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Mark Steyn’s MST3K of Newsweeks’ podcast

Thursday, August 20, 2009
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HH: We begin this Thursday as we do the Thursdays when we are lucky with Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. Hello, Mark, how are you?

MS: Hey, great. I’m glad to be the warm-up act for that all-star lineup. That’s pretty impressive.

HH: I want to bring to you a complaint since you just wrote about a blacklisted screenwriter for McLean’s. I’ve been blacklisted. Jonathan Klein has told CNN producers that they can’t have talk show hosts anymore. “Complex issues require world class reporting.” He added that talk radio hosts too often add the noise, and that what they say is all too predictable. I’ve been blacklisted.

MS: Yeah, I think essentially they’re discriminating against an entire demographic there. I mean, there are plenty of talk show hosts, just like there are plenty of cable TV hosts. And there are a lot of good cable TV hosts, and there are a lot of them who are no good, and who happen to be on CNN and are dying in the ratings. And I don’t think this is any way out of the hole for them. I mean, the reality is that CNN is just dullsville a lot of the time. I always say this on your show, because the only time I ever watch this lousy network is when I’m stuck at the gate at the airport, and they’re pumping in Wolf Blitzer at you, because they seem to think that pumping Wolf at you for four hours while you’re waiting for the plane is going to cheer you up. And it’s not. It makes you realize how boring this network is. So I think the idea of them just banning an entire class of people, apart from anything else, it’s lazy. Take the good talk show hosts and get them on, and leave out the dross.

HH: Yeah, Budd Schulberg and me…Mark Steyn’s got a great, by the way, obituary of Budd Schulberg over at www.steynonline.com. It’ll take you there. Mark, I’d like to try an experiment today. Earlier today, I went out for my ponderously slow run, and decided I would listen to the Newsweek podcast from Monday. And the first set of stories that came out just made me stop, not that anyone would notice as slow as I am. But I thought we would just play it for you and invite your commentary as we go along. As soon as you start to say something, we’ll just stop it and let you speak to…it’s sort of like Mike Nelson’s Mystery Science Theater for Newsweek. Okay, let’s roll the Newsweek podcast…or not.

It’s Newsweek on air for the week of August 16th. I’m David Alpern at Newsweek. I’m Melissa Exelbirth. The Obama administration has already started to restore trust in health care by being…(boos)…you are talking down to the American people if you think stupid to accept this…the notion that we’re having a public policy debate at the end of a spray paint can on somebody’s sign, I think is…

MS: All right, stop that tape, Hugh. Stop it right there.

HH: Okay.

MS: That is the most absurd thing, the idea that somehow these raucous town halls are preventing us having the “serious public policy debate” as they just said. We would not have had any public policy debate if Obama had got his way. His intention was to get this thing passed by August, a 1,200 page bill passed unseen, unread by August, and after it had been passed into law, then he would have been happy to sit and chit-chat, and have a public policy debate. He wanted to get this done with no public policy debate. So if he’s annoyed about spray paint and people yelling at Congressmen, that’s because he tried to prevent there being any debate on this.

HH: Roll the tape.

Like other Democratic legislators back home for the August recess, Maryland’s Ben Cardin got booed in Hagerstown last week at a town hall meeting on health care reform. Former GOP Senator Arlen Specter got a similarly hostile response in Kittanning, Pennsylvania. And many agreed with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs that the national debate President Obama sought had gotten way out of hand. Indeed, as protests grow more angry and widespread, it seemed that far more than the complexities of American medicine were at play.

MS: No, stop the tape. Stop the tape again there, Hugh.

HH: There you go.

MS: I mean, what I find odd about all this is that a couple of years ago, in the late 90s and the turn of the century, we have these…every time there was a World Bank meeting, World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, Seattle, Washington, Quebec, London, Gothenburg, Sweden, Rome, all these anti-globalization activists from the left would fly in and trash the place. They would throw bricks through McDonald’s. They would smash up Starbucks. They would do tons and tons of damage. And all the thoughtful intellectual class, by which I mean, of course, Susan Sarandon and Ben from Ben & Jerry, and Anita Roddick, the late Anita Roddick who owned the body shop which was on the target of these protestors. They threw stuff through Body Shop windows. All these people not only supported this youthful idealism, but actually donated money to help fund these rampages. And now the idea that suddenly that was acceptable, that was just youthful idealism, but someone asking a question of Senator Specter in a loud voice is the return of the mob is completely insane.

Rubbed raw by a painful economic crisis, cynical stratagems of Obama’s political opponents raised larger questions about the legitimacy of the nation’s first black president, and his willingness to pull the plug on ailing seniors and the U.S. Constitution alike. To consider the psychology into politics of an increasingly venomous debate, we have Newsweek science editor Sharon Begley. Also with us is Mark Potok, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s intelligence project…

MS: (laughing)

…which recently reported a resurgence of dangerous militia mentality fed by the viral spread of anti-administration, anti-government rhetoric on the web, and by conservative politicians and commentators.

HH: Stop, stop, stop. Mark Steyn, you can see what’s coming, can’t you?

MS: Yeah, and I love this.

HH: (laughing)

MS: This is now…for a start, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which were introduced here as being some sort of neutral analyst of the scene, they’re not. They’re actually big, extreme, left wing players on the scene. They claim to be fighting hate, as they say. And I would argue in fact that they don’t fight hate groups, but they are a hate group. They demonize and trash reputations in the sleaziest way possible. So I have no regard for the Southern Poverty Law Center, and I will rejoice the day they go out of business. But this is actually a classic feint of the so-called mainstream media, is to present people who, is to present a spokesperson for a highly partisan group as if they are some kind of neutral arbiter. Now where they’re going with this, of course, is that you know, oh, you let people ask Senator Specter questions, and the next thing you know there’s going to be Oklahoma City II all over again.

HH: You got it. Let’s get back to the tape with the Newsweek science editor and the lefty disguised as an expert.

First to Sharon, we’ve talked about human brains are wired so fear often trumps hope or logic, though Obama did win in the end. But you say the current economic crisis and Washington’s role exaggerates that response. Because people are terrified that they’ve not only lost their jobs, in many cases. Millions, of course, have lost their homes. And in that climate of fear, it’s even easier to make people afraid of yet one more thing, and that one more thing, of course, is that with health care reform, they will be worse off. And the other element at play here is, you know, if you and I had been talking a year ago, David, and I asked you do you think that in a year we will have seen the nationalization of some of the nation’s banks and of AIG, and a $50 billion bailout of GM and the stock market crashing to 6,600, you would have said no, I will never see those things in my lifetime. And we have seen those things in just the last 12 months. So against that background, things that would otherwise seem absurd, impossible, suddenly take on that aura of possibility. You also say that the subjects of death and medical costs, especially in the final phase of life, make people even more fearful, anxious, even guilty.

MS: (laughing) Hugh, Hugh, stop all this.

HH: (laughing)

MS: This is like the classic, this is when the lefty media want to be nice to you. They say oh, wait, you’re not just wrong, you’re not just misguided, you’re actually just mentally ill.

HH: You’re insane.

MS: Yeah, your brain is just…these fear factors have just played on your brain. And you combine that with the unhealthy diet that you bitter gun-clingers in rural areas are partial to, you combine your lousy diet with the fears, your inability, possibly psycho-sexual, to cope with an African-American president, you combine all that, and you’re not wrong, you’re not evil, you’re not wicked, you’re just mentally ill. But just lie down on the gurney, we’ll strap you down, give you a couple of shots, and you’ll soon be feeling much better and on board with the socialized health care.

HH: A little bit more before the break.

And that’s why they’re afraid of death panels, that’s how Sarah Palin popularized, has gotten such traction.

MS: Oh, stop the tape again. The new definition of a death panel is a Newsweek discussion.

HH: (laughing)

MS: This is why the mainstream media are dying, because they have these so-called discussions between a soft left host, a soft left staff writer, and a hard left expert, and they kid themselves that’s a lively debate. It’s not. For anyone listening to it, it is a death panel.

– – – –

HH: Back to that podcast.

Americans, and people in general, are just, do not want to talk about or even think about death. Fewer than 30% of us have made living wills, for instance. And again, it comes with against the background of slight plausibility, because at least some people have heard that end of life care is bankrupting the health care system. So if you combine that, you know, abstract knowledge with the fact that health care reform is underway, suddenly the idea of pulling the plug on Grandma, again, gains traction in some people’s minds.

MS: No, no, wait a minute, Hugh. This is where she…the whole thrust of this Newsweek podcast is that people who are opposed to Obamacare are irrational. And in fact, they’re not, because if you look at what goes on under socialized health care systems in the Canada, the United Kingdom and elsewhere, rationing is built into them. As I said in my column last week, it’s not so much a question of pulling the plug on Grandma, it’s that Grandma has a very hard time getting plugged in, in the first place. And that’s simply a fact of life. If you look at, you don’t have to look far, if you just look at British Columbia, just north of the border, the Frazer Health Authority there has just cut services to seniors by 15%, has just cut elective surgeries by 15%, which means you can elect to have the surgery, but the government won’t elect to give it to you. So it’s not that Americans are, just don’t want to think about death. No, they’re actually thinking about death, and deciding they don’t want the government planning it for them.

HH: (laughing)

MS: It gets back to the whole thrust of this woman’s approach to it is oh, we’re just being emotional and irrational, and if we just take a nice pill and let Dr. Obama tell us what’s in our best interests, and just lie there and take it, everything would be fine.

HH: It gets worse. Back to Newsweek.

Yes, people were saying keep your hands off my Medicare, as if Medicare was not a government-run program, and even paralyzed scientist Stephen Hawking has been miscast. Yes, and you know, an editorial in Investor’s Business Daily, which should have known better, said that you know, if Stephen Hawking, the famed cosmologist who has had Lou Gehrig’s disease for decades, and has been confined to a wheelchair, they said you know, if he had been subject to those crazy rules in the United Kingdom, then he would not have gotten the care that he did and would likely be dead. Well, they apparently forgot that he is indeed a citizen and resident of Britain, and Hawking, to his credit, came back and said that without the national health service…

MS: Yeah, that’s not it. By the way, that’s actually not true. He lives in Cambridge, which has some of the finer…because it’s affiliated with Cambridge University, has some of the finest teaching hospitals in the world, so that he happens to benefit from the links between the socialized health care service and the advanced medical developments that take place in that city. If, say, he had been not a resident of Cambridge but a resident of, say, Glasgow, Scotland, I doubt very much whether he would be alive at this stage.

HH: It’s also deeply dishonest, Mark, because Investor’s Business Daily did a second editorial where they pointed out that while their example was a bad one, nevertheless Hawking has said himself that he’s had 24 hour nursing care made possible by several foundations. He makes no mention of NHS on his own website, and they point out the obvious thing, which is that Stephen Hawking is a renowned theoretical physicist, university professor and bestselling author, and it’s doubtful that any national health service bureaucrat would cut him off.

MS: No.

HH: In other words, Newsweek distorted the whole record on that subject.

MS: Yeah, and by the way, just as a final addendum to that, it is true that if you are under socialized systems, if you’re a celebrity, as you could with the nomenclature in the Soviet Union, it’s the same thing in Canada. If you’re a big shot hockey player or a cabinet minister, you won’t get unplugged. But if you’re just Joe Schmo who runs the feed store, your chances of getting the Stephen Hawking treatment are far, far more diminished.

HH: Back to the tape.

…make decisions based on cost, you know, criteria. He would not be alive and doing as well as he is. Newsweek science editor Sharon Begley. Next, to Mark Potok of the SPLC intelligence project, who’s focus on a resurgence of militia activity seems relevant after last week’s image of a town hall health care critic packing a pistol. What’s your evidence that militias and militia thinking are coming back? Well, among the evidence are first of all…

MS: Well, no, stop the tape.

HH: (laughing)

MS: This is, we have had people now since about three months before the Iraq invasion, we have had people marching every week through American cities with signs saying kill Bush, explicit threats to kill Bush, pictures of Bush with a bullet, a red blood bullet hole through the center of his forehead. Zombietime, the website Zombietime is just collated dozens and dozens of these pictures from marches of ordinary Americans demanding the execution of their president that were going on, as I said, from early 2003 right up to the end of Bush’s term. None of these guys were ever prosecuted. None of these magazines, people made films. There was an award-winning film made about the assassination of the president. Nicholson Baker wrote a novella about the death of Bush, about killing Bush. And nowhere – Newsweek, I don’t recall, not that I ever listen to the Newsweek podcast, and if they had it in those days, but I don’t recall anyone in Newsweek expressing concern about films, novellas and marches explicitly fantasizing over the death of President Bush week in and week out for five years.

HH: Back to the tape.

…ground, we’ve noticed, we’ve counted at least fifty new militias out there. In addition, the government, one of the federal law enforcement agencies found another fifty or so of these groups. We’ve seen thousands and thousands of militia, videos appearing on YouTube. You know, there are all kinds of reports from around the country, and we’ve had our own people on the ground with some of these groups as well. So you know, there are actually groups out there, once again, in the woods…

MS: No, this is the Dan Rather thing from the 90s. Dan Rather used to always talk about, he’d always refer to them as the shadowy right wing militia. And it got me curious about it. So in my state, New Hampshire, I decided I wanted to talk to the head of the White Mountain Militia, and I looked him up in the phone book. Believe it or not, he was listed, and I called him up. That’s how shadowy he was. And now this Southern Poverty Law Center, pretending to be like little progressive socialist James Bonds going undercover with right wing, shadowy right wing militia groups, this is left wing porn. They are the ones who are actually fantasizing about an increase in violence. Fellows in concealed carry states having guns in their cars is not a reason to be concerned about upsurges in shadowy right wing militias.

HH: Let’s get one more clip in before the break.

…training to fend off the sort of socialistic advances. Individuals involved in shootings at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, in Pennsylvania, there was another case of shooting. Are there common motivators linking militia mentality and the kind of fury we’re seeing…

MS: Well no, wait a minute. The kook who, the octogenarian nut at the Holocaust Museum was not in any sense right wing. He was opposed to Bush, he hated neocons, he hated the Iraq War. The idea that he is somehow representative of an anti-Obama feeling that’s grown since November is completely preposterous. The guy hated Bush.

HH: I’m running out of time here on the segment. It’s the Hugh Hewitt Show with Mark Steyn, www.steynonline.com.

– – – –

HH: The magnificent Duane prevailed upon Mark Steyn to stick around on the Hugh Hewitt Show so we could hear the end of the Newsweek first bit of its podcast for the week. Let’s get back to the tape with Mark Steyn standing by to stop it when he feels so moved.

…over health care. Well yeah, first of all, what I would say mainly is that you know, we’ve seen a real rash of domestic terrorism since the election of President Obama. And I think that almost all of those cases can be linked…

MS: Well, what does me mean? Just a minute, what does he mean by that, there’s been a rash of domestic terrorism since the election of President Obama? What does…does he mean…by common consent, most of these people who have supposedly been seen in the neighborhood of presidential events carrying guns are doing so perfectly lawfully. You might say that it’s not the greatest idea in the world to take a gun along to a presidential town hall, but in fact under the laws of these states, there’s nothing illegal about it.

HH: Yeah, I think he means George Till, the abortion doctor in Kansas, you’ve got the guy in Pittsburgh who went crazy, and then you’ve got the Holocaust shooter.

MS: Yeah, and what do these guys have in common? They’re not part of a trend. They represent no movement. Who are they? They’re three weird individuals…

HH: Yup.

MS: …unconnected.

HH: Yup, back to the tape.

…to anger over his election. I think that’s really what’s going on. I think that…

MS: No, wait a minute. So he’s saying the abortion guy was angry over Obama, and the Holocaust shooter was angry over Obama. Is that the point here?

HH: That’s his point, yup.

MS: Great. So if someone, no doubt, if we woke up tomorrow, and someone had taken out Bush and Cheney, this guy would be telling us that it was some crazed, right wing zealot expressing his anger over Obama’s election.

HH: Yup.

MS: This is what passes for an expert at Newsweek.

HH: Back to the tape.

Terrorism, though, is simply a reflection of a wider anger at his election, and at the kind of changes in this country that…

MS: By the way, let’s just stop the tape. You know what is interesting to me about this is that before the election, when you had, when you went to dinner parties with sort of left wing progressive types, they’d say oh, this country is too racist to elect Obama. They were wrong about that. You know, I thought Obama should have been unelectable, but he wasn’t. I was wrong about Obama’s electability. These left wing guys who said that America was too racist to elect Obama, they were actually wrong about their country and about their countrymen. And what’s actually disgusting is the way that in the wake of Obama’s election, they’re still persisting in this characterization of America as a snarling mob of knuckle-dragging racists. In other words, this guy’s…despite the election results, this guy is so invested in his fantasy of America as a mob of knuckle-dragging racists that he’s prepared to libel it unceasingly throughout this presidential term.

HH: One more clip.

…symbolized to many people. Why did SPLC president Richard Cohn call for CNN to fire anchor Lou Dobbs? Well, it was, the immediate cause was over his floating once again of the birther claims, that you know, Obama needs to show his real birth certificate to show he’s really a legitimate citizen, and then therefore president. Really, though, this came at the end of a seven or eight year back and forth between us and Dobbs over his continual claims that are false. Most of them have been surrounding immigration, and have the effect of demonizing immigrants, and are…

MS: No, no, wait a minute. Wait a minute. No, they haven’t. Lou Dobbs is quite clear on that. I speak as an immigrant. I am an immigrant in the lawful sense. That is to say I did the paperwork, and I submitted it to the government, and they returned the paperwork with a stamped yes on it. That’s what an immigrant is. Lou Dobbs in the main, and I don’t agree with Dobbs particularly, I don’t agree with him particularly on this birther business, although I don’t see why he should get fired over it. But on the immigrant thing, what he’s concerned about is people coming to the United States and working for low wages, people who are in the country illegally, taking jobs and depressing wages as Lou Dobbs sees it. Now the Southern Poverty Law Center, one big cause of southern poverty is in fact depressed wages caused by illegal immigrant labor. You’d think that would be their issue.

HH: Mark, we’ve got about a minute left. Just a comment on Newsweek’s approach here. We’ve only done 8 minutes. The podcast goes on and on and on in this vain. They really have no idea, do they, of how ludicrous this is.

MS: I don’t think they do, and what is sad to me is I think those of us who are so-called right wing actually live in a world where we’re exposed constantly to other people’s views, to the other side’s views, not just through political discussion, but through comedy and movies and education and all the rest of it. These people are living in a bubble, and talking to themselves. They’re the ones in the bubble, not the right wing.

HH: Mark Steyn, I appreciate so much time today. That was a useful, that was Mark Steyn’s Mystery Science Theater 3000, the Newsweek podcast edition. Thanks for your time.

End of interview.

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