Friday, February 24, 2017

Alan Colmes and being the Liberal on Conservative media shows

I was shocked when I received a google alert that Alan Colmes had passed. I knew he wasn’t what many of us would consider to be “old”. I wasn’t aware of his struggles with Lymphoma. I offer my condolences to his wife and family to include his sister in law, Monica Crowley, against whom I have faced off several times on different shows.

The coverage in the aftermath of Alan’s passing was predictable to me because like Alan, I am one of “those Liberals” who regularly faces off against conservative media personalities on what is considered right wing media. I know the controversy that causes among fellow Democrats and Liberals. I would have easily predicted articles like the one from Slate’s Isaac Chotiner who reductively referred to Colmes as “Buffoon and Patsy, Was Fox News’ Original Liberal Weakling” along with various other superficial and nasty missives.

Silly criticisms like Chotiners are the gig if you are a Liberal who goes on those shows. Some Liberals just don’t get it. Many do, and I am thankful for those that do but I’m really surprised that like Slate’s Chotiner, there are so many who don’t.

What’s the “it” to get? I think Lloyd Grove at the Daily Beast summed it up best:

Ellis Henican, who has often substituted as host on Colmes’s nightly Fox Radio Network show, especially as the latter succumbed to illness in recent weeks, said such critiques—and they were numerous—reflected a misunderstanding of Colmes’s role in the political cosmos, especially from mid-1996 to January 2009, when Colmes co-starred as the progressive voice on the eponymous prime-time cable program.

“Being a liberal commentator on Fox is like being the visiting team; the audience, by and large, doesn’t agree with you, your co-host doesn’t agree with you, most of the guests don’t agree with you, so you live with the daily challenge of needing to perform in front of an audience that is not inclined to like you,” Henican told The Daily Beast. “You can’t just shout. I would tell the people who felt he was not sufficiently bombastic to go see how well they would do if their technique in front of an audience like that is just to be a bigger asshole than the other guy.”
“You have to use other techniques—you have to use humor, you have to use charm,” Henican said. “You have to learn to twist a question in some unexpected way. If you don’t, you’re gonna get run over like a freight train. That was both Alan’s talent and his challenge.”

I’ve told people who ask me about my appearances that the first thing you must ask yourself about appearing on Conservative media as a Liberal is, if you decided to go on, what would you be trying to accomplish? Everything about whether to accept and how to deal with the challenge flows from how you answer that question.

For me, the answer to that question was and always has been, is there a possibility for me to move the needle? Can I handle my appearance such that someone who disagrees with the Liberal viewpoint on an issue might have their mind changed by what I say and how I conduct myself? It doesn’t have to be a ton of people, just a few, a handful. That’s how change happens, a few minds changed at a time.

I think Alan had the same reason for appearing. At least it seemed so to me when I had that internal discussion and determined how I was going to comport myself on those shows. It really is obvious once you look at it that way. As Daily Beast’s Grove quoted Ellis Hennican, “Being a liberal commentator on Fox is like being the visiting team; the audience, by and large, doesn’t agree with you, your co-host doesn’t agree with you, most of the guests don’t agree with you, so you live with the daily challenge of needing to perform in front of an audience that is not inclined to like you…You can’t just shout.”

That’s right and it’s hard to understand how any thinking person wouldn’t immediately come to that conclusion. Shouting louder or being a jerk isn’t going to convince anyone who disagrees with you. I’ve never had my mind changed by someone acting like a jerk, why would I think that if I acted like a jerk that I would be more convincing? On the contrary, the more off-putting you conduct yourself, the less likely that anyone who disagreed with you at the onset of your appearance is likely to put serious thought to anything you had to say. When you are trying to convince someone who disagrees with you, you have to give them as few reasons to tune you out as possible. 

And let me also say that I follow discussions in the Conservative blogosphere where my appearances are discussed. While the majority of the discussions are what you might expect, i.e. variations of "I hate Leser that Liberal SOB blah blah" there are also after each appearance typically a number of of, "Well, I checked out what he said about X and that is kinda true. He's still a Liberal so and so, but he was right about X." And that is why I do what I do with all the challenges and criticisms.

If your reason for appearing on Conservative media as a Liberal is to vent your frustration with the right wing and the hosts and you don’t care about convincing anyone, then sure, yell, shout, scream, be rude. I’ve known a few folks who have done that. They have the video of their lone appearance as a keepsake (they were never invited back) and they re-watch the video every now and then and get a chuckle, but they didn’t accomplish anything. Two hours after their appearance, no one ever thought about them again.

I find an interesting contrast in people who only go on shows where the audience and host and everyone else generally agrees with them. I’ve gone on Liberal shows and I enjoy that too, but what’s the purpose of only appearing in front of people who agree with you all the time? What are you changing by doing that? Why would anyone celebrate those people and instead offer only criticism for those who share their ideology but go on “the other guys” shows to try to change minds? Perhaps it really is as simple as people who offer that criticism just don’t get it.

My goal is to try to change people’s minds. That, in my opinion, is the only worthwhile reason for a Liberal to appear on Conservative media. I believe that is what Alan was trying to do as well. Alan was much more patient about it than I am. I listened, for instance, to a few segments of his radio show where he would have conservative listeners call in and he would patiently listen to them and try to convince them of his viewpoint. I never did that with my radio show. I’m gearing up to relaunch it in the coming months, perhaps as a tribute to Alan I may try more on air discussions with Republican listeners. Perhaps. As I said I am not that patient.

Alan probably changed minds during his appearances, not millions of minds at a time or even thousands or perhaps even hundreds, but I would bet dozens at a time, sure. That is something that every Liberal should be celebrating.