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
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
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
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
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
Mr. STEIN: I had gone to journalism school.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
Mr. STEIN: Oh, you mean the conservative publications that I have.
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
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
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
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
LAMB: You write about Mike Wallace and his interview with Ward
Mr. STEIN: Yeah, which I considered a disgrace.
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,
LAMB: You--you were talking about the earlier story you did for the
Richmond Mercury and then New Times. Did reporters get nasty on
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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.
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