By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, March 10, 2010; A02
Just seven minutes into Glenn Beck's hour-long interview of Eric Massa on Tuesday evening, things had already gone very wrong.
Conservatives had hopes that the now-former Democratic congressman from Upstate New York, who resigned abruptly under an ethics cloud, would deliver the goods about corruption and strong-arm tactics in the Obama White House and Congress. But instead, Massa served up an icky new confession.
"Now they're saying I groped a male staffer," he volunteered. "Yeah, I did. Not only did I grope him, I tickled him until he couldn't breathe and then four guys jumped on top of me. It was my 50th birthday."
Beck looked aghast. "Was your wife at that one?" the Fox News Channel host asked.
"No, this was in a townhouse; we all lived together, all the bachelors and me," Massa explained. "My chief of staff had a conniption and said, 'You can't live there, that's not congressional.' "
Beck tried to move the conversation in a different direction, but his guest resisted. "Let me show you something," Massa proposed, proffering a book with photos of bawdy Navy rituals from the days when he was a sailor.
"You're going to show me tickle fights?" Beck inquired.
"I'm going to show you a lot more than tickle fights," Massa promised. Beck put on his reading glasses, then judged that the images should not be shown on television. "It looks like an orgy in 'Caligula,' " Massa asserted.
The right's romance of Eric Massa was off to a messy start.
This was, perhaps, to be expected from a man who, by his own account, grabbed one of his male staffers at a party, tousled his hair and said, "What I really ought to be doing is fracking you."
But Beck was willing to take a risk on Massa, in part because the former congressman was willing to say that President Obama's chief of staff had no clothes. Over the weekend, Massa described meeting the White House chief of staff in the locker room of the House gym: "I'm sitting there showering, naked as a jaybird, and here comes Rahm Emanuel, not even with a towel wrapped around his tush, poking his finger in my chest. . . . Do you know how awkward it is to have a political argument with a naked man?"
Pretty fracking awkward. But not as awkward as Beck's interview of Massa on Tuesday.
The Beck-Massa affair was a case of two political extremists who have gone so far in opposite directions that these strange bedfellows have wound up on the same mattress: They are both avowed foes of the Obama administration and its efforts to enact health-care reform.
Massa, who at first had said he was quitting for medical reasons but then admitted there were ethics problems, finally decided that he had been "set up" by the White House and Democratic leaders because of his opposition to health-care legislation. Democratic leaders, he ranted over the weekend on WKPQ, in Hornell, N.Y., "are going to ram this down the throats of the American people, and anyone who stands in the way of doing that is going to be smeared and they're going to be kicked out of Congress."
Twice on the show, he urged listeners to "call Fox News" to get him booked on the conservative news network. Sure enough, Beck came calling. But there was a problem with this arrangement. Massa opposed the reform bill because he thinks it isn't enough of a government takeover. He wants a government-run single-payer system -- what Beck would call socialism.
At the top of the show, there was a little flirtation.
"I have hundreds of friends who in the past 48 hours think I'm Beelzebub, think I'm the devil, because I'm going on this show," Massa said.
"I have several friends who think I'm the devil for having you on," Beck returned.
Massa tried to be ingratiating to his host. "By the way, we actually agree on some things," he said. He urged Beck's viewers to tell lawmakers to oppose the health-care bill -- as though that may not have occurred to them.
But Beck was unimpressed. He didn't understand why Massa, if he had truly been wronged by the White House and Democratic leaders, would resign rather than stay and fight. "Bull crap, sir," Beck said of Massa's explanation.
It deteriorated from there. Massa suggested that Beck "stop calling fellow Americans names . . . socialist, communist, whatever the case may be." He also told the conservative audience: "You can't show up at a 'tea party' rally and claim that the entire budget deficit happened this year."
And Massa, though he brought a chest X-ray to document his illness, had nothing to support his hints that Democratic leaders had made corrupt bargains and used thuggish tactics. "Name names," Beck pleaded. "Show us where to throw the dirt."
But no matter how many times he was asked -- Anything new? Actionable stuff? Anything specific? -- Massa came up empty. "I don't know how to be specific," he said.
In the show's waning minutes, Beck surrendered. "America, I've got to shoot straight with you," he said, looking into the camera. "I think I've wasted your time. I think this is the first time I have wasted an hour of your time, and I apologize for that."
Seems Massa's dalliance with the right was to be a one-night stand.