'Exposing ignorance is admirable'

Posted: Mar 30, 2007 12:01 AM

I hate disagreeing with people I like, folks like Bill O'Reilly, a man who fights hard for our country, our culture and its good and decent people.

But hearing him go after Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban for distributing a kooky 9/11 conspiracy movie the other day left me a bit disappointed in my favorite "Culture Warrior."

Listen, it's easy to disagree with Mark Cuban. I suspect his political views are way to the left of mine. And I suppose it's not much of a stretch to be angry with a billionaire NBA owner-turned-movie producer for having anything to do with distributing some tacky little internet film that makes the goofy assertion that our government had anything to do with 9/11.

But it seems to me that the last people who should be raking Mark Cuban over the coals for "Loose Change" (the wacky internet movie) are those of us who make our living in talk radio or talk television.

Perhaps my defense of Cuban stems from a very personal experience I once had over the very same debate regarding free speech and crossing the boundaries of good taste.

A number of years ago, I hosted an afternoon talk radio show on Upstate New York State powerhouse WGY-AM. I had discovered that notorious Nazi Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel was blanketing the country with his filthy propaganda by offering a weekly show on various local cable access channels. Being cable access, many of the people involved just accepted the free programming, no questions asked. I thought it was important to shine the spotlight of truth on this slug's plans to air this garbage by interviewing him on my radio show.

After we announced that he would be on, a Jewish activist from Albany called the radio station and demanded that I not have him on my show. I would be giving him free air time, she argued, and he must be marginalized. Ignore him and he goes away, she pleaded.

Well, naturally, he wasn't going away, any more than the nutty conspiracy theorists who believe that the Bush Administration flew the planes into the Twin Towers. His cable access show was being shown, and I wanted it stopped. The best way I could figure to do that was to expose his hate and vile ideology.

The day of the phone interview, I was horrified to see dozens of Jewish protesters out in the radio station parking lot. One of the women who were interviewed on the local news held up her arm with her numbered tattoo from the concentration camp. I couldn't believe my eyes – these people were calling ME anti-Semitic and hateful for putting Zundel on my radio show. The idea that I was causing any pain to Holocaust survivors was one of the most painful moments of my broadcasting career. But I was convinced that taking on this man was the right thing to do for my community.

As it turned out, it worked. After exposing and denouncing him on the radio show, there was so much publicity and attention paid to his efforts to have his program cleared on cable access that the local cable company stepped in and stopped it from happening. And the last I heard, Ernst Zundel was in a jail in some country that doesn't take too kindly to Holocaust deniers.

Any of us who have ever interviewed an evil creature like Ernst Zundel are in the same boat as Mark Cuban and his movie. Cuban has repeatedly stated that he doesn't believe one word of the movie, "Loose Change." He suggested that if another movie comes along that refutes it; he’ll probably distribute it, too. But he's a movie producer and someone who believes, like I do, that hatefulness and ugliness and all sides of any issue have a right to be on the table so that everyone can make up their own minds.

I know that my friend Bill O'Reilly has interviewed despicable people before. I've watched him tackle tough, unpleasant issues with a passion and have cheered him on as he did so.

In our medium, we debate, interview, and present opinions. In a movie producer's medium, they distribute movies.

Is there really any difference?

Feel free to criticize Mark Cuban, as many have done. Don’t pay to watch the movie, "Loose Change." Heck, stay away from the Dallas Mavericks if you are so inclined.

But to suggest that he has some diabolical agenda to destroy America or insult our troops is a real stretch. After all, this is the same guy who jump-started a fund to donate to injured soldiers by ponying up a million dollars of his own money.

If you have any doubt that there are plenty of people who think there was some kind of U.S. conspiracy involving 9/11, sit in my radio studio one day as I take calls from people from all over the country. If asked, it takes about 5 seconds for all the phone lines to light up with people who adamantly believe such nonsense.

We shouldn't run away from confronting such a crazy position. Truth wins out, or should, every time.

If Mark Cuban's distribution of this movie helps eradicate an asinine conspiracy theory like this one, we shouldn't take him out to the woodshed.

We should thank him.

And Mark, we’ll be waiting for you to distribute that other movie that refutes "Loose Change" one day soon.