic, and that’s why Castro couldn’t come. Now Hillary Clinton only a couple of weeks ago was congratulating the OAS on readmitting Castro to the elite ranks. So it’s logical to then say to Honduras well, this coup disqualifies you. Furthermore, it’s not clear under the Honduran constitution, in which the army has this role, constitutional role as protector of the nation, whether this even qualifies as a coup. So I think this is another of those issues where in a sense, Obama’s managed to get on the wrong side of it. And the OAS, in particular, is not being helpful here.

HH: Mark Steyn, always a pleasure, Columnist To the World. You can read everything Mark writes at, America.

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