NewsBusters Interview: Jonah Goldberg, Author of 'Liberal Fascism' (Part I)

Along with racist, the word fascist is one of the most common epithets you hear tossed around. Has the constant repetition of the word made it lose its meaning? Does anyone really know what it means? These are questions that Jonah Goldberg seeks to answer in his #1 best-selling book "Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning."

If you haven't picked up a copy yet, this is one book you need to buy.

As part of our tradition of bringing you in-depth interviews with America's political leaders, I took the opportuntity to speak by phone with Goldberg about "Liberal Fascism." Our conversation is quite extensive but well worth the read. Given the length of the interview (which is available in audio format as well as transcript), I've broken it down into two portions: the first in which Goldberg discusses his many leftist critics including his confrontation with comedian Jon Stewart, and the second in which Goldberg discusses conservatism and where he believes it's headed. This is the first installment. Read the transcript below or download an audio copy.


MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: I think the main thing about your book is that it's revisionist. Would you agree with that statement?

JONAH GOLDBERG: Yeah, I mean obviously revisionist is one of those words that has all sorts of different connotations to it but I like to think that it's revisionist in the best sense of the word that the official history needs to be revised. And that's what I've tried to do and so I'm OK with the word revisionist.

But it's funny, some of the criticisms of the book have been that I've left out sort of this or that conventional, clichéd historical narrative and I've tried to point out to people that the subtitle of the book is the "Secret History of the American Left," not the "Well-trod and Clichéd History of the American Left." Yeah, I'm OK with the word revision.

SHEFFIELD: I figured you would be but it's such a word that bears a similar connotation to fascism maybe in the sense that it's highly charged and people often don't know what it means.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, although in Israel the revisionist historians are left-wingers and in the United States in the 1960s all those guys like William Attenman-Williams [ph], revisionism was a good word. Now, it's taken on this pejorative because the left has control of the academic establishment that revisionism from the right is seen as evil and illegitimate but back in the day, the revisionists were the heroes.

SHEFFIELD: Now why do you suppose that that is the case, that the right-has the right just not been interested in academia?

GOLDBERG: The case that the left has taken over academia?

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, yeah. It seems to me that when I look at the state of political affairs that as much as the right talks about the government not being the solution to the problem but rather the problem, the right's obsessed with government.

GOLDBERG: I think that's a perfectly excellent point. I think it's funny that you get these sort of-and not to sound like a Marxist but-cycles in history where the over time the sort of accretion of unintended consequences actually ends up making you wish things has sort of gone differently.

So for example, the left has been so remorseless in kicking conservatives out of academia or at the very least keeping their numbers as minimal as possible that that's in many places what has fueled the rise of conservative think tanks and conservative alternative media generally. And so over time, places like AEI [American Enterprise Institute], Heritage [Foundation], Cato [Foundation] and all these places, these people who otherwise would be delighted to spend their lives studying Chaucer or reading Maimonides or whatever, they instead get thrown into Washington because that's where they can get a job and because they're in Washington at their think tanks, which have to justify their existence in terms of public policy, you start to inculcate among conservatives this real government-focused way of looking at things.

And meanwhile, you get this really hilarious envy on the part of the left who are all pissed off at the relevance of conservative intellectuals and they're stuck out sort of in irrelevant academia so in the last few years you've sort of seen this incredible sort of envy of the right wing. You know, Media Matters comes up to start copycatting a lot of the stuff that you guys the Media Research Center does and all that kind of thing. I think their interpretation in terms of their model is deeply flawed in its assumptions but there is a definite envy going on there. The Center for American Progress gets created as sort of being the sort of liberal version of the Heritage Foundation, the Air America stuff sort of comes out of Limbaugh-envy, you have these new magazines that come up--the rush to the blogosphere was in many ways on the left was in many ways the response to the conservative advantage to that.

And now we see MSNBC trying to become even more explicitly left-wing network and I think it's sort of funny that the envy that liberals have for conservative success, most conservatives would love to trade places, they sort of feel like they've got the concession prize by having to be in think tanks and there's a sort of niche or ghettoized stuff. And most conservatives I know would gladly take ABC, CBS, NBC, and all these guys back and let the left have the little boutique, ghetto stuff. But that's just not how it worked out. That's a bit of a ramble but you see what I'm saying.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, I think that's a very good point but I think as much as our intellectual class would like to have that arrangement, it seems our moneyed class doesn't really want that at all. I mean if you look at where they put their money in, George Soros he's sworn off politics-elected, electoral politics-entirely whereas our guys pretty much they're either cutting a check to the Republican Party or they're cutting a check to no one at all.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, you probably know how to follow the money on the right a hell of a lot better than I do but my sense of it is that there are sort of different groups on the right and there are institutions that are interested in the sort of long march, things like the Claremont Review of Books is a great example of what conservatives have always been good at in terms of the slow, steady dealing with first principles and great books and working from the ground up in a fairly academic, sort of accessible way.

Places like Hillsdale, there are these institutions that are interested in the big thoughts and big ideas but I would agree that I would much rather see the sort of conservative movement focus on winning the argument and winning elections second. I think that one of the things we've seen in the last ten years is how lost conservatism can get when it stops-when it starts seeing conservatism and the Republican Party as the same thing. The problems that the Republican Party has right now have a lot to do, in my opinion starting with George Bush, with sort of watering down and diluting what conservatism stands for, starting with "compassionate conservatism."

It would be nice if we could sort of have a "new tonic" that invigorates us, sort of lets us start from first principles again because that's where conservatives have our strengths. That is if we could win the war of ideas, not only would the Republican Party follow but the Democratic Party will follow. But that doesn't seem to be the positive view in a lot of these places these days.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, try to win the war of the media by actually going out and buying media. And again, no one seems to be interested in that.

GOLDBERG: That sort of ties into this point I get into in the book, this mythology that Big Business is right wing. A big chunk of this sort of comes from this vestigial hangover from Marxism because the ruling classes were objectivized as definitionally opposed to the interests of the workers and anyone who's opposed to the interests of the proletariat would automatically sort of ratified as you know, "right-wing."

So a lot of mainstream liberals-and truth be told, a lot of conservatives-seem to have bought into these Marxist categories. We buy into these categories of class and all these things too which is basically so much garbage hanging over from Marxism to begin with. So we have this idea that big corporations are inherently right-wing.

Whenever I sort of debate this point with left-wingers to back up the point that corporations are inherently right-wing is that they give money to the Republican Party. But even there, the story is more complicated. Big corporations give money to parties in power, that's far more predictive. And while there certainly are some corporations that favor Republicans over Democrats, it's not sort of this sweeping thing. And meanwhile, on the cultural war, big corporations are useless. On all sorts of things like affirmative action/racial quotas, environmentalism, big corporations are just pure opportunists, and they're going to go wherever the system is rigged to reward them the most. They're not really for free trade, they're for free trade for their opponents or their competitors but not free trade for themselves if they can get a subsidy.

They're basically just purely opportunists, and yet conservatives-many conservatives-and a lot of liberals just buy into this idea that corporations are conservative institutions and so you hear a lot of just idiotic conspiracy theories from the left about whenever the media doesn't cover things the way they want (the sort of Olbermann types), they sort of assume it's big corporate fat cats in New York are issuing orders telling these very liberal journalists to slant the news in the corporations' interests. And that's just nonsense. I wish, in fact, that corporations took their obligations more seriously to sort of look at the news products that they're putting out but they've been totally intimidated and cowed by the sort of tweedy Columbia Journalism crowd that says basically the news has to be liberal or it lacks integrity.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, and I think that all comes back to the Marxist domination of history that they're a lot more interested in history. But you mentioned Olbermann. He seems to be sort of obsessed with the word fascist. He throws it around an awful lot. Do you think that's a better description of his philosophy?

GOLDBERG: Well first of all, I don't know personally what the hell Keith Olbermann's philosophy is. I've spent more time paying attention to him in the last two months simply because he's just-it seems like almost every other week-he's calling me the worst person in the world. Maybe he doesn't really grasp that being a pain in his ass in the shortest route to his brain. But I don't know what his actual philosophy is other than he's sort of an angry, cranky, sort of conventional liberal with sort of a mean streak.

And his fixation with the word fascist is sort of typical. The best working definition of a fascist in contemporary American life is a conservative who's winning an argument. And he's throwing around the word fascism all the time, he's quoting people out of context all the time, I mean he's basically a trench-fighting partisan who's somehow convinced himself that his press releases are true when they compare him to Edward R. Murrow. And the truth of the matter is that not even Edward R. Murrow is Edward R. Murrow but that's a different issue.

So I don't think he's a fascist if by fascist we mean Nazi who's bigoted and wants to round people up or any of that kind of stuff, but I do think he's a bully and I do think to the extent that we can glean what his politics are, they certainly fit within the fascist tradition on economics let's say. They certainly to the extent that he's got this whole mancrush on Barack Obama and Barack Obama's nonsense about unity for its own sake and all these kinds of things. To the extent that Barack Obama is running a campaign almost explicitly as a political religion where he's sort of a messiah type, those sorts of themes fit into my argument about what liberalism is and how it sort of has a resemblance to fascism. But whether he's in fact a-I don't think he's a fascist in the way the average person means it but in the way I define liberal fascism in my book, he's probably as good a candidate as anybody is for a liberal fascist.

SHEFFIELD: Mmm. Yeah, well I think most of the NewsBusters readers would agree with that. But--

GOLDBERG: --The only sort of thing I'm being clever or sort of nuanced on that is that I can certainly see him putting me up for his fifth or sixth worst person in the world award if I wasn't sort of caveating or being clear what I meant.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah but that would be free publicity here so I'm sort of helping you out here. [laughter]

But you mentioned Barack Obama and there's been a lot of comparisons actually between him and Ronald Reagan and not fascism. Do you, I mean it seems to me that to a certain degree somebody who didn't agree with your foundational premises would say aren't you just effectively saying people cannot have hope in their government? Ronald Reagan tried to instill hope in government but you like him. What would you say to that?

GOLDBERG: Well, I hear versions of that quite a bit and I think there are a bunch of different things going on there and I think they're all to one extent or another, wrong. First of all, Ronald Reagan which at times does sound superficially like Barack Obama's: Reagan talked about a shining city on a hill, and all that kind of stuff and he had this wonderful rhetoric about patriotism and unity and all these kinds of things. And I'm sure you could find all sorts of other comparisons between Reagan's rhetoric and Obama's. But at the end of the day, Reagan was romanticizing not government but the glories and wonders of the American people and what they can do with God's gift of freedom. Which is an enormous distinction.

Reagan still believed that government wasn't the solution, it was the problem. And Obama's approach is the exact opposite of that. Reagan comes from the National Review tradition of believing that a virtuous, a truly virtuous society can only be the end-product of a free society. For virtue not freely chosen is not virtue as Frank Meyer might say. And Obama's whole shtick is that we must be unified and hopeful for what the government itself can do for us. Michelle Obama says Barack Obama is going to cure and heal our sickened souls. From my perspective, we have a Second Amendment precisely to keep governments who think they are in the soul-fixing business at bay.

I don't want the government to try and fix my soul. When Barack Obama has his door-knocking volunteers go around, they're instructed not to talk about issues but to talk about how they came to Obama in the same way that people talk about coming to Jesus. That scares me. And that's not Reaganesque. Reagan's whole approach-I think Obama's gift for oratory and for seeming like a decent and compelling personality that you'd want to know and you enjoy listening to, that kind of stuff is Reaganesque. His ability to read a script is Reaganesque and I think those comparisons are perfectly legitimate just as I think comparisons between Mike Huckabee and Reagan on that score-his ability to connect with people are fair. But in terms of philosophy, the last thing in the world that Reagan represented was the idea that we should sort of turn politics into this quasi-religious enterprise where a great leader using government can redeem the society and deliver us to some sort of utopian place where we all sort of have to work together, that's not Reaganesque. That's the opposite of Reaganism.

SHEFFIELD: On that point, you mentioned that it's sort of a secular religion, that that's the way that liberalism, socialism, whatever you want to call it, has become, I find it sort of fascinating that there seems to be a sort of emerging faction on the left of people who are especially atheistic who are disturbed by that. And it's still a small group, you know like Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens, but that it disturbs them to a certain degree, would you agree?

GOLDBERG: In terms of Obama's approach or in terms of secular religion politics generally?

SHEFFIELD: Well, in terms of Obama's approach, you know with Mickey Kaus with his Obama Messiah Watch, et cetera?

GOLDBERG: Yeah, well I think that there's some people, I'm curious to know what Sam Harris has to say about Obama. To be brutally honest, I haven't read any of that stuff I've been so busy on the book tour--

SHEFFIELD: --Well let me step back then and maybe not necessarily in terms of Obama but in terms of here there-traditionally the American left has sort of thought of Christianity as being the only evil religion and to a certain lesser extent Judaism but never any other religions. But with Hitchens and with Harris, when it comes to the question of Islam, they're standing up there and screaming ‘what the hell is the matter with you guys? Here is the actual fundamentalist and you don't want to do anything to them?'

GOLDBERG: Well, in terms of Obama, I think people like Mickey Kaus, the wonderful thing about Mickey Kaus is that-and obviously I disagree with his politics often and sometimes I disagree with his analysis-but a better bullshit detector in American public life I don't know. I mean he is wonderful at sort of ripping off the metaphysical frosting of things and just calling b.s. when he hears it. And with someone like Obama who's promising sort of a kingdom of heaven on earth and that he's going to sort of deliver us to the sunny uplands of history-And also when you think in terms of Mickey that he's got this sort of exasperation towards younger liberals who get caught up in their enthusiasms and believe that there's, that this is sort of a new age of politics, Mickey calls foul on that stuff and I love that stuff.

In terms of the sort of secular religion stuff, I don't think that liberals have a long, long, long way to go before the recognize the kinds of things about how liberalism has become a sort of public religion, a political religion. Hillary Clinton's politics of meaning was even more explicitly a political religion than anything Barack Obama has said so far. I mean it was resolutely a religion of the state in which government was the only vehicle by which people could be redeemed.

And it's a fascinating thing to me in terms of the continuity here because the original American progressives whom both Hillary and Barack Obama have claimed as their inspiration. Hillary Clinton said in the YouTube-CNN debate that she is not a liberal but she's in fact a progressive and that she takes her intellectual and philosophical inspiration back to the early American progressives. And Barack Obama after he won the Potomac primary went back to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and said where else but here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison should we, what better place to go to affirm the ideals of this campaign? Now the progressives at the University of Wisconsin as I pointed out earlier this week were a bunch of racist eugenicists. We have to give Barack Obama the benefit of the doubt to assume he has no clue what he's talking about when he says he wants to be like to progressives.

But the other thing I find fascinating is that both of these people- Barack is constantly talking about the social gospel, invoking the social gospel, defending Jeremiah Wright on the grounds of the social gospel--what is amazing to me is that the original progressives who were big believers in the social gospel, they believed in kind of a Christian socialism where the state was going to be sort of the altar for all mankind and the engine of progress toward the promised land and towards the kingdom of heaven on earth. And what we've seen in the last 40 years is that that progressive vision of the role of the state has remained constant: the state is going to save us, the state is going to fix us, be our mommy and our daddy and our redeemer and all these sorts of things, but the connection with Christianity was severed. And the left has been denouncing sort of overt displays of Christian faith for a very long time now and so we've come to see self-described progressives as being in sort of a war against traditional Christianity. and I think they still are in a war against traditional Christianity.

But what we're seeing now is that a lot of these self-styled progressives reconnecting with this left-wing Christian left tradition. Jim Wallace, and Barack Obama himself, they basically have said that Christianity basically requires that you become the sort of left-wing Democrat. And that belief in God means belief in the Democratic Party platform. And I think that's a really interesting change in American politics. And I think it's going to get stronger and stronger which is one of the reasons why I think people need to understand where this stuff comes from.

SHEFFIELD: And I think that's a point that secular conservatives or secular libertarians should really be hammering that point to secular audiences that hey if you say you're scared of religion, religion's a problem or a threat to society or whatever, you should never be supporting a Democrat. You should be a secular conservative or a secular libertarian.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, and it's amazing to me and I agree with that and let's be honest that there's sort of a faction of big-government conservatives who want to use-they were disproportionately among Mike Huckabee supporters-these people want to use the government for sort of right-wing progressive ends, to impose these sorts of Christian, socially conservative vision on the country using the government in much the same way that the left wanted to do it.

But it's important to point out that most of these people who are Christian conservatives, the social conservatives, don't want to do that, that they're still members of the Norquist-kind of leave-me-alone coalition. The scary thing about the left is that the whole point of the left is to interfere, is to use the government. And the closer these guys come to embracing this vision of the role of the sate, the more ambitious they are going to be in terms of using the government to impose their values everywhere and anywhere they can.

SHEFFIELD: And I love that. Whenever it comes to moral questions, they always say conservative moral opinions, you shouldn't hove them on anyone but of course, that's their entire philosophy, forcing liberal moral values on everyone else.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, that's right and I think that idea that the party of racial quotas and taking tax dollars, taking as many tax dollars as possible to pay for every kinds of domestic social engineering scheme that they can imagine, that these are not the aggressors in the cultural war and that these aren't want to be imposing values is just sort of nonsense.

And it's important to point out that conservatives were wrong on civil rights in the 1960s. Some were wrong for intellectually defensible reasons and some weren't and they were simply wrong on race grounds; and we can sort out who was who if we want but conservatives were wrong about that. But beyond that, it's important to point out that in the culture war, the progressives, the left, they are the aggressors. They're the ones who went to places like VMI and said you had to take women, they're the ones who went to private businesses and said, you know, you have to start hiring more women, you have to start redesigning your businesses based upon progressive conceptions of things. And in some of these cases, the progressives may have been right-I think certainly on civil rights the progressives were right-but the idea that on issues of morality and all these kinds of things that the conservatives started the culture war is just total horseshit.

The conservatives were on descent and in many ways the whole rise of the religious right is an antibody response to a social engineering push that started in the 1960s on the left.

SHEFFIELD: I agree with that, totally. Your whole book is basically about myth-busting if you will. One of the more interesting parts, I thought, in terms of popular misconceptions was the 1930s left-wing radio brigade that is now considered fascist and of course, that means Rush Limbaugh is a fascist.

GOLDBERG: You mean Father Coughlin?

SHEFFIELD: Yeah.

GOLDBERG: Well it's part of this knee-jerk comparison-Rush Limbaugh and Father Coughlin as sort of twins, you know, Limbaugh is the heir to Coughlin and that right-wing, conservative radio in America is sort of a continuation of what Coughlin was.

So basically, so listen to this, for people who don't know, Father Coughlin was a Catholic priest who was a rabid anti-Semite, was from the beginning an anti-Semite, and was by the end of his career he was openly pro-Hitler and pro-Mussolini. And eventually the Catholic church told him he couldn't do his radio show any more and had to shut up, couldn't talk about politics. I wish the Catholic church had done it sooner.

And in the mid-1930s, he was one of these guys who was one of FDR's strongest enemies. He helped found the National Union for Social Justice and it's amazing if you go through the history books, you go through the popular press and all the rest, he is just routinely referred to as a right-wing radio priest and the reality was, from the get-go that Father Coughlin was to the left of FDR.

In the early 1930s, Coughlin was railing about terrible Herbert Hoover was-and I'm not a big fan of Herbert Hoover either-but he was attacking Herbert Hoover from the far left and when FDR comes around, Coughlin was a huge FDR supporter. He campaigned for FDR, he proclaimed in radio and in film that the New Deal was Christ's deal that it was Roosevelt or ruin. He was an enormously popular figure among the progressive bloc of congressmen on Capitol Hill, i.e. the most left-wing group of Democrats and Republicans, because you know, back then your ideology didn't have a lot to do with your political party. He was routinely defended by the leading progressives and left-wing intellectuals of the day. Not all of them, some of them really didn't like him, but most of them did.

The most important Catholic intellectual in America at the time was this guy named Father John A. Ryan who had an enormous influence on FDR and the New Deal and got many of his ideas from European corporatism which was at time the heart of the program of Italian fascism. And John Ryan who was sort of the pristine intellectual Catholic of his day defended Coughlin in the same way in the same way that a Joe Klein would defend Michael Moore: sure he can go too far sometimes but at the end of the day, he said that Coughlin was on the side of the angels.

And yet somehow he ended up being called right-wing and the reason was because Coughlin started to oppose FDR and cause trouble for FDR. And what's left out of the story was that he caused FDR trouble from the left! He was campaigning against FDR from the left and his economic program was far to FDR's left.

He wanted to basically create a fundamentally fascist economy here, a socialist economy, his supporters were the same supporters of Huey Long. And Huey Long, let us recall, was often called a fascist but had basically a socialist program which he refused to call socialist because he thought it had a bad brand name. But the Share Our Wealth program was basically a socialist program.

But the reality is that in much the same way that anyone who was politically unacceptable to the Soviets got called a fascist like Trotsky, anybody who opposed Roosevelt in the United States got called right-wing. And so Father Coughlin has been called right-wing for generations now even though on every important issue, he was to FDR's left and was attacking him from the left. I mean the only other issue that earned him the title right-wing was his antisemitism. But the left didn't mind his anti-antisemitism when he was pro-FDR. And I take profound offense that the only thing you need to be to be a right-winger is anti-semitic, an incredible slander, because anti-antisemitism is quite popular on the left and if you don't believe me, just read my email.

SHEFFIELD: I find it interesting and to a certain degree, people who are that way, inclined to be racist or anti-semitic, or even virulently anti-gay are just as likely to be on the left as on the right, I think.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, I mean there's a slight difference though and that is if you can talk to somebody and you can peer into their heart that these bigotries are pretty well-spread across the political spectrum but the one difference is that because conservatives are more, tend to be more ideational rather than coalitional, we tend to say-Reagan used to say, Giuliani likes to say-if you agree me on six or eight of my 12 or 10 ideas then you're with me. And with the left, you don't have to agree with anybody. It's all sort of this log-rolling you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours let's have a coalition. I thought it was amazing in Barack Obama's race speech he basically declared that the trick for everybody is for, black people in particular, to, in Obama's words, bind their grievances to left-wing whites who want nationalized health care.

And that's really the approach. And the idea that a party of blue-collar union workers would be the same party of gay marriage makes no sense except insofar as the way the Democratic party runs on the sort of you-scratch-my-back principle which is why they glorify unity so much, or at least part of the reason they glorify unity so much. But the one rule that the left has is that you can't say anything mean about anybody else in your coalition and so they're much better at policing what people say and not caring what people think.

SHEFFIELD: It's fascinating watching the left-wing reaction to your book. It seems most of them they look at the cover of it and that's about it, like Jon Stewart for instance. Talk about that.

GOLDBERG: Well, I think the left's reaction to the book is what social scientists would call an overdetermined event. I think there are a lot of different reasons why so many of these people have got their dresses over their heads. Part of it is that there's just a lot of people on the left who just hate my guts. I'm just one of these guys that they just love to hate so the idea that I would write a serious or important or successful, heaven forbid successful book was just an idea that just bugged the dickens out of them. And that was part of it, the left-wing blogosphere just hates my guts and it was totally based upon trying to punish me for a lot of them.

Another part of it is that the left has this enormous investment in these categories, just enormous. They have proclaimed for over a century now that the left is the sole arbiter of political morality and that the further you move from the left's positions, the closer you get to political evil. And the single greatest word that they have for political evil is Nazi or fascist. And to muddy all that up and to sort of take away their favorite clubs with which they use to beat their opponents is a very frightening thing.

And I think if you look closely at what some of my left-wing critics have been saying about the book, you hear Matt Yglesias whine about having to read the book, whining about how badly written it was and whining about how hard it was to work through and how boring it was. Same thing you got from Michael Thomasky. It's not a boring book, it's not a badly written book. I have no problem, I don't care if it sounds egotistical to say it it just simply isn't--

SHEFFIELD: --Well it certainly is a lot easier than reading a lot of their left-wing blogs.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, and but the simple fact is that these guys are paying me this inadvertent complement. What they're saying is that even though it's a bad book and such a terribly written book and all this kind of nonsense, they're saying dammit I still have to read it, and they're pissed off about that.

Ideally, I would be ignorable. But it's a complement that in the New Republic had to run 3,000 idiotic words. I mean Michael Thomasky, who I used to have some respect for, writes this incredibly hackish and intellectually indefensible review of the book in the magazine that Leon Wieseltier should have been ashamed to run. It says something. It says they can't ignore it. And the fact that the criticisms are so lame and intellectually dishonest tells you something else; this approach that they're taking to the book is ‘there's nothing to see here, folks, move away, please ignore this, you don't have to read this book, please don't read this book.' And that is the message that they're trying to send because the book is very fundamentally dangerous to their assumptions about politics and how they organize things.

And you can see the cognitive dissonance on display, I mean this idiotic position that Thomasky takes where he says basically two things. He says one, we knew all of this already and two, Goldberg doesn't know what he's talking about. Well which is it? You can't say on the one hand that I don't know anything and that I'm a moron and on the other hand say there's nothing new here. And yet that is exactly-these are political positions these guys are taking to dismiss it rather than engage with it, and I think a lot of that is sort of predictable.

And yet at the beginning it kind of bugged me. I remember that my editor Adam Bellow said the way to look at this is like one of these haunted house or "Pirates of the Caribbean" rides at Disney World where the sort of silly creatures leap out at you to scare you but you should just sort of enjoy the ride. And I've learned to do that. I mean I've lost a lot of respect for some people but I've learned to sort of laugh at a lot of these reviews because they're not really reviewing the book, they're just sort of carrying water for their side and I was hoping I would get more serious engagement.

In terms of Jon Stewart, you know, I have more sympathy for Jon Stewart than a lot of people do. I think he made a very grave mistake which was he tried to read the book in a day. He told me he spent all day reading the book and all day sort of surfing around, reading about fascism. And I just think he was out of his depth. And I'm not saying he's not smart enough to have grasped all the stuff but you can't do it in a day.

He says he went and read Mussolini's "Doctrine of Fascism" and in "Doctrine of Fascism," Mussolini says that fascism is against liberalism and Jon Stewart thought this was just wonderfully eye-opening and an important rebuttal to my book. But the important thing that he didn't understand was that "Doctrine of Fascism" was written a dozen years after fascism was already on the scene and that Mussolini was trying to restart fascism and, more importantly, the liberalism that Mussolini was referring to wasn't the liberalism of Jon Stewart or Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama but it was the liberalism of you and me. It was the liberalism of classical liberalism of free-market liberalism. Manchester liberalism.

But I don't think Stewart understands or had those kinds of distinctions in mind, so he just had a really hard time with the book. And we get up there and it showed, we started knocking heads and I wasn't going to be bullied, a lot of f-bombs started flying around and I think he realized that it didn't work and that the thing he was left with was sort of this 18-minute monstrosity that he had to cut down to at 6 minutes. And I at least have to give him credit for telling the viewers that it was this mess and because they could have tried to cut it in such a way to make it seem as if it was seamless and at least they telegraphed it to the viewer that it was a hatchet job. And anybody who watched it, their reaction would be ‘what the hell was that?' And so I think that helps.

I get a lot of hate mail but I didn't get a lot of hate mail from the Jon Stewart thing because I think most people recognize how grotesquely unfair to me and they have no idea what the real conversation was and I think it made some people curious, I wonder what Goldberg actually has to say.

SHEFFIELD: Do you think they should have released the whole thing on the internet?

GOLDBERG: Oh, I think so, and I think some people would be kind of disappointed with it because as I said, we knocked heads from the beginning. It was just an ineffective interview. One of the things that-and I probably shouldn't have done the show until I had been more comfortable talking about the book, it was probably a little too early. But at the end of the day, he just didn't get the book and he kept trying to come at me from different directions and I wouldn't get, I wouldn't back down. So it was a lot of sort of talking past each other and knocking heads and all the rest. It wasn't like-it wasn't just a function of how it was edited, that was the reality of it.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, and I think that's because the prime component of his humor style is conservatives are idiots. And in that interview, I think you showed very clearly that he didn't know anything about what he was talking about.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, I think in some ways it was worse than that. I mean he knew just enough to really be wrong about some stuff. I mean he would have been better off if he had just sort of come in from the perspective of what my book was about but instead he wanted to go after me.

And the interesting thing on that is that, and I'm sure you've got better evidence of this than I do, is that he does not have that approach with liberal authors. With liberal authors, it's ‘Tell me what your book is about,' or ‘Oh, isn't that interesting,' and ‘Explain that more' and little jokes on the side. But not sort of, you know, attacking directly the author and the author's work. He only reserves that kind of thing for conservatives. And I think that's a shame.

SHEFFIELD: It is. And I think there's a lot of stupidity on all sides of politics.

GOLDBERG: Yeah, I mean Jon Stewart could be a real asset to the culture if he hadn't sort of imbibed the ‘I am the king of the left-wing blogosphere' persona that he has in the last couple of years, the sort of ‘I'm the hero of the republic' persona. I think he needs to get back to what he used to be good at which is the sort of even-handed kind of stuff. And I know he did that thing on the Marines in California, the Marine recruiters and all that. Because if he just gets labeled as a left-wing guy, it's going to hurt his ratings, because I think a lot of conservatives think that at least part of the show is pretty funny and he should just lay off trying to be an advocate for one side of the fight.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, and it really makes it difficult for anybody for anybody to take him seriously as a media critic when every single one of his points is the media need to be more liberal and talk about how Bush is a liar.

GOLDBERG: Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: It's just completely unserious.

GOLDBERG: And it's also grotesquely unfair. You can't, you know that original Jon Stewart thing on "Crossfire," you can't keep dancing across the line. Either you're a serious guy or you're a comedian guy. And I say this as a guy who tries to be pretty funny in his writing and all the rest. But at the end of the day, you have to decide whether you're going to be serious or not. It's pretty unfair tactics to run across the line and have a surprise attack on a serious point and then when anybody tries to push back, you run back to home base and say, ‘Haha, I'm back in comedy-land.' Pick your territory.

And that's what he did with Tucker. I thought it was really outrageous how he did that with Tucker. Every time Tucker tried to fight back he'd say ‘Look, I'm just a comedian but here's this incredibly serious and somber point.' I thought that was really unfair.

Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield
Matthew Sheffield, creator of NewsBusters and president of Dialog New Media, an internet marketing and design firm, left NewsBusters at the end of 2013