Up with Liberalism
Clever, versatile and a can-do woman, that's Mary Lyon. She's a pillar of the Los Angeles community. She's a beacon on the recycling front. She reared two progressive, involved and intelligent children. She broke down barriers for women in Los Angeles radio. Her views on politics, parenting and the Roman Catholic Church reveal remarkable insight and passion.
Mary acts on her beliefs. Action is her style, even if it is not the easiest path. Her family lives in a home, with a roof made of recycled tires. Her tactic for promoting "green" is creating market demand. Her efforts already show signs of success. Mary wants sunny California to be the "Solar Energy Capital of the World."
After her first child, Mary experienced new and life-altering challenges. She noticed many of the women around her had the same worries about parenting mysteries as she did. Mary soon became the "Answer Mom," eventually reaching out to these women in a best-selling book, "The Frazzled Working Woman's Practical Guide to Motherhood." In the book, Mary offers solutions and tips to the common challenges women face as they navigate parenthood.
Being the only Catholic in her family gives Mary an interesting perspective on the workings of the Church. Of special concern, to her, is the flagrant blindness, of the Church to the role of women. "The talents, intelligence, energy and gifts, of the women, go unused," she says.
Of her successes, Mary is most proud of her children. She took a firm stand, early: no subject was off limit or taboo in her home. Her children got the facts, on every subject. They heard about sides, of an issue, with which Mary did not agree. Mary and her husband, Bruce, allowed their children to make up their own minds. Mary openly discussed controversial subjects. She took time to explain ideas her children picked up from watching television or listening to radio. She wanted them to know the truth, all of it.
The USA, Mary says, changed drastically after 11 September 2001. America grew great, she says, on the idea there should be rights for everyone; opposing views weren't wrong. Americans had to express and practice their beliefs, as long as they fell under the rule of law.
Since 911, the mind-set of the USA has changed. The attitude is aggressive, intolerant and harsh. Opposing views, if not squashed, find little support. Bin Laden got "lucky," knocking down the Twin Towers, she says, and America overreacted.
There are not enough words to express the promise and hope that Mary Lyon exudes. She's interesting, interested and passionate. Mary Lyon lives life as an example. She confirms one person can make a difference.
"Thank gawd for Mary Lyon," says Don Barrett, of LARadio. "She was in place at a pivotal crossroads in Los Angeles Radio history: a time when male-dominated on-air jobs collapsed. Mary was the right age, the right gender and, most important, smart as anyone.
"Mary, says Barrett, "was the first woman news director at KNAC-FM. She was the first woman to conduct a talk show on KLOS-FM. At KHJ-AM, she was the first woman news director. Mary Lyon was among the first hired at the NBC Source Network. She seems as passionate about radio, today, as she did on day one."
In this interview, Mary Lyon shows why she is an island of sanity in a sea of madness. Her ideas about the environment, parenting and politics are refreshing, practical and doable. Above all, Mary confirms passion and action are inseparable.
Grub Street (GS) I want to thank you first for taking time-out of your Sunday to talk, with me. You have such a list of accomplishments and so many different causes. There's much material to talk about.
Mary Lyon (ML) Yes; well, I keep going.
GS You are one busy woman. I'd like to start with your recent interests, in particular, your environmental involvement.
ML It is recent, and something my husband and I have always been sensitive about. Recycling, honouring the earth and the other creatures on it has always been important to us. We just took a dog out of the pound the other day.
As the kids came along we became environmental apostles. We'd sneak little messages to them. Teach them and guide them. Try to help them find ways to share our appreciation of the earth, with them. Having kids makes you realize you are in it for the long-haul, and we must save the world for our children, 50 years from now; then, in turn, for their kids and their kids. It's not just about us anymore. We have to think long-term.
GS How did you go about making your children environmentally aware?
ML We made our house the "Green House." Overtime, we rebuilt it. We fixed 150 different kinds of problems. We decided we had one chance; one time and one opportunity to see this through and make a difference. It was worth the effort. It allowed us to talk the talk as we walked the walked. We didn't preach without backing it up.
We hoped this would be a big experiment about how to live, in an environmentally friendly way. Change is good, but comes hard. You do what you do one-way, for a long-time. When a time comes for change, many people resist. Change takes effort. Not everyone can or wants to spend the time and effort to change. We had people over who talked about our ideas. We talked about our plans.
Sometimes the reaction would be, "Oh gosh, you are doing this in Los Angeles?" I thought, "Why shouldn't we be doing this everywhere? Why shouldn't this be like three years ago? Why shouldn't there be 50 houses in our neighbourhood, all environmentally friendly?"
We have sunshine all year, in Southern California. Today, the weather is hot, with clear sunshine. There are no clouds in the sky. There's no reason Southern Californian can't be the solar energy capital of the world. Why are not people doing it here? Why are not people just jumping in?
The more of us, who take the plunge, at first, when it might be a little more expensive, createsa business and industry down the road. You talk about recognizing a need and then selling it; that's a good business principle to live by. "Here, in Southern California, we are setting up a need and trying to fill it, but where are the manufacturers? Where are the companies to fill the need? Where are the companies to build it into a whole new industry?
That's what they talk about in politics - about all the green industry jobs created by this particular pursuit. The jobs where you are retrofitting houses, with solar panels, in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Las Vegas or Redlands or Palm Springs and so forth. You can't do that well from India. Those jobs are right here.
GS Not even a matter of imagination, only action.
ML I'm hopeful about doing the construction and building an industry. I'd like to share one of my favourite stories. It's about our roof. Chopped up car and truck tires are the raw material for our roof shingles. The shingles look like sheetrock, which comes from the ground. People put slate on their roofs, but slate shingles are so heavy. The tires are not heavy, and look beautiful. This is rubber!
It's a little more expensive, but has a 50-year lifetime guarantee. It is wind resistant, water-resistant and fire resistant. We live in a canyon and part of California is burning up even as I speak. The fires are just a bit further north from us. This is fire season. We are dry and we are in a permanent drought. We are always vulnerable to fires. The rubber shingles, made from tires, won't ignite. So, it's much safer, too.
There are so many benefits, with this roofing. We had couple of rainstorms, since we finished the house. In the old house, I would have every pot and pan out all over the living room to catch all the leaks. After the roof repair job, we are dry as can be. When we were building, when we got to the roof part, there was much interest in these intriguing rubber shingles that we were using.
I will never forget the day a woman, decked out in a designer suit, gets out of a fancy Mercedes, in front of the house. She comes running over. She says she lives in Beverly Hills, and her house needs a roof job. We were there with our roofers. She was just looking at us. She asked, "What is it? What is going on"? The supervisor took her around and explained it. He gave her a sample shingle to take with her. She left tweeting like a little bird. She was so excited. There's a house in Beverly Hills, now, that's going to have one of these roofs on it.
The more we encourage this decision, the better. What is expensive, now, won't be as expensive in a year or two. In fact, our contractor, when he came to do our roof, said, "Well before we start there are a couple of other companies that have come on-line, since you guys began. Would like to see what they have done?" Of course we saw what the other companies did. First, there was one. Soon there were 3. Now, there are several more.
I like to remind people I'm old enough to remember when a pocket calculator cost $325 or $350. Back when Bruce, my husband, and I were just together, just married, I think, a calculator was the big Christmas present. My father-in-law gave his three sons calculators that year. That was the one special extravagant gift, for that year. They were eager to check them out. I think Texas Instruments made the calculators. Today, almost the same calculator costs a dollar and 99 cents. There was one time ballpoint pens cost $12, and now you get the whole package for 99 cents. It's just a matter of time until rubber roofs are much less costly. So, too, with everything green.
GS Do you think that neighbours and friends talking about new products or ideas and leading by example are better than advertising or other promotions?
ML I don't know if it is better or not. Every bits helps. It all contributes.
What helps are the big show and tell projects. There are many people, whom we meet, architects or contractors, who have ideas; great ideas. The problem is they don't understand how to make it happen. It sounds great in theory, but in practice, they just can't get it over. They haven't seen it done and just don't get it. When people see what's possible, see it working, they are more likely to take part.
In this country, the USA, and most of Western Culture, the visual dominates. Teachers and the education community miss this fact. When you tailor your instruction and lessons, to how people learn and see, they can put environmental or any ideas into practice.
People see how comfortable our house is; how you don't have to become the Unabomber and live somewhere in the wilderness. You can have creature comforts, modern convenience and maybe you have cheaper water bills. You pay less every time for electricity and it all starts to add up. We had Cub Scout meetings, at our house, when they needed their engineering patch or whatever, and everybody went home talking about this cool house. Their mothers came and watched. The light bulb went off at top their heads.
You don't have to push children or adults to think this way, you just show them and they get it. You hear it in a news report, on the radio, when you are driving, listening to music, reading the news or you see it on TV or whatever. You have your own neighbourhood. You can look at it, walk around and look at how beautiful it turns out. You can confirm how effective it is, how easy it is to live with, with your own eyes. How many people thought hybrid cars were odd, but you get one and you drive it around and no one complains now? All you have to do is get up close and stick your toe in the water.
GS I always considered myself to be green, too, back when it wasn't cool. Now it is cool and the "in thing," so what you think about that?
ML Yeah, it is cool. We expect green.
GS Do you think that is good or bad?
ML Yes, I think it is good. That's what moves the masses. Define as hip, and everyone wants in on it. Then you find out it is worth staying involved, not just because it is hip, but you find out more reasons to recommend it. Anything that works - I will try it.
GS I'd like to ask you about your last book, "The Frazzled Working Woman's Guide to Practical Motherhood."
ML I don't know if it is still available or not. It has been out for awhile now. I'm still happy to talk about it.
Today, I have more perspective, after several years. My kids were in grade school, when I wrote the book. Now, they are teenagers. My daughter is in college and my son is in high school. Having a baby was a lab experiment, of sorts, and it's working out well and I m grateful.
One day, many years ago, I was a childless married woman, with a career. In the terminology of marketers, my husband and I formed a DINK - double income, with no kids. The next day I was a pregnant working woman.
Most of the time, the women around me were young. A lot were newly-weds. Others lived with a lover. Some had started thinking about having a baby, after a few years of togetherness. Still others had just become pregnant.
I was older than they were and experiencing physical and mental feelings they planned to experience a little later, as they got to be my age. You couldn't miss me pregnant. I was stumbling through my life. Everybody noticed me, while I was working and pregnant. I was big as all outdoors. They asked me stuff. I became the "answer mom."
I'd be the voice people sought out. Some of the advice I gave and my observations turned out to be right on. Increasingly, the reaction was, "Wow. I never thought of that" or "Oh gee, I wish someone had told me that." Overtime, the response morphed into, "You should be writing this down."
It was as simple as telling a pregnant woman, "Make sure you have written, in your medical chart, in advance, that you can have any painkillers you want after you have the baby. Talk to your doctor in advance and set it up." I found that out that hard way, when birthing our daughter. As soon as she was out, and the epidural had worn off, I hurt like never before in my life.
Naturally, this started about 4 o'clock in the morning when it was all quiet in the Maternity Ward. I had a sweet little ole nurse, who didn't dare want to wake the doctor up. She gave me a hemorrhoid pad! I stayed there in agony, for many hours, until the nurse finally felt she had permission to call the doctor. Then I had a couple of shots of morphine.
So, I wrote the book, to help women through times, such as these. I wanted to ensure other woman knew what choices they had, and what choices were safe. First, the baby is out. Second, if you need medication, you want something that isn't going to addict you. And that's just one example.
It's not gonna work that way. The little ole nurse hesitates calling the doctor and you suffer. You want some to help you over this huge hurdle. The after-pain makes you want to jump out the window. Writing it all down, in advance, helps you stay aware of your choices, when a lack of preparation or planning leads to suffering.
Doing all this in advance, getting the approvals and so worth, makes you and medical care ready for action. The little old nurse, the lovely grandmotherly figure, who otherwise might let you suffer, now checks the chart and knows what she can do. You'll get the right medication in minutes. I learned this when I had my daughter, and it was in place when my son came along.
GS Preparation goes a long way.
ML Prepared, but naïve; I knew nothing until I went through it. I didn't realize, what I learned, until my friend, colleagues and female associates went through it, too. Most of them didn't know how to manage pregnancy and birthing. Some of my other friends, who already had babies, didn't realize it, either. This group wished they'd known. I mean there were all kinds of stuff like that.
Then my husband, Bruce, came up with clever ideas. We needed those in the book, too. One idea, which came from my husband, involved dealing with tantrums. When your child is exploding, having a temper tantrum, stand in front of him or her and say, "You know what? This is terrible. You know you can whine much better than that. I want a big loud whine and as loud you can do. You can do much better than that. You know what? And so they said "waaaaa!!!" "Now let's see. Can you do it like quiet? I want to see how quietly you can whine and they went, "woo."
It was a genius idea. The child forgets what she or he is whining about. It becomes a game. Eventually, they can't whine without laughing.
Then we had them do a medium-sized whine or they had to be able to do it while hopping on one foot. This simple idea diffused the event. It took our daughter or son out of a temper tantrum. Everyone ended in a moment together. That was one, of the ideas, my husband devised.
Even today, when we talk about that strategy, with our friends, we remember what happened. "Do you remember when we told you to whine as loud as you could?" People our age or friends, who are parents, they are just like, "God, that such a good idea. Why didn't I think of that?" Most of the time, you and I are busy and nervous about doing right. Perhaps, we don't give ourselves permission to think. That's why I wrote the book. There are many ideas in the book, like handling a tantrum.
At the time I wrote the book, I worked as an entertainment reporter for the Associated Press, the AP, on the west coast. I was doing the rounds, talking to actors, directors and others in the business, all the time. One of the actors I interviewed, Deirdre Hall, from "Days of Our Lives," had some interesting ideas, too.
ML When Hall finally had a baby, she did hers through a surrogate. By then she was on the older side. She had had many, many unsuccessful pregnancies. One, of those bad pregnancies, almost killed her.
ML So she went the surrogate mother route. She loved those babies so much. She was almost in pain! She bought a whole bunch of those disposable cameras, and she put one in every room of the house.
GS That's a great idea.
ML She had one in her laundry room. She had one by the bathtub. She had one by the front door.
Any time her child would do something adorable, the camera was ready. Hall could just snap a picture. When you are a parent there seem a hundred million opportunities that you'll have missed and been like "Oh, why didn't I get a picture of that?" Hall got them all that way.
I thought that was just brilliant. I used her idea. I gave her credit, but I put that in the book, too.
GS Wow, that's a great idea.
ML Oh, you know what; this is one of my offspring right now. I'll just pause for a moment?
GS What would we do without them?
ML Making the effort to help your children become caring, responsible men and women pays off so well. We took much time, when they were young, to talk with them, not at but to them. My husband was a hands-on dad, and the world's greatest pregnancy coach.
Now, all these years later, all the effort later, we have a son and a daughter who are wonderful people not just sentient beings. They care. They are compassionate and committed. They, too, are environmentalists, like their parents.
My daughter, as she moves through college, doesn't have to declare her major until the end of next year. She's going in to her sophomore year, in the fall, and she's interested in criminal psychology. She did an internship, this past year, with troubled kids, who are in the local jail. The way she talks, now, I feel like I'm almost talking to Chelsea Clinton or something.
My daughter talks about the deep and intense appreciation she has for her good fortune. How blessed she is. She works with troubled kids, most, of whom, didn't have a secure home. Most of the kids, in trouble, didn't have a traditional two-parent home, a family with a station wagon and a dog. Most of them didn't have any form of caring, devoted older person, in their lives. They didn't have anyone to transfer a value emphasis, provide all the kinds of security a kid needs to develop self-esteem. They had to achieve responsible adulthood, on their own, and not too many make it.
As an adult, my daughter recognizes that "much blessed, much obligated," is how it works. Now, she wants to give back. Helping other kids, who are struggling, without connections or much support, is her way of giving back.
My son is a musician. He has songs on MySpace, and his own web site, too. I'm asking everyone to go to his MySpace site, listen to his music and tell us which they like best. (Find links to these web sites at end of interview.) We are trying to put a demo tape together, and we don't know what should be the first song. He doesn't only want to be a world-class musician. He's in Washington, DC, right now, at a leadership forum on Policy and Politics. He is running for President!
ML Yeah, he is learning that he is falling in to the moderate, centre left. He says he understands business, too, but he's a staunch environmentalist. He's staunchly against the war. He's staunchly for government accountability, separation of powers, the Constitution, and all the good sides of America.
He wants to apply what he knows and believes. He wants to run for office. He wants to make a difference.
I'm thrilled to pieces. It starts when they are young. One idea I found worked, in parenting, something that surprises people is there can be no taboos in our house. There was nothing we would not talk about. I didn't care how young they were, all topics were fair game. All the forbidden fruits; religion, politics, sex and all the rest of that, we would talk about, if it came up in conversation.
When my daughter was five years old, she asked, "Mom, what's homosexuality?" Well, um, do you sweep it under the rug? Do you give them some Mother Goose tale? Do you try, as much as a five-year-old can understand? Do you try to give them ideas, filtered of your own prejudices? Do you try to give them all sides?
I don't agree with conservatives about homosexuality. That's how I feel personally. But when it came to providing information to my children, I tried to give them all sides - even if I only agreed with one side.
When you are explaining something, such as homosexuality, to a child, you have to let them know some people are uncomfortable about the topic. Some people believe it's not right. Some people think it is all right. Some people don't care.
There are many different ways of thinking about something, such as homosexuality. The conversation challenges, you as a parent, at least it did with me, to try to tell them the truth, the whole truth, at least as much as they can grasp, at whatever age. So, they get the whole story. Eventually, they make up their own mind.
Some of what we talked about went right over their heads when they were younger, so obviously you had to consider their understanding. Still, I found myself in the car, with them, driving here or there, and having long conversations with them, about whatever they wanted to talk about anything. Didn't matter what it was. I wanted them to feel all right about bringing it up, whatever it was. Driving them to auditions, appointments and school or karate and all the places children need to go. We had much time to talk. I'd usually have the news on the radio, in the car. All kinds of topics came up, on the radio, and we'd talk about everything and anything.
Later, the dividend is my kids and the way they behave around me. They appear comfortable talking to me or asking about anything. We have few secrets. They share their deepest concerns. We talk about everything. I've even had friends of my son talk to me about sensitive topics. We carpooled to and from school. Last year, one of the kids finally said, "You know, I feel comfortable talking to you. I feel like I can talk to you about anything."
GS That's great.
ML I don't think I've ever had a better compliment. I just I felt so happy, so supported. I thought maybe I did a good job. I tried to think about their intellect, when they were young, and whether sometimes they could handle it. You wonder if you start working it too early, will they grow up to be able to handle it.
For what I have seen, they've grown up realizing there are many different ways to look at an issue. They've grown up to understand other perspectives. They try to understand the where and why. They want to know about the fine points, the nuances. They know nothing is starkly black or white.
They are independent, sophisticated and analytical thinkers. They're open-minded. I think that's a good thing. I've heard some people on the conservative end, such as Karl Rove, saying, "Sometimes too much education isn't necessarily good." Well, guess where I stand on that!
I think as much education and information as possible is best for children. They'll grow up realizing there are many different ways to look at an issue. They'll grow up to understand other perspectives and to try to understand why. Of course, thinking citizens is not what Carl Rove wants.
GS Seems too much education, to his kind, means having the ability and confidence to see through their manipulations.
ML Yes; it makes me think too much education is great!
If you examine social tendencies, the way educators and social scientists look at this topic, the prevailing opinion is the more educated a person is, the more likely they are to be liberal thinking and probably politically liberal, too. That's why conservatives have a big problem with the academic community and universities and what they call "pointy-headed liberals." It's as if it's a bad to be smart. As if it's bad to encourage others to open and broaden their minds. If you teach and you are doing right by your students and the whole notion of teaching, you are opening and expanding someone's mind.
One of my favourite sayings comes from the title of the National Public Radio (NPR) show, "All Things Considered." "All things considered," indeed, "All things." You have to open your children to thinking about all kinds of possibilities. I'm a Catholic, the only Catholic in my family. We baptized our children in a Presbyterian Church. My husband is Presbyterian.
Another part of the reason my children are Presbyterian is my daughter. When I was pregnant the first time, I found out it was a girl. I realized if she was a Catholic, it might limit her life chances. What if she had the gift of ministry? That's "The Gift", with a capital "T" and a capital "G." She wouldn't be able to go far with it in the Catholic Church. This Church holds women back; doesn't allow them to rise; doesn't let women use their full abilities. Not so with the Presbyterians. In the Presbyterian Church, she would be able to run a church. She could be chief pastor.
Well, as it turns out, my daughter doesn't have that specific "Gift," of the ministry. She learned from women in the church, many of them high-ranking. We had a progressive Presbyterian church in the neighbourhood. For a time our family was active in it. Many performers belonged to our church. The chief pastor was a monumental human being. It was a great environment to bring up our children.
To my regret, I found, there were ideas within my own Roman Catholic Church, with which I couldn't agree. One of those ideas was the role of women, in the church. Today, more than half the population, of the planet, is an unused asset. This is a time when the Catholic Church has a shortage of priests and there is a huge labour untapped labour force. My church doesn't allow women to be priests. Look how we are missing out. The solution to the shortage of priests is right there in more than half the human population of the earth. The Catholic Church will not take full advantage of that choice; the Church forbids women priests
ML I found, as my kids progressed through Catholic school, they learned all kinds of wonderful ideas and skills.
GS Baptized Presbyterian, but attended Catholic school? That's most interesting.
ML Yes; the learning experience, in Catholic school, was enduring. There was diligence and discipline. In Catholic school, there's great character-building and moral development; nurturing and compassionate role modeling; plus, a quickened scholarship and achievement. There are many wonderful friends, for kids and parents both.
It helped, when we talked about sensitive topics, whether principles or issues, such as the stance, of the Catholic Church, on homosexuality. I'd build on or around what my children and their friends learned in school. I probably gave them a wider view than other children may get. I hope it was a non-judgmental view, but a view that considered the schooling they got. I hope the view I game them recognized other and sometimes, conflicting, views about the issue.
And I'm glad I did. I think if you do consider the other ideas about a topic, you become more broad-minded. Your decisions are better, as you've taken much more into account. You think about all colours of the rainbow, not just one or two wiggly lines, not just a straight line, either. It takes all kinds of lines to make a full picture.
GS Do you think your approach worked?
ML I like to think it works. We are not perfect. Boy-oh-boy, though, I'm proud of them, the way they are turning out.
GS That's great. Back to your book, for a moment, do you foresee a sequel?
ML I don't know. I'm asked about it. I'm writing so many on other topics, right now. I don't know if I would have time. I may eventually do one for teenagers or parents of teenagers.
GS That's a great audience, and it sounds like you've got some expertise there.
ML I did not go to school to learn what I wrote and write about. I went to the maternity ward. I went to my kids' schools. I went to the carpool line. I went to the office. I went to the park. I went to moms' meetings. I went to friends' homes. This is what I learned through practical application, in the trenches. It's what I gained from what other people learned. It's what I thought made great sense. All the advice and concerns hadn't mattered to me before I became a parent. It all went straight over my head. But as everyone who becomes a new parent can tell you, "Gee, new babies don't come with instruction manuals." How I wished there was a manual. So, I created a manual, of sorts.
Hillary Clinton said, "It takes a village to raise a child." She couldn't be more correct. We live in a society where there are few extended families, outside cult-like communes. Most of us don't have an extend family. So you have to build your own extended family or adapt what you have.
For me, my only sibling lives 1500 miles away, with all his family. I had to build my extended family where we live, through carpooling, the neighbourhood, the pre-school, the karate classes and the friends. We pitched in and helped one another out. We did one another favours. We drove each other's kids. We watched one another's purses. That's how an adapted extended family comes about. When we enlarge our experiences, expand the information we get, and we invite consideration of new ideas and approaches. I think everyone benefits. Problems which seem daunting suddenly are not. It's like moving to a greener way of doing this or that. It doesn't have to seem so daunting, if you can see how it can work and how you can live to tell the tale of its success.
GS Well, that's encouraging, and I'm going to see if I can snag a copy, of your book, somewhere. Can we move on to your obviously extensive political reporting, and your web site?
ML Well, there are many. Pick one or a few that interest you. I'm fortunate. I've a wonderful outlook, now, and I'm grateful. It's interesting; I spent 25 years in broadcasting, mainly as a reporter, anchor, writer and producer. You know how it is to wear many hats and so forth.
GS: Today, your value emphasis and how you conduct yourself seems solidly liberal, and likely was always. Was it difficult to preserve fairness or objectivity, as a newsperson?
ML The charge was always to be objective. In those days, fair and balanced meant fair and balanced. Today, it seems, these ideas mean, "Oh, we'll be fair and balanced, but only to one side." The way I knew, how to work, came from my training. I always believed. I was always a liberal. I was always aggressive about many ideas and causes. I always was a pro-choicer. I was always an environmentalist. I always was this, that, and another. I tried to keep my opinions private, when I was on air; my job was to be a reporter not an opinion person.
GS Of course, that's what we learn.
ML I wasn't a commentator. I wasn't an editorialist. It was up to the general manager to editorialize.
I wanted, "Just the facts, ma'am." It's only now, in this particular role, that I can give my opinion. I'm having a great time. I remember when it was hard to do offer opinions. When I was reporting, I felt like it was a sacred trust; I had to work at it hard.
I'm sure I didn't succeed all the time. I had an interesting experience when Reagan and Mondale were running for President. They had three debates. I had a friend, who was a debate coach, out of Pepperdine University. We were close friends then.
I arranged with him to comment, on the debates. He was kind and willing to do it. I'd call him the morning after each debate. I had my first newscast at six, in the morning, which meant I had to be in the station at four, in the morning. He'd get up, at that ungodly hour. I'd roll the tape, and ask him what he thought about the debate, which ended a few hours ago? I did that three times, once after each debate.
I put him on as an analyst. "What did you think, of the debate," I'd ask. We'd go wherever he took us.
Later, he'd listen to the taped interview. He wanted to see what I'd done with his comments, especially since he was a conservative in his thinking. He said, "If I didn't know what your political views were before, I wouldn't know after listening to the interviews, either." I felt good about his conclusion. I did not support Ronald Reagan, at all. The outcome of that election disappointed me as you'd expect. I hope you weren't able to tell that on the air. I sure tried to remain objective.
GS I understand the challenge and pressure you were under to remain neutral.
ML Yeah; and it sometimes was a ferocious challenge. I wanted to say what was on my mind, but it wasn't my job. Now, radio and television are so bizarre. The media are like mud wrestling. It's so discouraging when you think about all the opinion mongers, disguise as neutral, I'm sorry, on Fox News.
If you look at the statistics, most people who still believe Saddam had something to do with 9/11 or Al Qaeda gets most of their information from Fox News. It is bizarre.
Fox News doesn't tell the truth. Fox has an agenda. When it says, "Fair and balanced," everyone automatically thinks, "Oh, OK, I can trust Fox," but it seems fibs are a way of life on Fox News.
GS Just because they say, "Fair and balanced," doesn't make it so.
ML Yeah; because Fox News says it's so. There's a whole science these days about "perception management" is what I call it - the use of the language to influence people's view of what is. It's not what it is, it's what you think it is and what they can make you think it is. It's like people who watch Fox News think that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and that we found them. That's not true, but they won't hear from any of the people who are telling the truth because Fox won't give those people air time. Fox has done great, in the ratings, with this approach.
GS What about the other cable news channels, CNN and MSNBC?
ML I think CNN and, until recently, MSNBC, too, believe the Fox path was the one to follow. When Rush Limbaugh did so well, other radio programmers and network owners, followers that they are, said "Oh, I want that too." Radio cloned Limbaugh, repeatedly. Soon, that's all you got was his way of thinking. What a mess.
GS So, now that you've found this outlet to express your personal opinions, have you had any criticism? Has it made your life a little more difficult at all?
ML Well, the one hesitation I have is I used to drive around with all of my bumper stickers in the rear window of my car. I had a Howard Dean sticker, a "Bush knew" sticker and "war is not the answer." Once in a while I'd get a dirty look from somebody in the next car over or I'd get a fist or the middle finger or whatever. That just added to my conviction that I was on the right path here and maybe I'll rattle a cage or something.
GS Some response is all right, I think, and if it stops, with the occasional finger, that's part of the price paid for having free speech and independent thought.
ML The opposition didn't stop at these versions of counter-speech. The cost went up. I mean, I'm favour free speech. I promote it, but sometimes the reaction goes too far.
When my daughter was old enough to drive she used my car. Once, when she was driving my car, with all the stickers, she called us for help. Someone had slashed my tires, when she parked my car in a restaurant lot. Someone had keyed my car, too.
This isn't free speech. This isn't counterpoint. This is Germany, in the 1930s. This is Stalinist Russia. It's all right to demand the right to smoke or eat much junk food. It's not the right to engage in violence. It's not the right to vandalize someone's car simply because you don't like their bumper stickers.
I wouldn't have been as bothered about it, if it was a reaction strictly against me or my opinions. I would have continued to flaunt those bumper stickers, regardless what anybody thought or whether they got mad about it. I refused intimidation.
There was something else to consider, my daughter. It wasn't only about me. This is parenting in general, you know! If it were just me using that car, I would have left my bumper stickers in place. So there! Still, I thought, my daughter is also using my car may and those bumper stickers may put her in danger.
I took my bumper stickers off. Her safety mattered more to me than my freedom of speech. Too bad we are in that climate, where people act like bullies when they don't agree with you, isn't it?
GS The safety of your daughter is first. Still, removing the stickers lets the bad guys win by being bad.
ML I don't care what they might do to me. When the safety of my daughter or son, for that matter, is at stake, I believe I have to back off a little. Seems it's always better to "live to fight another day," as the adage advises.
At the same time, this is weird, I don't know how else to explain what went through my mind. I was proud of those key marks as battle scars. Also, it reinforced my conviction that our side doesn't use such measures. It made me prouder to be who I am. Prouder to be a Democrat and a progressive; I see offensive bumper stickers all the time and the worst I'd ever do would be to leave a note on someone's windshield. "Please don't ...."
One time I left a note saying, "I recognize your patriotism. Your freedom isn't free and you support our troops, but have you thought of enlisting? One of those troops that you support could come home and be with their families and you could take their place." That's the most I will do.
GS That's a great idea!
ML People, on our side of the fence, do hunger strikes, chain ourselves to trees, sit in the path of trains who are taking nuclear waste somewhere, we do that stuff. We picket or do a sit-in and otherwise annoy those who disagree with us. We do many non-aggressive and non-bullying acts; we like to annoy the other side. We don't slash tires or threaten people's lives. We don't endanger or injury. I guess you could say what we do is just annoy people.
It made me proud of where I am on the political scale. I think our side is more correct, at least in how we conduct ourselves. We were correct about the war. We were correct about weapons of mass destruction. Bill Moyers just wrote an essay, in which he wrote it was about the oil, and we were making the same point six years ago.
GS Interesting how the liberal position, on most issues, is the one that does the most good for the most women, men and children.
ML No one listened to us and 4,127 Americans are dead and who knows how many innocent Iraqis, and we are hundreds of billions of dollars in unnecessary debt. Phil Donahue was the highest rated show in MSNBC, at one point. The network executives told him, "You're too liberal." MSNBC said he could not have liberal guests because he counted as two liberals, by himself. He was the host, but too obviously liberal. He had to have a panel, with at least two people who were conservatives, if not more. They did not approve of his antiwar stance and suppressed it, and him. Eventually they fired him. Where's fair and balanced when it's needed?
He was not alone. It's only recently MSNBC started going the other way, and giving "Bill-O" [Bill O'Reilly] and the rest of the Fox on-air staff a run for their money. MSNBC is making inroads, especially in the target demographic, of 25-to-54 year olds, who make up the most desirable demographic group for advertisers. There is much noise right now about Keith Olbermann. He's sticking his neck out, saying what needs saying, openly. Olbermann annoys a few people. He makes people like me stand, cheer and salute. Some nights, at least in some quarter-hours, Olbermann beats Bill O'Reilly, in that all-important demographic. Olbermann has the highest rated show on MSNBC with any demographic. You can watch the ratings every week on, the web site, Media Bistro.
GS Are not some of the other hosts, on MSNBC, coming around, too?
ML I've noticed Chris Matthews, host of "Hardball," has started to come around. There's a little less knuckle dragging, a little less sexism, on his show, these days. Now, Matthews talks about how he was always against the war. I remember, when Bush pulled the "Mission Accomplished" stunt, on the aircraft-carrier, there was Chris Matthews slobbering and honking like a crazed goose. "We are all Neocons now," he said. Dan Abrams takes a progressive tack on the air, too, although he's always liberal. His father's one of the leading free speech lawyers in the country.
Joe Scarborough, who replaced Imus in the morning, is coming round, a bit: maybe, on occasion. Hey, give him credit, I guess. Remember, Scarborough was a Republican Representative, from Florida, for six years, the Clinton years, and owned a small, but conservative newspaper. Yet, today, he sometimes inches toward the centre. MSNBC appears grooming Rachel Maddow for more responsibility, which is great.
MSNBC gave the prime-time shows to people who are starting to skew a little more to left of centre. It's a bigger audience than far left liberal. I'm sure glad somebody's recognizing it. In some ways in my column, I am able to serve that audience, as well.
GS What is your take on the Presidential election? Do you see this as a landmark event?
ML Well, let's just start with the acceptance speech, of Barak Obama. He'll give it on the 45th anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech, by Dr. Martin Luther King. I mean is that cool or what? Yeah, it's like to the day, I believe. It would be a wonderful, wonderful way to show the world, as well as ourselves, that America has finally grown up.
Wouldn't that be a good point? After years of saying, "You are going to do it our way, or else." After years of saying, "You are going to swallow our brand of democracy or else we'll kill you." After years of saying, "Give us our oil that's under your sand." After all the threats, at the point of a gun, we own up.
You can't force democracy on people. What are they thinking? You can't take an oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution - notice which verb is first - it's "preserve" - and then go and trash it and wipe your feet on it, with muddy track shoes. You promised to preserve that document as well as protect and defend it, and the people we have in power now are acting like they don't even know there is a Constitution.
I'm going to write a column about this one day. The entire mind-set of the past seven or so years needs rethinking. The notion that liberal ideas are a 10 September 2001 mind-set, and from 11 September 2001 we had to change our mind-set, to one of violence and bullying and intolerance and one-sided aggression, offends me. That's not who we are as Americans. There are those who still insist that "911 changed everything!" Now, supposedly means we can torture prisoners, suspend habeas corpus and hold people indefinitely without trial or consulting a lawyer. There's no need to tell anyone why; toss them in jail and move on. Some of these folks were already eagerly trying to snoop through our bedrooms and women's doctors' offices. Now, it's all right to wire-tap, illegally. And forget accountability for any of these affronts. That's not who we are, or were, as Americans. That's not what the Founders intended. You know, though, the message these offences send. The message is the terrorists won.
Osama bin Laden is laughing at us. He obviously understands us well, I guess, because we've become all these horrible, frankly un-American people and events. It's no wonder why so much of the world dislikes and distrusts us.
Unintentionally, bin Laden destroyed the Towers. You could see this in one of those early videos of him in conversation with some of his pals. They'd expected to damage the buildings but didn't expect the whole works would come crashing down. The US reacted properly in moving against Afghanistan, but then way-overreacted by lurching off into a deceitful and unnecessary diversion into Iraq. And we even had bin Laden cornered! Sadly, he got lucky on that September 11th.
GS Once in a million times, a kid will throw a rock at street light and break the lamp.
ML bin Laden won because the USA is all about habeas corpus; the rule of law. We are all about rights for everyone, including those with whom we disagree. The USA is all about letting people speak and assemble; allowing anyone to worship their way, even if it's not our church. The USA is also about allowing atheist to not worship a God. The USA is especially about allowing an accused to confront his or her accusers, and openly specifying charges against a person and making easy a timely trial. The dignity of their personhood and not defiled those in keeping are central to the USA, as is access to a lawyer.
These are the central ideas, the value emphasis, of America. That's what we were once famous for. Not anymore, and those who wanted to change us by terrorizing us, doing horrible deadly strikes on our cities or our financial institutions, what they want to do was change us as Americans. What the terrorists did was to get us to do it to us.
GS Let Americans do it to themselves, and they did.
ML We are not the Americans we were before Sept. 11th. We don't have rights any more. Habeas corpus is gone. As it now stands, you or I might go to jail, today, without knowing the charges against us. We couldn't talk to our lawyers. If, on a whim, George Bush or Dick Cheney decided we are enemy combatants, it's over. Our homes, bank accounts and right to know why, all evaporate. They lock us in jail and throw away the key. Who would know?
That's not America. That's some banana republic, in the 19th century. That's not America. That's not what the world wants from us, or admires in us. That's not why people look to this country. That's not even the "Shining city on a hill," which Ronald Reagan talked about.
We've changed, and not for the better, despite what conservatives would tell you. We are now something much more sinister. It's scary. The polls keep showing, in larger and larger majorities, that America realizes it's veered off track. The country is on the wrong track. In my own way, I'm doing what I can. I'm trying to steer the country back toward the America we know. We can, again, be the best. There's no reason to suspend good judgment because we're cowering in fear.
GS Have you ever thought of running for office?
ML Well, yes, but I think I'm going to let my son do it if he wants to. It seems, for now, as though he's interested. I probably have too many skeletons in my closet. I'll fight from the trenches.
Ask me again in five years, when my children are off living their lives. Maybe my son will end as Senate majority leader or maybe he'll be a governor or in the White House or maybe a Cabinet Secretary.
His sister would be a superb Cabinet officer for him or adviser on domestic issues because she's so bright and she has a great "BS Detector" even though she has no interest in running for office. I'd like to be the first Mother, of the USA. Wouldn't that be wild?
GS Thank you.
Christine Grail, aka the Script Consultant, is a Los Angeles-based writer.
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