How I became the sudden darling of right-wing media
By Tim Redmond
I've always wanted to be on national TV, and I've always felt eminently qualified: I seem to be willing to offer an opinion on any issue, whether I know anything about it or not. I have a thrift-store jacket and two ties. I talk too fast. I can't do a thing with my hair.
But somehow Ted Koppel never called me.
Not that I haven't tried: back when I was younger and drunker and stayed up late at night, I used to shout at the TV and fire off angry letters to various ABC executives informing them that all of the Nightline guests were lame and idiots and that they needed me. For some reason, they never wrote back.
And then, last week, I suddenly became the darling of right-wing media. It's an odd story that says something about how incredibly derivative all the national news shows are and maybe just a little about what it means to be a liberal in the United States today.
It goes like this: a couple of weeks ago, I got a call from Bree Hocking, a reporter at Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper. She was doing a piece on how House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, whom columnist David Broder once described as "the near-perfect embodiment of a San Francisco liberal," was perceived back in her hometown.
Yeah, I had a few thoughts.
I've been writing about Pelosi for 17 years, I told Hocking, and could say without any hesitation that she's not in any way a "San Francisco liberal." Look at the record: Pelosi authored and pushed the bill that turned the Presidio National Park over to private real estate interests and gave that well-known pauper George Lucas a $60 million tax break to build a 900,000-square-foot office complex in the park. She's been mighty cautious about challenging Bush over the war in Iraq, and when several other Bay Area members of Congress, including Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Berkeley) and Lynn Woolsey (D-Sonoma) circulated a letter calling for the withdrawal of U.S. troops as quickly as possible, Pelosi's name was noticeably absent. When Mayor Gavin Newsom put San Francisco in the forefront of one of the most important civil rights battles of our time by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, Pelosi ran for cover.
That, I told Hocking, is not the sort of behavior I would associate with the term "San Francisco liberal."
Well, Hocking wrote a fine article, quoting me clearly and accurately and next thing you know, I've got a producer from Fox News on the line, wanting to know if I'll go on the Hannity and Colmes show and talk about Pelosi. Sean Hannity is a right-wing nut and not exactly my kind of guy, and Alan Colmes is a kind of wimpy Democrat. I know they're looking to use me to try to make the Democratic congressional leadership look bad, but what the hell: Pelosi's doing a pretty good job looking bad on her own. And I'm always ready to meet the press.
And because I'm suddenly in the big time, Fox sent a limo to pick me up and ferry me to a modest little studio downtown for my date with media glory. It's very odd the way this works: You sit on a chair about the height of a barstool in the middle of a dark room, with a cheap print of a San Francisco skyline scene in the background, and face a bank of blazing white lights and a camera. They give you a single earpiece and a mic. You can't see the hosts (or anything else), and since the two gentlemen in question tend to talk quickly and interrupt the guests and each other, you never quite know who's talking when, or what you're supposed to say.
So I did what I do, which is to smile and wing it, and I told them the angry right-wingers of the world should stop excoriating Pelosi, who isn't as liberal as they think, and I talked about the Presidio and a few other things while Hannity tried to make fun of me, and then one of them finally posed the real question: Tim, what is a San Francisco liberal?
Funny you should ask.
A San Francisco liberal, I told the world of Fair and Balanced Fox, believes we should tax the rich to feed the poor. A San Francisco liberal believes we should protect the environment, including the urban environment, from the attack of greedy developers. A San Francisco liberal believes in civil liberties and civil rights, including same-sex marriage, and isn't afraid to say so. A San Francisco liberal, I would have added if they hadn't cut me off, thinks the invasion of Iraq was wrong, the occupation is a disaster, and the only sane approach now is to get the U.S. troops out of there.
A San Francisco liberal believes that money has ruined politics and that the answer is not for the Democrats to try to raise more than the Republicans.
A San Francisco liberal believes this city can and should be a force for progressive thought and set the standard for the rest of the country.
A San Francisco liberal isn't afraid to lose.
I'm just getting started too. The Hannity and Colmes show was barely over when a producer from The Laura Ingraham Show called. Could I do a phone interview at 6:30 the next morning?
Hmmm. Laura Ingraham. The conservative host who once clerked for Clarence Thomas and who Salon unkindly called "a clueless right-wing babe in a leopardskin miniskirt." Did I really want to be on the air with her?
Did I really want to discuss politics on the nation's fourth-largest radio talk show? And reach five million people?
I set the alarm for 6:15.
It turns out that Ingraham is much nicer than Hannity and Colmes. I think she kind of wanted me to discourse on the failures of the Democratic Party, and instead I spent a lot of time talking about same-sex marriage. I even got in a little dig at conservative hypocrisy by pointing out that Justice Thomas's own marriage would have been illegal in 30 states not all that long ago. She promised she'd read the Bay Guardian next time she's in San Francisco.
My lines are open. Ted?
E-mail Tim Redmond