Who's really open?

Posted: Jul 13, 2005 12:00 AM

Where I work (in network TV) and live (on the Upper West Side of Manhattan), people say "conservative" the way they say "child molester." It's the worst thing to be called. Everyone here agrees: Conservatives are repressive, while liberals are open-minded and think it's important to hear a diverse range of voices.

 Except, of course, if those voices aren't liberal.

 Ironically, in the 19th century, liberals really did want to hear new ideas. In 1869, it was a liberal who wrote, "the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race . . . those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error." John Stuart Mill argued that debating people you disagree with was the only way to develop wisdom.

 Compare today's so-called liberals.

 I recently finished a tour for my book, "Give Me a Break." Weirdly, the same month "Give Me a Break" came out, my publisher released a book by my wife's ex-boyfriend.

 His book was not political, but he is well-liked in the liberal media world. After our books came out, I turned on the radio, and the first thing I heard was Imus gushing about how wonderful my wife's ex-boyfriend was.  Even my wife rolled her eyes. My publisher couldn't get me on Imus.

 My wife's ex became a regular on NPR and got on national shows, like "Fresh Air." He was on CNN with Larry King and Paula Zahn, and on PBS with Charlie Rose. He got four columns in the New York Times; my book was never mentioned.

 I shouldn't complain. I have plenty of airtime of my own, and the conservatives were eager to talk. I got to discuss my ideas with dozens of talk radio hosts, and on Fox News Channel, where Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity have audiences CNN only dreams about. More people bought my book than my wife's ex's. 

 But where was the "open debate" the liberals like to praise? Mostly on the conservative broadcasts.

 Conservative hosts had me on their programs even though some loathed my hard-core libertarian ideas. Maybe it's because conservatives in media are used to people disagreeing with them. In fact, if they live in New York City, they are used to liberals shrieking at them. Few conservatives wanted to spend much time debating drug prohibition (Sean Hannity was a rare exception), but at least they heard me out.

 I had thought liberal shows would have me on their programs to trash my arguments. I looked forward to a spirited debate.  But debate rarely happened. Nearly every media invitation came from people who already shared my belief in the free market. Those who didn't, didn't want to talk about it. 

 There were a few exceptions: Robert Redford, of all people, flew me out to his Sundance Book festival. Alan Colmes grilled me on his radio program. Larry King eventually had me on; it was only his weekend show, but he said he have me back on a weekday. I'm still waiting. 

 I thought I'd have a shot at a fair debate with Al Franken because we're acquaintances; our kids went to school together. No such luck. He invited me to his studio, but he barely let me make an argument; instead he ranted about a "lie" on page 305.

 I did have had a wonderful time on Air America's "Morning Sedition," with a host who was furious that government doesn't stop Americans from eating too many Big Macs.  I treasure the moment of silence that followed my saying that government that's big enough to tell you what to eat . . . is government big enough to tell you with whom you can have sex.

 That's the debate the media's supposed to advance.

 I didn't find much of it in the "open-minded" liberal media.