Harry Stein
Harry Stein
How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy
ISBN: 038533396X
How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy
A former Left-identified novelist/journalist charts his transition from liberal to conservative in this unjaundiced political memoir. Looking back over decades, Stein recalls his growing bewilderment with and estrangement from the counterculture, and shares the liberating joy and comfortableness of his new position on the Right.
—from the publisher's website
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TRANSCRIPT
How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy
Program Air Date: August 20, 2000

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Harry Stein, author of "How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy and Found Inner Peace," where'd you get that title?
Mr. HARRY STEIN, AUTHOR, "HOW I ACCIDENTALLY JOINED THE VAST RIGHT-WING CONSPIRACY AND FOUND INNER PEACE": You know, it just came to me one day. I'm--I'm usually terrible at titles. And the genesis of this book was an editor of mine, with whom I was having lunch, who said--we were talking about politics and she said the usual thing--I'm--I was used to hearing from my liberal friends, `How did you become such a'--she was polite, so she didn't say fascist; she said `reactionary?' And I said, `Well, maybe there's a book in that.'

And I wanted the book to be kind of light in tone. I want it to be readable and entertaining as well as serious. And that night in bed, it just kind of hit me and inner peace came later.
LAMB: If you are a right-winger, are you a reactionary? Are those terms fair?
Mr. STEIN: No. I mean, it's kind of name-calling. It--it's one of the things I talk about in the book, how--how those on the other side kind of discredit and caricature people by, essentially, throwing labels in that way.
LAMB: Where do you live?
Mr. STEIN: Hastings On Hudson, New York.
LAMB: How long have you lived there?
Mr. STEIN: How much longer am I going to be able to live there because of the--we've lived there about 15 years. It's about 20 minutes north of the city of New York. And I have a 15-year-old son, who is the reason we moved there, and an 18-year-old daughter.
LAMB: Is that Charlie?
Mr. STEIN: I'm sorry, 19-year-old daughter.
LAMB: I--is it Ch--the son, Charlie, and the daughter, Sadie?
Mr. STEIN: Charlie and Sadie.
LAMB: Where did Sadie--I know you talk about it in the book. Where'd she end up going to school?
Mr. STEIN: University of Chicago.
LAMB: Why did she pick Chicago?
Mr. STEIN: Good question. She--the--for a lot of reasons. I mean, I think it's an intellectually rigorous school. It's a school that still maintains standards. It's a school which is very demanding intellectually. It's also not as politically correct as a lot of other places. I mean, this was more her parents' concern than hers, actually. But she actually--the director of admissions came to her school, and she got into a bit of a back-and-forth with him during the initial meeting about something innocuous; it was about a kid who'd been admitted earlier, and then sh--he had shown them the applications. And she--this guy thought this--this was a superior application.

Sadie didn't think it was so great, and so she challenged him and argued, and they had a very interesting back-and-forth. And she felt a place where she would be free to argue with the director of admissions was a place which would really be open to inte--intellectual pursuits, back and forth, in a way that many places probably aren't these days.
LAMB: Why do you think they're not?
Mr. STEIN: Well, there's a regime of political correctness, which has kind of settled like a fog over all kinds of American institutions and particularly over academia, and the reasons for that are complicated, but I think, to be simple--simplistic about it, they have a lot to do with the fact that my generation is now--that--the generation that came of age in the '60s is now running things.
LAMB: What year did you graduate from college?
Mr. STEIN: 1970. So I was there from '66 to '70, right in the heart of it.
LAMB: What--what school?
Mr. STEIN: Pomona College in Claremont, California.
LAMB: Why'd you pick that?
Mr. STEIN: Well, I didn't get into the--a couple other places I applied to. I ended up getting into a place called Carleton in Minnesota and Pomona in Southern California, both very good schools. I--I hadn't seen either of them, but I looked at the catalogs, and Carleton had people in the snow, and Pomona had people in the sun and I chose the warmer.
LAMB: Where had you grown up?
Mr. STEIN: I grew up in the New York suburbs, North Shore, New York.
LAMB: And there's an incident--and I know that it--this--probably this interview will sound this way because this book is, as you know, all over the place, and you're--different chapters, your--different themes and all. But one of the things that I've always wanted to--I didn't--I've never known anybody that was involved in this, but I always remember the article that was in New Times magazine that you write about here. What year was that?
Mr. STEIN: The article itself, I guess, appeared in '74. It could have been '73, but I think it was '74.
LAMB: And what was New Times?
Mr. STEIN: New Times was a progressive, kind of hip magazine in the early '70s, for which I worked as an associate editor. And it had started in '73, right in the middle of the Nixon administration. It actually hit very well for the magazine because, of course, Watergate was just about breaking then, and we had a field day covering Watergate and kind of ripping Nixon apart and mocking him.

But the story to which you're referring--there's a complicated background. William Scott was a senator from Virginia, Republican senator, very conservative, from Virginia. Prior to working at New Times, I had helped start a weekly, kind of alternative newspaper in Richmond, and that was the summer of 1972 that we launched. And in--in the election of that year, which was, of course, nationally the McGovern-Nixon election, Bill Scott, who was a congressman from northern Virginia, was running for the Senate against an incumbent, moderate Democrat named William Spong. And we, of course, being good radicals...
LAMB: You were liberal then?
Mr. STEIN: I would say l--yeah, somewhat--somewhat--somewhat to the left of of liberal.
LAMB: Living in Richmond, graduated from college. Did you have master's degree?
Mr. STEIN: I had gone to journalism school.
LAMB: Where?
Mr. STEIN: At--at Columbia, so I had a journalism degree.
LAMB: So you're in Richmond and working for what?
Mr. STEIN: It was called The Richmond Mercury.
LAMB: Who was there with you?
Mr. STEIN: We had a bu--basically, Harvard people. I--my best friend at the time was a guy named Frank Rich, who you may now know as a New York Times former film--theater critic and columnist--op-ed columnist. A number of other people: There was a guy named Garrett Epps, who had been president of the Crimson the previous year; there was a woman named Lynn Darlen, who--who is--is a very good and reputable journalist to this day; a number of other--of others.
LAMB: So how'd you all end up in Richmond in the first place?
Mr. STEIN: A couple of them were from Richmond. Garrett was from Richmond, among others. Frank's aunt and uncle were from Richmond and were big businesspeople there. They helped finance the paper. It--it--to this--to this day, I'm not--I'm not exactly sure. I mean, I--I didn't know--I didn't have a job. I didn't know exactly what I was going to do. And I got a call from Frank, who said, `You know, these guys are starting this thing. You want to be a part of it?' So I had nowhere else to go, so I ended up in Richmond.
LAMB: So here's Bill Scott--Congressman Bill Scott, from Virginia...
Mr. STEIN: Right.
LAMB: ...Republican, and Bill Spong, senator from Virginia.
Mr. STEIN: Right.
LAMB: And you go off to do what?
Mr. STEIN: We, of course, were going to do a major investigative piece on--on Bill Scott. I mean, we--of course, we were going to go after him hammer and tong. And somehow I ended up assigned to--to write this piece. I don't remember exactly how. Basically, it was a ve--vicious hatchet job I did. It wasn't hard. Scott was a very big target. He was not well liked by his colleagues and he was not well liked by his former staff. The Washingtonian magazine up here in Washington had already done a terrific profile of him. So, basically, I got ahold of that and reinterviewed the people they'd interviewed and did a--this nasty job on--on--on Bill Scott.

I remember we--we had him on the cover, a caricature of him sweeping vast amounts of dirt under the--this carpet. I mean, it was up to the ceiling. And Scott, of course, was very unhappy with the piece; got a lot of local coverage and was kind of exciting for a while. This--you know, we were being taken seriously as mainstream journalists. We had all kind of come out of our college papers or the alternative, you know, where we--where we were considered radicals, and suddenly, you know, we just slipped into the mainstream. It was very easy.
LAMB: How rough were you on him?
Mr. STEIN: Well, I mean, the interviews were real. The things that--that--that people said about him were--were accurate.
LAMB: You mean...
Mr. STEIN: I just--I--I just did not look for any exculpatory material. I mean, there--there's a certain way of--of--of eviscerating someone. If you want to make someone look bad, it's very easy, particularly someone like Scott, who, as I say, left himself open to that because he did not treat people particularly well.
LAMB: But then what happened with the New Times magazine?
Mr. STEIN: So a couple of years later, both Frank and I are at New Times magazine and we--we're getting--we were talking about the Bill Scott experience and how heady it had been, and somehow the idea arose about doing Bill Scott again, now that he was in the Senate. He had won the election in the Nixon landslide. And so we--we broached it with our editor, who was gung-ho, and clearly, I could not do the piece again. It made--it was just too obvious. The person who ended up doing it was Nina Totenberg, who was our newly hired Washington correspondent.

And w--the piece was--was recast; it was not exclusively about Bill Scott. It was a piece called The Ten Dumbest Congressmen, and Bill Scott was kind of labeled `the king of dumb.' The same guy who did the caricature in our paper in Richmond ended up doing the cover for New Times. I mean, it wasn't that much of an attempt to hide it. And I must say, Nina did quite a masterful job. It--she got Democrats as well as Republicans, couple of whom--I believe Floyd Spence is still in the--in the House. He was one of them. And...
LAMB: Chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
Mr. STEIN: Yup. And, you know, she gathered a lot of anecdotes. Her--her Scott stuff was primarily derived from my piece, as I recall, which, of course, was derived from The Washingtonian piece. Anyway, we--we put a picture of Scott on--on the cover in a crown, crowned him the `king of dumb.' And he actually proved the point himself because he subsequently called a press conference to deny that--this story in this rather obscure magazine, that he was the dumbest congressman in Washington, thereby earning it 50 times the attention it would have gotten otherwise.
LAMB: You know, when you hear people talk about this--and I remember it. Here--anybody that lives in this town remembers this story. They always cite, `Can you believe he called a news conference to deny that he was one of the 10 dumbest congressmen?' Why is it that that is what people remember?
Mr. STEIN: Well, it was pretty dumb. It kind of confirmed the idea. I mean, the premise of the piece was not necessarily false. I mean, whe--the point I was--I was making when I write about it in the book is the corruption that I, as a journalist, and I think that journalists in general--I was ex--of journalists in general who don't really care if we get the full--full truth. And I wrote about how, when Scott died a couple of years back, there were all kinds of things in his obituary, which really shook me up a little bit, talking about how his father, who had been a--a hero, who had died in a train wreck trying to save people; how Scott himself had done all kinds of charitable activities; that, in fact, he was far more complex than--than--than we had allowed and that we had really done him a disservice. And--and--and, in retrospect, I regretted it, and it certainly made me re--made me reflect on my--on my own behavior.
LAMB: Were there any others, by the way, you went to school with at Columbia that we would know that went on in journalism?
Mr. STEIN: Yeah. There's a woman from The New York Times, who's a friend of mine named Margo Jefferson, who is a--who won a Pulitzer a few years ago as a very good essayist. Lieutenant Bob Kur, who works at NBC News. Some magazine writers, but those--I think they're the most prominent.
LAMB: Well, settle this discussion that we have on this network all the time. Are all reporters liberals?
Mr. STEIN: Not all, but--but there's an overwhelming liberal bias in the--in the media. It's not any--it's not a conspiracy. It doesn't have to be a conspiracy. There's simply shared assumptions. You know, I--Bernard Goldberg, a friend of mine who worked at CBS News, put it best, I think. He said, `You walk into a room, a party on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, with a bunch of network journalists, and if you, for example, say something which questions abortion, it's not people are angry; they're surprised. It--it simply doesn't happen in their circle. The assumption is--I mean, they will--they will drop remarks about, you know, various conservative politicians and assume that everyone agrees. And it--so it really works that way.
LAMB: Why is it?
Mr. STEIN: It's a very complicated question. I think, for one thing, people drawn to journalism tend to be very narcissistic. They tend to come from a certain segment of society. They're--they're people who--who kind of want to live vicariously. I--I'm--and this--this isn't--isn't answering the question very well, but I--but I think there's a certain kind of egoism, which I associate now more and more with liberals. It's--it's this notion that you want to be around important people, you want to be around important things, you want to be important by association. And i--it's a kind of outer directedness. Tha--that's probably a more complicated answer than--than--than you're looking for, but I--I think there--there is--is a certain, you know, kind of quasi-celebrity associated with--with it that's very attractive to us--to people of a certain mindset.
LAMB: When did you change, if you did change?
Mr. STEIN: Well, I--I did change. Of course, that's what the book is about. I changed initially when--when my daughter was born. It was 1981, and my wife shocked me and certainly shocked all of her friends by deciding to stay home with our child, which at that point was virtually unheard of in our circle. She had had a very prestigious job; didn't enjoy it part--enjoy it particularly much and loved staying home with our child.

Now this was a period, in the early '80s, when the women's magazines were not only saying that day care was an acceptable alternative to--to stay-at-home parenthood, but in many ways was superior. It was better for the child. It was better so--the child was better socialized. And she very quickly felt very isolated. She was regarded by her friends, all of whom were, of course, feminists, as kind of a non-person for having made this choice, and I think that was a shock to her.

What I began to see was h--how well our child was--was doing. She was thriving at home. We were delirious with--with joy at our--with our family. And a year or so later I got a call from Esquire, for whom I was then doing a column called Ethics, asking if I was interested in doing a piece for the special issue they were doing on women. And I said, `I'd like to kind of look at day care and examine some of the underlying premises,' which no one had really done before. Again, it was a given; it was handed down from on high.

So I began doing standard research; I started calling child-care professionals, visiting day-care centers. And, to my surprise, most of the child-care professionals I called had never been asked these questions before, including a guy named Lee Salk, who was a very prominent child psychologist and brother of Jonas Salk, who was adamantly opposed, it turned out, to--to day care or at least had very significant questions as to its long-term effect. And I remember he had a quote which was quite inflammatory, which was, `I love dogs, but I would never have one in a New York apartment because it's not fair for--for the dog--to the dog. I think people who can afford not to put their children in day care'--or, I'm sorry, `Children who can afford--people who can afford to take care of their children and--and choose not to should consider not having any.'

And I must say, in retrospect, the piece was pretty mild, that quote notwithstanding. It just essentially raised the questions. And I expected, as a good liberal, that it would generate a free and open discussion on an important subject. Instead, the walls came tumbling down. I mean, I go--I--got a fuselage of--of hate mail. I was accused of being a--you know, anti-woman, a misogynist. I guess I--I got some initial accusations of fascism.

And it was then that I--I had the first inkling that--that there were certain orthodoxies that simply could not be questioned, certainly not in the area wh--which I was, which was, you know, New York journalism. That you were not merely wrong, you were mean-spirited or evil. Now it would be imprecise to say, at that--I was anything like a conservative at that--at that point. That was a--a gradual process, but that kind of set it off.
LAMB: How conservative are you today?
Mr. STEIN: I--I'm not all that conservative. I mean, I--I like to think I'm commonsensical. In fact, I was talking with a friend of mine, and--and what--what he was saying was how little, in fact, we've changed in--in terms of our core beliefs; that, basically, we believe in the same things we did 20 years ago. It's just the culture--in particular, liberalism--has kind of moved pell-mell to the left in--in--in such a way that we were left behind.

One example: obviously, af--affirmative action. I mean, we were both big--very much involved in the civil rights movement and believed h--in our hearts--heart and soul that Martin Luther King's dictum of, `One should be judged by the content of his character, not the color of his skin'--we still believe that. And it's very difficult, if you really believe that, to reconcile a fervent belief in affirmative action. I understand it's well intentioned, I understand all the arguments, but there are people who are being very badly treated because of the color of their skin. That's just a quite obvious example.

In terms of feminism, I remember back when--when I was working for New Times, as a matter of fact, in the early '70s, how we would laugh when conservatives would sh--warn that, you know, what--what we were looking at was co-ed bathrooms, and what we were looking at in the future was a feminized military in which decisions were made on the basis of gender rather than--than on strategic need. And we would hoot and deride and laugh, and here we are, 25 years later, and those things have come to pass. And what's particularly interesting is they've come to pass virtually without comment. The slide has been so slow and gradual that--that people simply accept it. So, in that sense, I don't think I've changed very much at all, oddly enough.
LAMB: I'm going to go to your book, and your--your chapters aren't numbered.
Mr. STEIN: No.
LAMB: Is that on purpose?
Mr. STEIN: Yeah. I tried to make them bleed in--into one another kind of smoothly.
LAMB: There's a series in the middle. This one is Nexus in The New York Times and, `The Independent Counsel Statute, basically invented by liberals to ensnare those on the right, has lately been put to what must seem, for journalists'--claimingly--`claiming neutrality, unsettling uses.' What are you getting at here?
Mr. STEIN: Well, the Nexus, for people who aren't familiar with it, it--it's a Web tool, which enables one to call up old articles at, basically, the touch of a finger. And conservatives have begun using this--there's a guy at The New York Post who does this all the time--to indicate liberal bias in the media of the ways--the way in which certain words are used and characters...
LAMB: Let--let me read something. Who's Dan Seligman, by the way?
Mr. STEIN: He's the guy at The Post...
LAMB: He is the guy...
Mr. STEIN: ...I was referring to. Yeah.
LAMB: Well, you--then you list them. You said, `The term "mean-spirited" appeared in The New York Times 102 times, almost always affixed to conservatives and not once to liberals.'
Mr. STEIN: Right.
LAMB: Why do you think?
Mr. STEIN: Well, that's the way journalists, by and large, see it. I mean, they--there's nothing i--in their minds mean-spirited about saying that.
LAMB: They say that 20 stories referred to right-wing Republicans, just two to left-wing Democrats.
Mr. STEIN: Right. Same thing. I mean, it is the prism through which they see the world, that they consider themselves moderate. They consider what mo--most of America, or at least much of America, would consider extremely liberal views to be mainstream opinion.
LAMB: What's the comparison that you did in here between Dan Quayle and Ted Kennedy?
Mr. STEIN: Well, I was comparing--I--I used Nexus on my own to dredge up the old Dan Quayle `potato' thing and see how that was covered vs. a s--a similar--it was not an identical, but a similar kind of gaff made by Ted Kennedy during the 1998 Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run case, which, of course, dominated the headlines. And at one point, Teddy Kennedy gave an interview trying to, I guess, show that he was a common man with a common touch, trying to talk about McGwire and Sosa, totally mangling their names. I believe it was Mike--Mike McGwire...
LAMB: Mike--Mike McGwire and Sammy Shusher.
Mr. STEIN: Shusher, Shusher. Either he'd never heard a sports report, or he'd--or he'd just read it from the page or some--anyway, it was--it was an embarrassment that was kind of laughed at at ESPN, which is where I caught it, and was very curious to see the extent to which it was covered in the papers, and it was covered almost not at all.
LAMB: Well, you say here that there were 716 references to Quayle and 37 references to Kennedy.
Mr. STEIN: Right. Right.
LAMB: What's that prove?
Mr. STEIN: Well, it proved that, you know, Quayle was easy to laugh at. If you're looking to laugh at someone, it's easy to find ways to--ways to make fun of--fun of them. They could have very well ignored the Quayle `potato' thing or--or made light of it or--or not--not done much with it at all. And, by the same token, they could have taken Ted Kennedy thing and made him much more of a laughingstock than they chose to. It was played in a way that did not--not damage Kennedy at all.
LAMB: Then the next chapter is about a kind of review you would expect from The New York Times...
Mr. STEIN: Yeah, that's...
LAMB: ...for your book.
Mr. STEIN: That's embarrassing. Well, I must say I--I went after The Times quite vigorously as kind of the repository of all things evil for culture, and I predicted I would not be reviewed at all at The Times, but if I was, I--I--it--I would be reviewed very disparagingly.
LAMB: S--here--here's what you wrote. You s--you--you--you say The New York Times would review you saying, `a mishmash of bitterness, ideological gibberish and frenzied self-justification.' Then you go to The New York Times Book Review and you'd say, `Stein proves himself at once a bully and an intellectual weakling. His section on the world's greatest newspaper is especially laughable.'
Mr. STEIN: Well, what's particularly--what ends up being laughable--I mean, I really have egg on my face and--not bad egg, but it--the book is actually reviewed in this Sunday's Times Book Review with a rapturously favorable review. I don't know how it ended up in this guy's hands, but he called me a prophet and, you know, I--I was--I was very pleased to see the review, and it certainly squares me with certain members of my family, who...
LAMB: What--what do you think of The New York Times, and what did you write--I mean, there's a whole chapter in here about...
Mr. STEIN: Well, I--my feelings about The New York Times are pretty complex. I used to write for The Times Magazine a fair amount. You know, classically, The Times was the great newspaper and, in many ways, it still is. I mean, if you want to be well informed, you have to read The Times for its foreign coverage, for its coverage of the arts and many other things. But The Times also has an agenda and has been very aggressively pursuing it. And as I say in the book, I think particularly since its current publisher known as Pinch Sulzberger, the younger Sulzberger, took over in the early '90s.

You know, he is a guy who essentially is pursuing most of the ideological goals that--that we, in the '60s, beg--that our generation kind of embraced and has carried forward. You know, it's very much a part of the feminist--you know, feminist--it's very feminist in its views, le--let's put it that way. In terms of race, it's very pro-affirmative action. Basically, it's the standard, left liberal agenda, which is pursued not only editorially, which is certainly their right on the op-ed page, but colors many other parts of the paper. You--you know, movie--movie reviews I cited there. I cited their--their science coverage even. And it's really quite distressing--actually, amusing sometimes, too--when you see the--the lengths to which they will go to politicize--to politicize things, which have no reason to be politicized.
LAMB: When you were writing for The New York Times Magazine, did they think you were a liberal?
Mr. STEIN: Well, I was, basically. I mean, this is...
LAMB: And now that you're conservative, or whatever you label yourself--not a liberal--what do they--how do they treat you now?
Mr. STEIN: Well, I've--I haven't written for them in quite a long time and I would be surprised if I was asked to at this point.
LAMB: What do you--how do you make your living now?
Mr. STEIN: Well, I write books. I do some stuff for television. I've done some film work. Prior to this, I did a couple of novels for--commercial novels, medical thrillers. So--they pay better than this kind of writing.
LAMB: Your wife, Priscilla, what does she do for a living?
Mr. STEIN: She writes children's books.
LAMB: Now is she conservative?
Mr. STEIN: Yes. We kind of did this in tandem. You know, it's an odd thing. Priscilla, whe--when I met her, was adamant on the other side as she is now on this side. She went to Berkeley and was part of that whole revolution in the '60s. But as I say, she was very involved in our kind of mutual journey through parenthood.
LAMB: What's the `scum group'?
Mr. STEIN: Priscilla, shortly after Reagan was elected--now this would have been 1980-81--some journalist friends of hers formed a group called New York Women--or New York Journalists, I can't remember--Against Right-Wing Scum. And, basically, it was--the ostensible purpose of it, which never really happened, was to find ways to combat conservative thought and Reagan in particular. It ended up being kind of a standard women's group with people whining about men. And so she would go there on a weekly basis and come back more and more distressed by what she perceived to be these people's unbelievable narcissism, an inability to see anything from any perspective but their own.
LAMB: In the middle of the book again, where--the nexus area and all--you have--it--it actually only amounts to two pages. It's a pop quiz: Choose The Most Biased Network Anchor.
Mr. STEIN: Yes.
LAMB: What--how--where'd you get this idea?
Mr. STEIN: Well, it--it was--that was actually borrowed from--from Reed Irvine's group. I think his accuracy in media--I--I believe that's where it was from. I--I'd seen it somewhere else. It--it might have been on the--on the Web. But in any case, those were thoroughly widely disseminated quotes from each of the three network anchors, which were quite astonishing just taken out of context and just placed there on the page surrounded by white space, seeing what these people said. And basically, I--I tried--I--the quiz I made was trying to guess who said what and to try to determine who was the most biased of the three.
LAMB: Well, here's one of them. This is the third one. `If we'--this is the quote from one of the anchormen.
Mr. STEIN: Right.
LAMB: "If we could be 100 as great as you and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been in the White House, we'd take it right now and walk away winners. Thank you very much and tell Mrs. Clinton we respect her and we're pulling for her." This is from May 27th, 1993, right after he was elected.
Mr. STEIN: Right.
LAMB: Who--who said that?
Mr. STEIN: That was Dan Rather. And--and essentially it was when he and Connie Chung were--were starting their kind of joint anchorship. And they interviewed Clinton and--and the partnership that he was talking about was his--his own and Connie Chung's, which, of course, did not last.
LAMB: And then another one is, `Do you think this is a party that is dominated by men and this convention is dominated by men as well? Do you think before tonight, they thought very much about what happens in America with rape?' That's August 13th, 1996, to a rape victim who just appeared before the Republican National Convention.
Mr. STEIN: Right.
LAMB: Excuse me. Who was that?
Mr. STEIN: I think you're going to have to help me. It was either--it was either Jennings or--it was probably Jennings but it might have been Brokaw.
LAMB: No, it was Brokaw.
Mr. STEIN: It was Brokaw.
LAMB: And then you have the thing that was quoted quite often about the--Peter Jennings from 1994.
Mr. STEIN: Right.
LAMB: "Some thoughts on these angry voters. Ask parents of a two-year-old and they can tell you about the temper tantrums." That was--what was that from? Do you remember?
Mr. STEIN: Yeah. That was--that was Jennings' reaction to the Republican victories in Congress in--in '94.
LAMB: Do you think it matters what the--the politics of these anchormen or these publications--politics is or not?
Mr. STEIN: Yeah. I--I--I do. I think it matters a great deal because I think it colors the atmosphere in which we live. I mean, a lot of conservatives get de--get depressed, frankly, turning on the news because they don't see themselves represented. They--they feel that thi--that this is a hostile climate in which they live in which the reason for the success of someone like Rush Limbaugh--you know, the--finally, I'm no--you know, I think liberals ma--misunderstand Limbaugh's appeal. They think that he's kind of this messiah who n--who needs people. In fact, he, himself, has said that he merely provides a forum where people see themselves reflected, which for a long time they haven't.

And by the way, one of the wonderful things about--about your network is exactly that, that people do not hear what they perceive to be biased news. You know, every time someone calls up and says, `Thank you, C-SPAN,' I think that's what they're saying.
LAMB: The--you have a quiz here. This is on page 215. What is the name of the intern President Clinton angrily described as `that woman'? What's this quiz all about? There's more than that, there's a bunch of questions.
Mr. STEIN: Yes. Yes, yes. Well, yeah, you're starting off with a very easy one because I was giving people a break. This was--I was talking about the ignorance with which many people walk to the--to the polling place. The fact that--that we take our civic responsibilities so lightly in this culture and that didn't used to be the way it was. It used to be understood that citizenship was a--an obligation to be taken seriously. Now--and--and so what I was suggesting here, in a kind of tongue-in-cheek way, was that--that maybe we should take a rudimentary voting test. Now, of course, those would be mi--misinterpreted by liberals as `What about the poll tax in the South?' and `What about voter'--it's not that at all. This is a test to discriminate simply on the basis of lack of information. Every--it's completely egalitarian.
LAMB: Questions like: Name the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union in 1942.
Mr. STEIN: Yeah. Easy stuff. I mean, I was not trying to trick anybody. I just wanted a rudimentary sense of history and civics.
LAMB: What do you think of MTV's Rock The Vote?
Mr. STEIN: Well, that's part of what I was talking about. You know, this idea to just sign up as many people as you can and that--that's good citizenship. I think--I think it's very dangerous. I think to the extent that people are--are--are misinformed or uninformed, we--we're--we're--we're doing injustice to our democracy.
LAMB: On page 213, you have: `The following is a listing of all the movies shown during a single week, January 3rd to the 9th, 1999, on Lifetime.'
Mr. STEIN: Yeah.
LAMB: Now what's that about?
Mr. STEIN: Well, I was talking about one of the aspects--one of the many aspects that I deride in the women's movement is--is the fact that they've promoted emotion as opposed to logic as--as--as--as equally valid in decision-making and in living one's life. And Lifetime--time TV is kind of the--the televised spokesman--spokeswoman for that--for that point of view. And basically, that is a list of movies that have appeared in a single week in--in--on Lifetime, which, when you read them cumut--cumulatively, it's hilarious. Because they're about--they're all about women as victims, women fighting off muggers and rapists and evil husbands and--and--you know, it--it--this notion that women are victims all the time, are totally besieged in this culture by--by predatory males.
LAMB: You did a project once--or tried to do a project once called The Wisdom of our Elders. When was that?
Mr. STEIN: It was about 10 or 12 years ago.
LAMB: And how'd it go?
Mr. STEIN: Didn't go so well.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. STEIN: Well, first of all, I--I think the public and community wasn't really open to it. It was before the, you know, Bill Bennett's book about values took off and it--I wanted it to be a book in which people who had lived a long time and lived fruitful and successful lives would reflect on--on--on their pasts and--and kind of convey some--some wisdom--learned wisdom to the rest of us.
LAMB: Where'd you go? Who'd you talk to?
Mr. STEIN: I spoke to--well, among the peo--let me see, I spoke to Bill Fulbright...
LAMB: Former senator from Arkansas.
Mr. STEIN: Former senator from Arkansas. I spoke to Hal Roach, the creator of "The Little Rascals," the great film producer. I spoke to a number of others. I mean, what I found in--in those two, and--and several others in particular, was not much wisdom at all, I must say.
LAMB: Well, let me quote you about what you said about--where--where did you go? Where--for those who don't remember William Fulbright, a Democrat...
Mr. STEIN: Well, he was a Democrat from Arkansas. He was much beloved during the--during the Vietnam War by--by those of us who were against the war because he was the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And was--held hearings and was perceived as standing up against the war. He was also the mentor to the young Bill Clinton. He was a real intellectual in the Senate--you know, and we tended to overlook the fact that he was also a racist all the way through. I mean, he never supported a civil right--civil rights bill.
LAMB: He'd sign the Southern manifesto.
Mr. STEIN: Right.
LAMB: But you say in here, `I found a tart-tongued old man still unaccountably nursing grudges and adversaries almost no one else even remembered.'
Mr. STEIN: Right.
LAMB: Where'd you find him?
Mr. STEIN: Oh, he wasn't hard to find. He was listed in--in the Washington phone directory. He was still practicing law then or he was kind of a figurehead at this law firm. But he was open to the interview and was actually, you know, I think pleased that someone wanted to talk to him.
LAMB: You come here to do it...
Mr. STEIN: I came here. And, you know, we spent a good half day together and I did--did several hours of tape on him.
LAMB: But you found him amazingly unthoughtful.
Mr. STEIN: Yeah. I--I--I expected that he would really be reflective and kind of quietly thoughtful about--about mistakes he had made, about things he had done right and the things he had done wrong. Instead, he--and thi--this held true for Hal Roach also--still wanted to be in the game. I mean, I think pe--the lesson of that for me is that people who are kind of consumed by this kind of ambition through their lives rarely drop it. That it--that that's the engine that gets them through. And in--in a way, this gets back to what I was trying to say about journalists before. I think a lot of journalists have that. They're not particularly reflective. The--they're kind of driven to succeed. They want to be important. They want to be famous. They're outer directed and their sense of self is very much derived from--from being part of the action.
LAMB: How much of that do you have?
Mr. STEIN: Well, it's something I've tried to fight. I mean, it's certainly--certainly something I recognize in myself. I think with the coming of children, it was very much mitigated and, you know, all these things were of a piece. I think as you think about these things and reach certain recognitions, if you're wise, you act on them. You end up feeling a lot better. I mean, the thing is when I was a much more successful liberal journalist, probably than I am now, I was probably a lot less happy.
LAMB: And your daughter, Sadie, has she had a year at University of Chicago?
Mr. STEIN: Just finished. In fact, she came down with me today. She's visiting friends here.
LAMB: What did--what'd she tell you? What does she tell her father when she reads all this kind of stuff? What's her reaction?
Mr. STEIN: Well, Sadie is not particularly political, although she's very commonsensical. She--she did say at one point, `I--I wish you and mama weren't so conservative sometimes.' Because it is--I think it is tough for her being a--being a 19-year-old, you know, in--in co--in--in college these days. But she also, I think, is very proud of it and, in her own way, is very much the same way. I mean, she's very socially conservative. She has a real kind of contempt for some of the mores of her generation. You know, people who--who follow friends and--whether it be in dress, whether it be in drug use or alcohol use, sexual behaviors. I mean, she is very commonsensical and actually very conservative socially.
LAMB: What does she think of the University of Chicago now that she's had a year there?
Mr. STEIN: She loves it. She loves it. She feels at home there. She feels there are a lot of people like her.
LAMB: What about Charlie? Now how old is he?
Mr. STEIN: Charlie's 15.
LAMB: He's 15 and...
Mr. STEIN: Just finishing his sophomore year.
LAMB: He's in--you say he has a great desire to go to Dartmouth?
Mr. STEIN: Yeah. Well, we'll see--see how that plays out.
LAMB: And--and is he political? And what--what's his reaction to his parents?
Mr. STEIN: Well, I wouldn't say he's political in the way that we are, but he is--is very strong-willed and gets in trouble for--with a per--for arguing sometimes. He's very principled and has a real--very well-developed sense of fairness and unfairness. And--I mean, the--the big argument he got in--he got into in the past school year was when he--a teacher of his said that "Huckleberry Finn" was a racist book. And Charlie, who loves the book and is familiar with it, stood up and said, `It's an anti-racist book. Twain was anti-racist and he was writing the context of his time.' And this dragged on for quite awhile, this--this brouhaha and Charlie came home with a big smile one day and said, `Well, I'm starting off with a C in that class and working down from there.' So, you know, Charlie I--I'm afraid will ca--take some lumps along the way, but I have great admiration for him.
LAMB: In your book, you have the Titanic quiz...
Mr. STEIN: Right.
LAMB: ...or test you call it.
Mr. STEIN: Mm-hmm.
LAMB: And I'll show what it looks like. What is it?
Mr. STEIN: Well, what it was--I--I did a little section on the Titanic. I was talking about the whole subject of honor and what has happened to honor in this culture. And I went back to some of the initial reporting at the time of the Titanic disaster, and it was really quite extraordinary, much more so than was shown in the movie even; the nobility of--of the behavior of some of the people on that boat. There's one episode I--I talk about there where someone actually swam to a lifeboat and wanted--wanted to get in and was told that--that it was too full and it wa--it was in danger of capsizing. And he politely thanked them and swam off to die. So what I did here was speculated on how various contemporary figures would have behaved had they been in--in--in a life situation.
LAMB: Take--Ted Kennedy's on your list and the four categories are: Gone Down With the Ship, Cried Then Gone Down with the Ship, Tried Arguing Way into Lifeboat and Disguised Self as a Woman. What would Ted Kennedy have done, in your opinion?
Mr. STEIN: I think--I think either option three or four.
LAMB: He would have either tried arguing way on to the lifeboat...
Mr. STEIN: Or disguised self as woman.
LAMB: Disguised self as woman.
Mr. STEIN: Disguised self as a woman was kind of reserved, in my mind, for Bill Clinton. But Teddy Kennedy I certainly don't think would have shown any courage at all. I mean, in--in Te--Kennedy's case, we actually have--we have a case history how he acted in a crisis.
LAMB: I actually wrote down what you said about--did you call Bill Clinton a creep? You had some strong words for him.
Mr. STEIN: I don't--I don't recall if I used that word. I certainly wouldn't take it back if I did.
LAMB: What do you think of him and--and...
Mr. STEIN: I think--I think he's a so--I think he has great charm, let's give him that, as opposed to his wife and Al Gore. I think he's clearly likeable and quite effective in--in many ways. I also think he's a--he's a soulless individual who has done great damage to the culture.
LAMB: In what way?
Mr. STEIN: Well, in the ways people have talked about a lot in terms of children as a--as a model. You know, this is a man who had--the chief law enforcement officer of--of the land who felt no compunction about lying to a grand jury. I think those things have--have a terribly cynicizing effect on a culture.
LAMB: There's a quote in the back I wanted to ask you about--page 270. `Just flipping on the TV can be enough to make clear how woefully out of step we are with the most visible elements of the culture. Why isn't everyone upset with the--about the craven media and the feminists, the race baiters and the teachers unions, the endless double entendres on family sitcoms, the blather that passes for serious thought?' You're asking this--those questions. Why do you think those questions should be answered?
Mr. STEIN: Well, it goes to what you were asking before about conservatives and--and whether we feel beleaguered in--in the culture. I think we do. That--that's the point I was making, that--that--that you're faced with a media which does not represent your values or you. And it--and it's--the list is kind of inclusive intentionally because we're not only talking about news reports, we're talking about the sitcoms, too. We're talking about MTV. We're talking about all kinds of things.

I mean, take a show like "Seinfeld," which I think is a terrific show, which we used to watch as a family, but it was very distressing because the kids--we really weren't comfortable with the kids watching it a lot of the time. In our family, when the kids were maybe, you know, 12 and 9 or maybe 11 and 14 even, we would suddenly say, `This is inappropriate' and they would know to leave when--when Jerry was having some affair with somebody. And it--even a very well-written, smart show like that is--was--was I think--is I think pretty coarsening to kids.
LAMB: You even have a guide in here for people who--well, you tell them what you read--you and Priscilla read. I assume that's also meant as a guide for others who may not have thought about this, but...
Mr. STEIN: Oh, you mean the conservative publications that I have.
LAMB: Yes.
Mr. STEIN: Well, what I did--I mean, the point I was making there was that--was that liberals make assumptions about conservatives with very little knowledge. I mean, we who are on the other side of the spectrum are necessarily exposed all the time to progressive publications, whether it's The New York Times or, you know, whether it's network news. They're not. Basically, they know what they know about the right by innuendo and rumor. So what I was doing was recommending some publications that they were seriously interested in finding out what the other side thought, that they might profit by taking a look at it.
LAMB: So what do you get out of The Weekly Standard?
Mr. STEIN: I think The Weekly Standard is a terrific magazine. It's a--it's a very smart, neo-conservative publication edited by Bill Kristol here in Washington, which I think offers thoughtful takes on--on--on subjects which often are dealt with in a very conventional manner. I'll give you one example. They had a recent story on the whole John Rocker controversy in which they talked about Rocker--certainly not forgiving or--or excusing what he had said, but talking about the level of the reaction--the character of the reaction to him vis-a-vis other provocations, racist provocations from the left, which--which have elicited almost no outcry.
LAMB: The others that you list are The American Spectator, Commentary, Heterodoxy, the National Review and The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. STEIN: Right.
LAMB: If you just spend your life reading those publications, what kind of a view of the world do you get...
Mr. STEIN: Well...
LAMB: ...and is it smart to just read those?
Mr. STEIN: No. Absolutely not. And I--I don't advocate that. I think you get as narrow and biased a view as most New York Times readers get of the world.
LAMB: I--is there enough choice in this country for people who don't want to read the liberal publications?
Mr. STEIN: Oh, I think there is. I think you have to go out and look for it because none of those are mainstream publications. I mean, they--you know, they're not Time and Newsweek. Even U.S. News & World Report, which--which I kind of like--you know, there's John Leo, who's a wonderful, I think, conservative columnist. But basically, it's otherwise pretty down the middle. So essentially, you know, the mainstream media is, as charged, pretty--pretty liberal. But you can go out looking and find alternatives.
LAMB: Now you lived in Paris for a while. When and for what reason?
Mr. STEIN: I lived in Paris, I think, twice, but the time I talk about in the book was from '76 through '78. I was kind of back and forth. Some friends and I started a newspaper there called The Paris Metro, which was a real lark and a hoot and was tremendous fun. I recommend it to anyone in their 20s.
LAMB: And what'd you live there for the second time?
Mr. STEIN: Well, that was--that was--that was the second time. The first time, I actually spent a year there after journalism school when I free-lanced and wrote for the Herald Tribune.
LAMB: Now you--you write about one your favorite people in history and--that you've been around and knew, Wayne Morris.
Mr. STEIN: Yeah.
LAMB: And you write about honor. What's the honor thing that you're interested in?
Mr. STEIN: Well, Morris, of course, who was among the most liberal of senators during the--wa--he actually joined the Senate in the '40s and--and was defeated finally in 1968. He was the earliest and most adamant opponents of the war. He was one of the two senators to vote against the Tonkin--Tonkin Gulf resolution in 1964 and was really kind of a hero to a lot of us in the '60s because he was a guy who was--he wasn't interested in being polite about his views. He saw what he regarded as an obscenity and spoke out about it in the most forceful possible terms. And I went--I was fortunate enough to interview Morris shortly before he died.

He write--he tried to reclaim that same seat that had been taken from him by Bob Packwood, interestingly enough, in 1974 and was running in the Democratic primary in Oregon. And I was working for New Times then and wrangled an assignment to--to cover Morris. And I was the only reporter--reporter with him. And found in person he was not terribly personable, not--not a particularly nice guy. But he was--I--I cited one thing in there which was actually from my piece where he walked into a TV studio and he found a penny on the floor. He said, `Oh, a lucky penny but I can't keep it. I have to give it to the studio.'

And somebody said, `Well, why don't you keep it, Senator?' One of the people that worked there. And he looked actually genuinely shocked and horrified at the suggestion. I mean, he was--even people who hated him--and many of this colleagues hated him--acknowledged his was absolutely incor--incorruptible.
LAMB: You write about Mike Wallace and his interview with Ward Connerly.
Mr. STEIN: Yeah, which I considered a disgrace.
LAMB: Why?
Mr. STEIN: Well, Ward Connerly--I should preface this by saying Ward Connerly, who was the--the California businessman--black California businessman who has organized against affirmative action in California and Washington and now more recently in Florida, is--is a man, I think, of tremendous courage and character. As a matter of fact, I think black conservatives in general--you know, they have big, broad targets on their backs and have taken more abuse than anyone and I have enormous respect for--for people like Connerly.

And Wallace did a job on him in a--in a "60 Minutes" profile, a kind of nasty job in which he was belittling him and questions were disrespectful. He had--the choices he made in terms of who he interviewed among his family members--I just thought it was a nasty, nasty job.
LAMB: You--you were talking about the earlier story you did for the Richmond Mercury and then New Times. Did reporters get nasty on purpose?
Mr. STEIN: I think it is profitable to one's career to tear down the powerful and particularly certain kinds of powerful. I don't think there's any question. You know, one of the--one of my thoughts about the John Rocker piece as soon as I--as I read about it was although the reporter denies it, I think--you know, I think he went after Rocker. It's easy--it's easy to do. I've done a lot of sports writing in my life. And if you want to get somebody, a 25-year-old kid and kind of worm your way into his good graces, it isn't hard to do. I mean, these guys want to be liked. And then get him to say something which is dumb or offensive or makes him look bad and use it against him, you can do that. I mean, I had opportunities to do that plenty of times. I--I tended not to do it with people I liked when I was a liberal and tended to do it--to--to do it against people I didn't like.
LAMB: What's the difference between Jimmy the Greek, Al Campanis, Andy Rooney and Jimmy Breslin?
Mr. STEIN: Well, the--the point I was making there was--was here were four guys who suffered major career crises. They each said something which was hugely embarrassing and career--career threatening. In the case of Campanis and Jimmy the Greek, their careers were, in fact, destroyed. In the case of--of the other two, they were not: Andy Rooney and Jimmy Breslin. And I think a very compelling case can be made it's because of the nature of who they were, who their friends were and how they were connected.

I mean, Andy Rooney said something which was taken to be deeply, deeply offensive by homosexuals. He served a suspension and came back. And it's all pretty much forgotten now. Jimmy Breslin made what was regarded as a racist crack to a--to an Asian woman and then went on Howard Stern and repeated it. And same thing, he came back. Jimmy the Greek was fired from--from CBS for, again, probably a more innocuous comment.

In Al Campanis' case, here was a guy who was known to be a friend of black ball players and--I mean, a professional friend. He had brought in more blacks into the Dodger farm system than any other executive in baseball; had been the roommate of--of Jackie Robinson and, in fact, was on "Nightline" that--that night to honor Jackie Robinson. And his career was absolutely wrecked because he got tongue-tied and said something stupid.
LAMB: Earlier in your book, you have a letter from Sullivan Blue to Sarah, `My dear Sarah.' What's the point?
Mr. STEIN: Well, that is, of course, the famous letter that appeared in Ken Burns' Civil War documentary out--from the soldier who was about to die on the battlefield at, I believe, first Bull Run--the beautiful poetic letter to his wife and children about honor. And I acknowledge in the book, you know, we've seen the letter a lot, everyone's heard about it, but I think it should be printed on milk cartons and posters and everywhere else because I think it is so tremendously moving and meaningful. And it's something we in--in the culture, as it now exists, ne--need to be reminded of.
LAMB: Well, one of the lines is, `And I am willing--perfectly willing--to lay down all my joys in this life to help maintain this government and to pay that debt.' This was July the 14th, 1861.
Mr. STEIN: Right.
LAMB: Do you ever get together with your old liberal friends and talk over why you're the way you are and the way--they are the way they are?
Mr. STEIN: Yeah. I mean, as I say, most of my friends--I think the more--the more--the more thoughtful of them have kind of moved in the same direction. I mean, we agreed wi--with each other then and have continued to talk along the way. And there's been great solace in that. I've broken wi--with a few or vice versa, they've broken with me. I don't think it--it's been acrimonious necessarily be--because we look at the world so differently now.
LAMB: You ever talk to Frank Rich about this?
Mr. STEIN: No. Frank and I had--had a pretty unpleasant falling out.
LAMB: Over what? Anything you can talk about?
Mr. STEIN: It was a combination of things. I mean, it wa--it was--it was--it--it's complicated, but it wa--it was more personal I would--I would say than political.
LAMB: Anybody that we know that, you know, is on the other side that you've talked to and that they've--you know, their state maintained liberal--what I'm trying to get at is wh--why did you go conservative and why did they stay liberal? Wh--do you have any sense of what it is?
Mr. STEIN: Well, I--I--one has certain theories but, you know, that--they would probably sound unkind to those people. I mean, look--I mean, for one thing, it is a--definitely a career risk in this business to move to the right. There's no question that--I mean, I know, for example, I'm not welcome at certain publications where I used to write all the time because of my politics. It's not a secret and I--and I can live with that.

I--I think if you're outspoken in certain ways that are deemed offensive to large numbers of people in--in that crowd, you're--you know, you--you pay for it. And so without going into--into particulars--I'm--I'm--you know, not everyone is willing to do that.
LAMB: You said in 1992, you voted for Ross Perot.
Mr. STEIN: I did.
LAMB: The first time in your life you had not voted for a Democrat.
Mr. STEIN: Right. I--I'm--I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't. It's thrown up by my wife in my face all the time. But yes, I did. She said I should have voted for George Bush. What was I thinking, basically?
LAMB: Why did you vote for him?
Mr. STEIN: Well, I--I didn't re--I was--was one of those who was kind of energized and--and initially very hopeful about Perot. That kind of dissipated during the course of the campaign after he dropped out and came back in and didn't think much of him by the end, but didn't already dislike Clinton intensely and had not much use for George Bush, who I thought was kind of--didn't stand for very much.
LAMB: Where is honor for you today in politics?
Mr. STEIN: Well, I was a McCain supporter actually. I--I--I liked the fact that he was talking about--about those issues and presented himself--presented that as an important issue. And people said he had no real issues and he kind of thought of him--some of them--I think there was a certain proof to that. But I--I liked who he was and what he stood for and I think a lot of people responded the same way to him as an individual. You know, I think Joe Lieberman has a certain amount of honor, although I was disappointed that he ended up not voting for impeachment after his initial remarks. You know, there are--there are individuals across the spectrum--again, Ward Connerly, I think, is a tremendously honorable individual.
LAMB: This cover you got here shows you here with a moustache, it shows you here with a full beard. Where--where were those two pictures taken?
Mr. STEIN: Well, the first one--you know, I was looking for a shot of myself from the way I used to be, and it almost looks like a generic shot. It could be any of 10,000 people. It was, in fact, me and it was a passport photo. And the really depressing thing about that shot is because it was a passport photo, I tried really hard to look my best and that--that was the result. The moustache I had until about a year and a half ago, I guess, and that shot was taken then.
LAMB: This is the cover of the book. It's called "How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy" by Harry Stein, our guest. And we thank you very much.
Mr. STEIN: Thank you, Brian.
Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 2000. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.