Phil Donahue joined Eliot Spitzer and Kathleen Parker to discuss his long career as a talk show host, the dangers of media consolidation and his ouster from MSNBC during the run up to the invasion of Iraq for daring to speak out opposing it. You generally don't find too many conversations like this one on cable news since I'm sure their bosses wouldn't want to shine a light too brightly on the need to bust these companies up. Every once in a while one slips through like this one though.
PARKER: If you think Oprah has the longest running syndicated talk show in history, think again. That particular honor belongs to our next guest.
SPITZER: Phil Donahue invented the daytime confessional format, aiming both high brow and low in his 29-year long career. We spoke to him earlier.
SPITZER: Thank you for joining us. It's an honor to have you here.
PARKER: I'm thrilled. I watched your show for years and years. I think my entire life.
DONAHUE: Well, I thank you. You turned out anyway, didn't you, watching me?
PARKER: Do you sometimes think maybe you created a monster?
DONAHUE: Well, I have said they are all my illegitimate children and I love them equally. But it is true that the game has changed, really quite something. In many ways it's changed from when I went often the off the air which was '96 with my daytime show.
And even the cable, nighttime, your arena, since 2002, when I was on MSNBC, it's totally different now, totally.
PARKER: Is it meaner? Is it coarser?
DONAHUE: Sure. First of all, I would never mention Bill O'Reilly on my MSNBC program in 2002. This is only eight years ago. Why would you mention the competition? People might -- today, this group --
SPITZER: They live off each other.
DONAHUE: The shows have fallen back on each other and we are now being entertained by watching them fight with each other.
PARKER: But guess what, you don't see women doing that, do you?
DONAHUE: I haven't thought about that.
SPITZER: Oh, sure you do.
PARKER: Not really?
SPITZER: I'm not going to name names. I don't think there is a gender divide here. Some of the more vitriolic names right now may not be women, but I don't think there's a gender division.
PARKER: I think some woman are vitriolic in their approach to interviewing and commenting. But I don't think they go after each other.
DONAHUE: You might want to watch "The View."
DONAHUE: Well that's true, that is not a night time show. I don't know if that makes a difference, but certainly they push back.
SPITZER: I want to go back to Newt Minnow who way back in the 60s, I think it was, referred to TV as a vast wasteland. Are we doing better? Are the talk shows even though they're edgy and they're loud and the decibel level may be too high, do they contribute to our politics in a way or a bad way, do you think?
DONAHUE: Well, as you know, I'm a brilliant man.
SPITZER: We do know, that's why I'm asking you this hard question.
DONAHUE: Here's the thing I'm having trouble with. You know, I -- in -- my first job was in a radio station, and I was the news director. I had never been a reporter. I was the news director, by the way, because I was the only man in the news department. It was a small radio station.
And I covered the news, and I could stop the mayor. I was like -- I looked 12 years old, and I couldn't get over the power of this thing. And then I'm a slow learner. The First Amendment ensures that if anybody can be a reporter, even me, I took no test, I didn't pee in a bottle, I just said I'm a reporter, and I was, that's what you want, because you get a lot of people reporting then. And then somewhere in the middle of this large crowd will be found the truth.
Today, that middle is occupied by five companies. So you don't get to push back. There is -- I have 900 channels on my TV, but 700 of them are selling the Botox machine. That is not good diversity.
SPITZER: But right. But here's where the new media, the technology maybe our saving grace. There has been this diffusion, this explosion in terms of the number of channels and the YouTubes and social media so everybody is a journalist, because everybody can talk to everybody.
And you're right. There is this enormous and dangerous concentration, but out of that voices will emerge, can we not hope, sort of --
DONAHUE: You would hope. But let's remember this, governor -- every major metropolitan newspaper in this country supported the invasion of Iraq.
DONAHUE: I mean, think about that. This is the land of the first amendment. Cacophony of voices, arguing, growing --
SPITZER: Let me raise something then that --
DONAHUE: But this is corporate media. This is what you get.
SPITZER: I want to raise something then that we weren't going to raise, which is that you were pushed off the air because you opposed it.
DONAHUE: I opposed the war.
SPITZER: And is that one of the reasons they pushed you off?
DONAHUE: Read the memo published by the "New York Times," "Donahue's anti-war voice is not going to work against the flag waving on the other station." Donahue and any anti-war voice in 2002, remember, they're all doing what I did now. The whole channel is now. You could not criticize this war four months before the invasion. It was not good for business.
You had -- General electric had no interest in featuring an old talk show host who was against the president's war. It was -- it was unpopular. You weren't American. This is what you get with corporate media. It's going to happen again.
PARKER: Well, and, you know, when the Congress voted for it, too. But everyone did think there was something going on. It's not like they were just maliciously going after another country. People were afraid, don't you think? After 9/11 --
DONAHUE: Are we so insecure?
DONAHUE: That when --
PARKER: After we were attacked the way we were attacked, I think there was a low, low tolerance for any kind of risk. I'm not making a justification for war. I'm just saying what --
DONAHUE: Are you making a justification for this war?
PARKER: The mindset of the country at the time was such that -- I mean, I wish you had been on the air doing your old show.
DONAHUE: I do, too. But I didn't make it to the invasion. I was gone three months -- the invasion was March of '03 and I was gone like in January. And the president -- the president scared the hell out of the nation.
PARKER: The nation was already scared.
DONAHUE: He's under your bed, he's outside your window, he's got mass destruction weapons. You could feel the heartbeat of the nation accelerate. It was a bloodlust --
SPITZER: You are so right in what you're saying is so important about the lack of tolerance for dissenting voices and your voice not going to be silenced.
DONAHUE: Oh, thank you.
SPITZER: It won't be. I don't care who does what. It won't be silenced.
PARKER: Phil Donahue, thank you for being with us.
DONAHUE: Thank you both.
PARKER: We'll be back.