10 Questions with ... Michael Medved
February 14, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
I graduated in history from Yale, then left Yale Law School to work as a political speechwriter and consultant. After working briefly producing political and public service TV and radio ads, I then began writing books full-time. ("What Really Happened To The Class Of '65?" in 1976 was a major besteller, and then an NBC TV series in 1978). "The Shadow Presidents" (1979) recounted the history of the White House staff; then "The Golden Turkey Awards" (1980), about the worst achievements in Hollywood history, led to work as a movie critic on CNN, British TV, and for 12 years as co-host of "Sneak Previews" on PBS. I began in radio as a guest host for Rush Limbaugh (1993), got a local show in Seattle (1996) and then went national (1997). My most recent books have been "Right Turns" (about the transition from punk liberal activist to lovable conservative curmudgeon) in 2004, the New York Times bestseller "The 10 Big Lies About America" (2008), and "The 5 Big Lies About American Business" (2009). My columns appear regularly in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Beast and Townhall.
1. One thing that marks your show as different from others is that you tend to allow callers with differing opinions more leeway and even encouragement (as on Disagreement Day, but also in the course of regular business). Do you think that the polarized nature of political discourse in America in recent years will ever move back in the direction of more open dialogue? And do you take those calls thinking that you might be able to convince the caller to change his or her mind, or do you intend the call as more illustrative of the opposing viewpoint?
I prefer disagreeing callers because I find it more enlightening, exciting, amusing and challenging. I think our listeners agree. Sure, I want to persuade people who call with angry, blustery disagreements -- but most of all I want to influence the folks who are listening. The problem with political discourse at the moment is that conservative tend to concentrate on our media, while liberals congregate on their outlets; there's no real effort to exchange ideas or argue out policies. I'm proud that our marketing research indicates that a big chunk of our audience (more than a third) takes a more liberal or moderate approach than I do. The point of ideological combat isn't to destroy anybody; it's to persuade everybody.
2. With the Republicans seemingly polarized themselves into groups of a) "true conservatives" who disdain Romney and want a candidate who's "pure" on the issues and b) those looking for someone who they feel can beat Obama in November, do you see this debate as healthy or self-destructive? Will the bruising primary rhetoric torpedo the eventual candidate, or will all be forgotten by the convention?
The current arguments are destructive and foolish because they're not about ideas or policies -- they're about personalities. In 2008, you could make the argument that there was an ideological difference between the conservative candidates (Huckabee, Thompson AND, primarily, Romney) and two prominent, more moderate contenders (McCain and Giuliani). This time, the conservative champion from four years ago (Mitt) is derided as a "Massachusetts moderate" even though he's only moved further to the right (if anything) since 2008. The Gingrich-Romney fight isn't so bitter because their ideological differences are so significant, it's nasty because their ideological distinctions are so trivial.
3. In a similar vein, how much do you think voters should consider the candidates' position on social issues and values if, as it appears once again, the primary and overwhelming issue is the economy? Can -- should -- voters overlook a candidate's positions on values issues if they feel that the candidate is the right person to fix the main problem?
No one should ignore the values issues, ever. If (as appears possible) gay marriage becomes the norm in the next few years, that will be the most significant social change of this generation (a change for the worse, I fear). If a conservative president appoints a Constitutionalist justice to replace Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 2013, Roe v. Wade will be overturned -- another epochal change, more significant than readjustments of tax policy or budgeting.
4. Speaking of social issues, let's talk about pop culture for a moment: In the last decade, with the proliferation of new media and the ability to see, hear, or read, effectively, anything one wants at any time, do you think the culture has gotten better, worse, or stayed the same? Has the quality, and the morality, of media declined with volume, or have better offerings had an opportunity to reach audiences they haven't before? Are we better off, culturally, now than we were a decade ago?
Yes, we're better off. In the 1960's, FCC Chairman Newton Minow spoke of the "vast wasteland" of network TV; in 1992, in my bestselling book "Hollywood Vs. America," I updated the phrase to describe a "vast toxic wasteland." Today, by contrast, the array of choices in pop culture is vastly larger; if you look for it, you can find something entertaining and even enlightening to occupy your time at any hour of the day or night. The internet and the development of video games have also improved pop culture because they're more interactive -- people participate, rather than just consuming images and messages like lifeless lunks. But with the nearly limitless choices no available, and the impossibility (and stupidity) of any form of censorship, it's more important than ever to practice self-censorship and to make discerning choices about both the quality and quantity of the hours you spend on entertainment.
5. And following from that, are you using social media and the web in conjunction with your show? How important are Twitter and Facebook to what you do on the air?
I tweet -- almost every day. My assistant Karmen uses those tweets and my columns and commentaries to maintain our Facebook account. I'm agnostic as to the importance of these efforts to our show, but fascinated by the new opportunities for contact and communication.
6. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the radio industry, long-term? What, if any, changes do you expect radio to go through in the next decade?
The radio industry in general will continue to thrive -- but I'm not so sure that AM will hold on to its current market share. I also suspect that we'll see the rise of more unpredictable talk shows-- less cheerleading, less of the Amen Corner, more real and open conversation. That should also help bring more female listeners to political talk.
7. We can't do this without a movie question, of course, so... with the Oscar nominations out, what was your Best Picture of 2011? You get one and only one -- what was the best and why?
"The Artist" was not only the best film of last year, but the best film of recent years. I've seen it with intense pleasure and joy three times--and as a working critic I rarely watch movies more than once. The film is about romance, in the richest and most satisfying sense-- not only love between two vastly appealing characters, but love for the film medium itself and its capacity to enrich our lives. Of course it will win the best picture Oscar and I hope it sweeps the other categories as well.
8. At this stage in your career and life, of what are you most proud?
My family, of course -- especially my marriage to my wife Diane (clinical psychologist and bestselling author of "The Case Against Divorce") for the last 27 years. As empty nesters, we can really enjoy our three kids (ages 25, 22 and 19) as the fascinating, vastly different and wonderful people that they are. I'm also proud of my role in the religious Jewish community over the years: there are very few of us in the national media who've been able to build significant careers while strictly observing the Sabbath and Jewish holidays.
9. Much of the political talk in the last year has centered on class distinctions. Romney is being criticized for being rich, and the Occupy protests' common thread was to pit the "99 percent" against the "1 percent." Do you see class warfare, or at least the emphasis on class differential, continuing to resonate with the majority of voters? Is it possible to get a coherent and attractive message out about why big business isn't a bad thing, or about things like job creation, when so many people are hurting?
Class warfare usually fails in the United States, where we've always admired the rich more than we've resented them. George Washington was, very possibly, the richest man in the colonies when he became the Father of Our Country. The list of most admired Americans -- including Oprah, Billy Graham, Bill Gates, the Clintons, and Barack Obama himself -- is full of people who became enormously wealthy by contributing to our welfare or entertainment. The big distinction in the country isn't between rich and poor -- it's between deserving rich and undeserving rich -- people who make money through creative effort, hard work, and building businesses, and predators who game the system, relying on political connections or shady dealing. We rightly admire the former and properly revile the latter. We don't condemn wealth if it's rightly earned but we despise it if it comes through sleazy manipulation. If Romney can make it clear that he's a prime example of the deserving rich (honorable, generous, productive, hard-working) he'll be the next president.
10. What's the most important lesson you've learned in your career?
It's always best to be yourself, no matter how embarrassing or inconvenient that might be. Wearing a mask in public doesn't work and it's no fun.