Radio host to explore spirituality, politics at NHBZ

Michael Medved

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

To refer to Michael Medved as a Renaissance Man or jack of many trades would be an understatement.

Medved, 67 and a popular radio host, published his first bestseller at age 26. His “Michael Medved Show” airs on 300 radio stations nationwide and in St. Louis on WSDZ (1260 AM/The Answer), from 3-5 p.m. five days a week. The show has more than 4 million listeners. Talkers magazine has listed Medved’s show as one of the Top 10 political talk shows in the United States 14 years in a row. 

Medved will be the featured speaker at a special program titled “Judgment Days: What the High Holy Days Teach Us about Presidential Politics” at Nusach Hari B’nai Zion Synagogue on Sunday, Sept. 25 (see infobox for details).

Medved is a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. He was the chief film critic for the New York Post, author of “Hollywood vs. America: Popular Culture and the War on Traditional Values” and co-host of the popular TV show “Sneak Previews.”

A native of Philadelphia, Medved at age 16 attended Yale University, where he majored in American history and graduated with honors. He later attended Yale Law School with Bill and Hillary Clinton. His 13th book, “The American Miracle: Divine Providence in the Rise of the Republic,” will be available in October.

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The Jewish Light caught up with Medved from his office in Seattle for a Q&A before his visit here.  

 

In your book, “Right Turns,” you describe your transformation from “punk liberal activist” to “conservative curmudgeon.” What events or experiences caused you to undergo that transformation? 

Three P’s have helped move me and many people to a more conservative direction. Those three P’s tend to be Paychecks, Parenthood and Prayer. The way that works for most people and worked to some extent for me, was, when all of a sudden you start getting regular paychecks. And you notice how much of it does not go into your pocket.

Then, parenthood. I became a father relatively late in life (age 38), and that was a completely reorienting and life-changing experience. And then the third P, prayer, I became more religiously observant. I always had a strong Jewish identity, but I became more observant in my early 20s. Part of Jewish observance and Jewish identity is inherently conservative. 

Part of what every Jewishly religious person attempts to do is to replicate in your own life some elements of the life you identify with your grandparents. For me, the idea of reconnecting with my grandparents was through keeping the Sabbath, putting on tefillin in the morning, keeping kosher — that made me a more conservative person. There also were a series of world events and how we reacted to those events that made me move to the right.

 

You attended Yale Law School, where your classmates included Bill and Hillary Clinton. Did you know them? If so, what impression did you have of them individually and as a couple?

I knew them both. I liked Hillary very much. I was her study partner for a semester. And it’s something I have been saying for 40 years: Conservatives really do get Hillary all wrong. She is a decent person and kind. Hillary is warm, kind and intensely well-meaning. I think she’s wrong on a lot of issues, but this idea that she is somehow demonic or the Wicked Witch of the East — or totally corrupt — is ridiculous. And it is not fair to her as a person. 

In terms of Bill, we used to refer to him as Eddie Haskel, the character on “Leave It to Beaver” who was just intensely phony. We would refer to him at that time as either Eddie Haskel or Three Dollar Bill because he struck me and many others at Yale as someone who was made fun of.

 

In your film reviews and books, you wrote some scathing denunciations of the lack of a moral compass among filmmakers. Have things stayed the same or become worse or better in this regard? 

There are aspects of both. Where the situation is better … is more of an attempt to serve a family market. One of the things I argued in my (1992) book (“Hollywood vs. America”) is that the number of movies rated G and PG did constantly better than movies rated R and PG-13. This is not rocket science. There are relatively few parents who will say, let’s go out together and see an R-rated movie. The mix today, which includes more G and PG-rated films, is dramatic. 

There has also been a greater willingness to show respect for people of faith. Hollywood underrated the power of religion. Every week, five times as many people go to church or synagogue as go to movies. It’s not even close. And in the past you would not see that. It has gotten much better in this regard.

Where things have gotten worse has been influenced by TV. There are people who feel that what now comes out of TV, especially on cable, is better, more compelling and more substantive than what comes out in feature films. Having said that, what comes out on cable and TV has led to the habitual viewing of violence, nudity and harsh language, which has not had a positive influence on traditional movies. 

 

Has support for Israel among American Jews been severely damaged because of the anti-Israel activities on college campuses, growing support for the BDS movement and the recent denunciations of Israel as engaged in “genocide” that was included in the Black Lives Matter platform? 

This is part of what I will be speaking about when I’m in St. Louis. I don’t believe that support for Israel has been significantly undermined by the so-called BDS movement. 

I think what has happened is that the BDS movement has come into existence because, with a few exceptions, even basic knowledge of Israel or an emotional connection to Israel has been greatly reduced in the American Jewish community. 

One of the things that has been shocking to me is that about 70 percent of American Jews have never been to Israel. The one thing that people find most shocking when they go to Israel for the first time is what a positive, upbeat, optimistic, happy country it is. I often say that Disneyland is not the happiest place on earth, it’s Israel. Israel’s very existence is a miracle, and a cause for celebration when people come there and see that for themselves.