About one year ago, I was invited by the producers of Bill O'Reilly's show, as well as by Bill himself, to come on that program as a guest. I had received several such invitations over a one-year period, and finally decided that I wanted to find out what "The Factor" experience was all about.
I had neither watched nor listened to any of O'Reilly's programs. I knew of O'Reilly only as a uniquely aggressive partisan advocate and I went on the show with no real expectation of having any meaningful political dialogue.
However, I was ultimately surprised by how it all went down. O'Reilly was aggressive, but was a gentleman throughout. He made no cheap, personal remarks. He seemed comfortable to offer me a chance to make the modest handful of points that I wanted to share with his considerable audience. When I left, my opinion of Bill O'Reilly was changed completely.
I agree with O'Reilly on next to nothing, but he is a talented broadcaster. He is telegenic in ways that most network anchors and cable hosts can only dream of. He is commanding and quick on his feet. He is inexhaustible and has an abundance of those simple skills that make for what used to be called "Great Television." If O'Reilly hadn't hitched his wagon to Roger Ailes' Luftwaffe/Looney Bin news operation, he would likely be enjoying a Peabody and Emmy award-winning career as a more traditional television journalist.
On Sunday evening, at the suggestion of a friend of mine who works inside the NY radio broadcast community, I guest-hosted Brian Whitman's talk show on WABC radio, which was, ultimately, hijacked by talk-show host Sean Hannity, who called in and demanded to be heard. He was accompanied by another ABC Talk Radio host, Mark Levin, someone I had never heard of before that evening.
After some back and forth between myself and Hannity, most of it predictable, Levin made a comment connected to my divorce proceedings. I turned to Whitman, who knew that I was due to depart the show no later than 8:30 PM New York time anyway, and told him I had to go. I thought that Levin, whoever he may be and whatever code he does or does not operate by, had crossed a line and I was under no obligation to continue in that vein.
Hannity, a McCarthy-esque figure in American media, but without McCarthy's influence or audience, spent most of his on-air day gloating that he had put me in my place and indicating that I had slurred construction workers with my call for him to return to that (his former) profession.
I have no problem with anything Hannity might say. Hannity, who lacks practically every skill that O'Reilly conveys so effortlessly, will always be doomed to do what he can with what little he has. But to suggest that I have any disrespect for any laborers of any kind in this country is plain wrong.
My father was a public school teacher on Long Island, raising six children on a smaller salary than most construction workers we grew up with. I've worked construction myself, in the past, as have my brothers and other members of my family, and I live in a community steeped in year-round home renovation (Eastern Long Island) that puts more construction workers on the roads there every year than you can imagine. To say that I would ever slur those folks, many of them my neighbors, is inaccurate and unfair.
Hannity did what he does best: to artificially cast himself as the friend of the working man, and to attempt to frame me as the snobbish, distant limousine liberal who emanates all of his public-mindedness from his checkbook, while never knowing the business end of level, a hammer or a drill. Shame on you, Sean Hannity, you poor, ignorant fool. Everyone who knows me, and a wealth of people who actually don't, would never believe that characterization.
Pornography is the lurid and detached exploitation of something that is essentially good, even necessary, in order to make money, while simultaneously shaming and disgracing all of those who are involved. Instead of the basic force of sex, "political pornographers" exploit the good and necessary love of country that men and women seek to express and exercise on both sides of the aisle. Hannity is such a pornographer. He taunts and goads his listenership to express their political views in lurid, yet detached, ways. They do it in anonymity. They stress themselves to reach out and touch people in their lurid and detached way who they do not even know. Like pornography, they exert themselves to reach a state that gives them the release that they consciously avoid through a healthier, more personal involvement. Like pornography.
Hannity is the Larry Flynt of talk-radio. And he has about as much influence in the world of American public affairs as Flynt. It must be hard for these rabid right-wing types to watch their heroes fall. Almost as hard for them as it is for those of us who saw through these people from the beginning.
A postscript...Tim McCarthy called me today. He is the President and General manager of WABC radio. McCarthy wanted to "apologize for Sean's attacks " while I was a guest on Whitman's show. He said that "Hannity went too far." I'm not really worried about what Hannity said. I just wish McCarthy could apologize to those construction workers and laborers who think they have lost a friend who knows what it's like to work hard, and to love your country, every day.