Radio host Ingraham distorted my words, then cut my mike

I tried to have a real conversation about Fort Hood with the conservative talker, but she wasn't interested


Mark Benjamin
November 11, 2009 5:15AM (UTC)

Note to Laura Ingraham: If you are going to selectively edit my TV quotes to construct a straw man argument, don't invite me on your radio show to discuss it. The problem, of course, is that it is pretty easy to point this out when I appear as a guest. And the wonders of Google allow anybody to pull my full quotes, later, and write about it.

Of course, you could always just cut off my microphone if you don't like what I have to say about that. It worked today.

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(I didn't know who Ingraham was either. She is a right-wing radio host, sort of a poor man's Ann Coulter. I say poor man's Ann Coulter because, for example, earlier on Tuesday Ingraham's Web site featured photos of Nancy Pelosi and Steven Tyler side-by-side, with a caption that reads, 'Separated at Birth?' That's so funny. Get it? Nancy Pelosi looks like a man!)

Laura outlined my role as Straw Man within minutes of my picking up the phone for the interview. My part, it seemed, was to play the lefty who denied that Muslim extremism might have played a role in the motivation behind the Fort Hood massacre. I was the guy arguing that as an Army psychiatrist, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan suffered stress from counseling soldiers back from war and he snapped, simple as that.

"You are stating that you don't think religion, or the religious fervor of this particular person, Hasan, had, really, any impact on this whatsoever," she alleged early on.

Hmmm, I thought. That's strange. "No," I pointed out. "That's not what I'm saying at all. I think we have a complicated situation here."

Not complicated to her. Ingraham's investigation has already resulted in some conclusive results, which she shared with me. "What's complicated?" she stammered. "He is screaming Allah-u-Akbar! He is e-mailing al-Qaida and asking one of the procurement officers for Osama bin Laden what he can do to forward the Jihad in the United States," she announced. "And we are saying this is all that complicated?"

She then ran a quote from my appearance on "The Rachel Maddow Show" last Thursday: "I certainly have met mental healthcare providers in the military who, after sitting all day long and listening to some really disturbing tales," I said -- in part -- "and in combination with the fact that they are overwhelmed, overworked, don't have resources to do their jobs, become extremely stressed and frazzled. There is no reason to not think that this could ultimately lead to that kind of a conclusion."

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Aha! Ingraham pounced. "So you did say that someone who is stressed and frazzled could be led to do this horrible act!" she said, calling my analysis "lazy."

"You never talked about the crazy Jihadi ideas," she went on, "I don't believe, with Rachel Maddow. Did you?"

"I believe I did," I responded.

What Ingraham did not say is that she had deleted the sentences I said immediately prior to the quote she used. Immediately before that Maddow quote, I had noted, "Well, it certainly could be a combination of factors. There are people who believe that this is a person who is suffering from some kind of secondary post-traumatic stress from treating soldiers," I noted. "And there are people who believe he was somehow influenced by Muslim extremism. I think it could be a combination of both."

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I then noted on Ingraham's radio show that there "obviously was a religious thing" going on with the story, as I said on TV.

"I'm surprised you are saying that," she fired back. "I'm glad you are saying that."

"I've been saying that for days," I pointed out. "I've done five TV hits in the past week, which obviously you did not watch." (In fact, the day after Maddow, I appeared on "Countdown With Keith Olbermann." On Olbermann's show I said, in part, "I mean, we've got a guy who clearly had a pretty twisted version of Islam and was getting, you know, increasingly militant.")

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"Well," Ingraham admitted. "I don't watch MSNBC often. Nor does anybody," she said. "I did see the Rachel Maddow piece and I'm pretty sure you did not mention Jihadism."

True. I mentioned "Muslim extremism." And in the world of pixie dust, fairies and death panels, I guess that's not the same. Up is down. Black is white. I didn't say what I said.

At one point, Ingraham went so far as to suggest I was blaming U.S. troops for the massacre, since their experiences in war were so troubling. She summarized my alleged argument as, "Yeah. We suck."

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Later, via e-mail, I sent Ingraham my entire quote from Maddow and asked her if what she did on her show "was an accurate portrayal of my position."

"Not playing an entire previous interview of a guest is hardly misrepresentation," she responded, though I had not sent along the full transcript.

During the radio interview Tuesday, Ingraham apparently became frustrated with my efforts to discuss this matter, telling her producer to "put down his mike or this ends right here."

I then found that my end of the conversation had become muted. I could no longer be heard on the radio -- only she could. So, I hung up. In an e-mail afterward, Ingraham recounted this as, "It was your choice to hang up before the interview was over."

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Finally, something accurate. Technically.

"Oh, he hung up," she'd said on the radio after she cut off my mike. "The left really don't want to have a conversation."

Audio of the interview is below. Thanks to Media Matters for providing it.

[audio src='http://media.salon.com/2009/11/laura_111009.mp3']
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Mark Benjamin

Mark Benjamin is a national correspondent for Salon based in Washington, D.C. Read his other articles here.

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