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One On 1: Conservative Commentator John Podhoretz Reveals He's Really A TV Man

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You may know John Podhoretz best from his 10 years writing editorials for the New York Post. But there is a lot more to his story. NY1's Budd Mishkin speaks with Podhoretz for this One on 1 report.

John Podhoretz has strong opinions on the surge, the mortgage crisis, and abortion.

"The [troop surge in Iraq] will have been one of the great things the United States has ever done," he said.

"If you signed a contract as an adult, you're responsible for the terms of that contract," said Podhoretz over the mortgage crisis.

On abortion, Podhoretz says that while he is "emotionally pro life," "it's very hard for me to believe that people who disagree with me are therefore murderers."

Podhoretz says that he has expressed strong opinions he wishes he could take back.

"I thought George W. Bush, whom I came to admire very greatly, was an idiot," he said.

Podhoretz's resume also includes many elements that may surprise New Yorkers. He was a pop-culture critic, consultant on "The West Wing," and a five-time winner on the game show "Jeopardy."

And while Podhoretz makes his living with the written word, at heart, he says, he's a television guy. His favorite show: "The Odd Couple."

Years ago, he actually forced himself to go cold turkey, putting the TV in the closet.

"And I had a big heavy TV and a giant box, so I would have to like carry it in and then I would like drag it out to watch it again," he recalled. "And then, once, I cut the plug off so that I couldn't watch it."

But writing has always been at the center of his work, for presidents, magazines, and newspapers.

He'll soon take over as editor-in-chief of the neo-conservative magazine Commentary, for many years edited by his father Norman, which is one reason why he said he initially said no to the offer.

"I had spent my adult career making my own way, my own reputation, helping to start a couple publications," said Podhoretz. "And, I thought, certainly this was not wise. And however my own personal history might enter into it, this was too great an opportunity to pass up, because I might have neurotic problems about worrying about competing with a shadow of my father."

Podhoretz has authored three books. The first, "Hell of a Ride," set around the end of the first President George Bush's administration, looked at life in the White House from the perspective of the worker bees.

"A lot of people working for the Clinton White House told me that 'Hell of a Ride,' my book about the administration that they succeeded, with which they had very little in common with ideologically, that the portrait of a life in the White House was exactly the same," he said.

Podhoretz's latest book, a guidebook to Republicans on how to stop Hillary Clinton from becoming the next president of the United States, was published in March, 2006, long before her loss to Barack Obama.

"There you go, not the way I anticipated it," he said.

The columnist often criticized Clinton in his columns at the New York Post. But at the 2000 convention, a friend at the Post cajoled him into waiting on a receiving line and taking a picture with her.

"We finally got up to the front of the receiving line, and I said, 'Mrs. Clinton, John Podhoretz,'" he recalled. "And she went, [gritted her teeth and said], 'Oh, yes, John, how nice to meet you."

Podhoretz enjoys the comic give and take, appearing on shows like "The Daily Show with John Stewart," but he's no slouch playing political hardball.

His second book is titled "Bush Country: How Dubya Became a Great President While Driving Liberals Insane."

Podhoretz claims that being a conservative on the Upper West Side is not the desert island existence you might think.

"My experience is people say stop me about three times a week four times a week and say, 'Thank God you're here. I feel like I'm the only one,'" he said.

Podhoretz admits that as a young boss in Washington in the 1980s, he could have handled employees in a more charitable manner, and he's been criticized in print by some of those former colleagues. But he claims that the hard-charging workaholic of those years is gone.

"When you yourself have a family and kids and all that, you understand that everything needs to be integrated and that not everybody else is going to spend their entire life thinking about the job that they're doing," Podhoretz said. "That they have a lot of other things to think about at the same time, and so I have a more rounded sense of that than I did when I was a kid bossing people around."

While Podhoretz may write about serious issues, he's a longtime actor wannabe, even joining an improvisational group a few years ago.

There was one problem: he was 20 years older than everyone else in the group, and they somehow did not get his references.

"I made a joke about Maimonides that [went over all of their heads]," he said.

Podhoretz describes his growing up in the 1960s as one of the last classic New York City boyhoods, playing handball and stickball on 105th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue.

But he says in the 70s he was mugged four times by kids his own age, and witnessed the effects of the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill.

"There were people wandering around Broadway and the island screaming at the top of their lungs and talking to themselves," he said. "That was one element of the menace and then this kind of casual crime everywhere."

Podhoretz was 16 on the night of the blackout of 1977.

"I stood in front of my building that summer and with12 people standing with baseball bats so they wouldn't, so the looters wouldn't come in and break into the stores in our building," Podhoretz recalled. It really felt like you were seeing the end, like you were the participant in the end of something."

Inside the Podhoretz apartment, he witnessed a different type of struggle.

His parents were one time liberals who became neo conservatives. They had a very public falling out with friends, which Norman Podhoretz eventually wrote about in his book "Ex-Friends."

His son felt his parents' pain and learned some lessons.

"My father speaks his mind and it's been painful for him to do so because he gets attacked and he doesn't like it," said Podhoretz. "And I have a much, much thicker skin. I don't really, I'm not that bothered by being criticized."

Podhoretz has occasionally engaged in his own public spats with critics in the blogosphere.

"If you didn't like to argue and mix it up there would be no point," he said. "Otherwise you're just writing Hallmark cards."

Podhoretz spent the 80s and early 90s in Washington, D.C., working for various newspapers and magazines and then for the Ronald Reagan and Bush administrations.

He was married very briefly in the early 90s, and then moved back to New York in 1997.

His current wife, Ayala, is a producer at "Saturday Night Live."

They became engaged shortly after September 11th. Podhoretz says it was a form of protest against the attacks.

"You were in love, that you were going try to make a life with someone else, that you were going to get married and have children and live where you were living and take a stand and make your stand at home," he said.

Podhoretz says his wife would describe herself as a liberal.

After spending a lifetime with what he calls "serious activists on the right," he believes that agreeing with someone politically does not always translate into friendship.

"People assume that politics trumps personal experience and interest. And that liberals and conservatives can't be friends. Yes we can be friends," said Podhoretz. "If we don't argue much about politics, we can be very good friends."

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