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  •   Levey Live: Speaking Freely

    Friday, March 5, 1999

    "Levey Live: Speaking Freely," hosted by Washington Post columnist Bob Levey, appears every Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time. It is a live, open-agenda discussion offering users around the world the opportunity to ask questions and discuss topics of their choice with Bob.

    Bob Levey
    Bob Levey
    Dan Murano/TWP

    "Levey Live: Speaking Freely" differs from Bob's regular Tuesday noon Web show--which features newsmakers and Post writers. The Friday event is what talk radio folks call an "open mike" show, your chance to schmooze with Bob about anything in his Monday through Friday columns , in the news or on your mind.

    Never fear, Levey was here--LIVE ONLINE --his coffee pot bubbling merrily as he typed at you from his palatial penthouse office high atop Babylon-on-the-Potomac.

    Please join Bob again next Tuesday when his guest will be The Washington Post's television columnist, Lisa de Moraes.

    Here is a transcript of today's session:

    Myersville, MD: Hi, I didn't watch Monica's entire interview with Ms. Walters, but what I saw was interesting. What was your take on the whole thing? I thought at times she was pretty flippant and at others I almost felt sorry for her, but there seem to be too many contradictions. Agree? Disagree? I am, however, interested in reading the book.

    Bob Levey: I didn't watch any of it. As I said on the radio the morning before, this is why God invented basketball--to give all of us who have had enough Monica another place to go. Actually, I was at the theater during the Monica-thon, but the point is the same. From the clips I've seen, she seems to be in love with her own celebrity--a California chickie who loves being in the limelight. To say the least, I don't buy her notion that she's a victim. People who flash thong underwear at married Presidents are victims? She knew exactly what she wanted, and she got it--trouble included.

    Rockville, MD: The Greaseman said a deplorable statement on the air and was fired and has been publicly assailed.

    As a journalist and one who interjects personal opinion into your work, where does American law currently draw the line on media/shock jock free speech, and do you think this remark is any more or less hurtful than the rouitine words of the Reverend Farrakhan?

    Bob Levey: There's no firm line, and I would hate it if there ever was. The First Amendment means what it says: Congress shall make NO LAW..... But let's not confuse what happened in the Greaseman case. He was fired for being offensive on a commercial radio station. It wasn't about rights. It was about how far WARW thought Grease could go without harming the mothership's business. As for Farrakhan, I think he's an abomination and a constant danger. But again, let's be clear about why he's so reprehensible. It's because he's inflammatory and viciously racist. But that doesn't mean he doesn't have the right to be both.

    Wondering, MD: What is one (but especially parents, trying to explain to children) to make of recent judicial decisions around the world? Just using a few examples: O.J., Clinton, Scheinbein, Ashby (the Marine pilot in Italy) - it gives new meaning to the belief that "Justice is blind" - perhaps deaf, too? What is going on in this world?

    Bob Levey: What's going on is that juries (and occasionally judges) are thinking in highly confused fashion. We need to go back to the days when legal cases were simply about law. They've become Oprah-thons where lawyers try to bring in all sorts of irrelevant junk about lifestyles and how often the poor accused murderer remembered his mother's birthday.

    Colesville, Md.: What are we to make of the gondola acquittal? This is twice in two weeks, I believe, that there have been mistakes in international justice. Sheinbein and now this. What do you think?

    Bob Levey: I'm sure our Marine Corps justice system will be raked over the coals in Italy, and probably much of the world. That's the price we've got to pay. There's no hard evidence that this was a whitewash. If anything, U.S. military justice is usually harsher than any other kind.

    Crystal City, Va: Your comments about the death penalty last week were silly. NOBODY thinks executing the killer will bring back the victim; NOBODY thinks putting those white-supremacists to death will eliminate racism in America. If you really think anyone does, you have not paid any attention to this debate.

    Bob Levey: Then you'd better explain what you think the death penalty DOES do. For sure, it doesn't exalt human life. For sure, it doesn't lead to fewer crimes. For sure, it doesn't promote respect for law (not only because of the occasional, inevitable error, but because those sentenced to death are the losers of our society, and might not have gotten a death sentence if they'd been rich enough to afford big-time lawyers).

    Woodbridge, VA: Bob: In yesterday's Tech Thursday by Leslie Walker, she/he writes, "The Media Gets a Message". Further, this person writes, "New media has old media on the run" Doesn't Leslie know that the word media is plural and deserves a plural verb?
    This may seem trivial, but the headline really stood out as a very big mistake on the part of the reporter. Why can't the Post get things like this right.

    Bob Levey: I will be sure to flog Leslie with my fraying eighth-grade grammar book. The better question: Why didn't Leslie's editor catch the error?


    Bob Levey: Sorry to be so cynical, but that sale has been underway for a long time.

    Falls Church, VA: I don't get Pat Buchannon's presidential ambitions. He has never received more than 30% of a primary vote, he only won in New Hampshire in '96 (with 28%) because of a 5 way split in the vote. Let's face it, he will never win the presidency. Jesse Helms would have a better chance. Do you think he's really running so he can secure a VP bid or a cabinet post?

    Bob Levey: Pat would never accept the vice presidency (too little chance to make a real difference), and I doubt that he'd want a place in anyone's cabinet (parked too far off to one side, on one set of issues). I think he genuinely believes he can win. If it were just about smoothness on the stump, he would. The guy has been on live radio and live TV so many thousands of times that he can never be scared by all the public appearances. I know him pretty well, and while I'd be amazed if he ever won, I wouldn't be amazed to see him scare the heck out of all the Bushes and Doles.

    Annandale, VA: As an American who wants to be loyal to his country and supportive of the military, I am nevertheless ashamed and upset at the recent aquittal of Capt. Ashby who's flying antics caused the death of 20 people in Italy. I truly feel that there was a miscarriage of justice which will play directly into our enemies hands (i.e. Look at those Americans who claim to be morally supperior but won't take responsibility for their own criminal acts) while alienating our friends. I would have less trouble believing the Ashby's defense if the plane's video tape hadn't "mysteriously" disappeared. Personally, I am tempted to write to the Italian Ambassador to apologize and assure him that not all Americans are happy with this recent verdict. What are your thoughts on this?

    Bob Levey: I certainly hope he'll be drummed out of the service, at the very least, just for being a cowboy.

    Warrenton, VA: Yesterday, Bell Atlantic announced another new fee for local phone service. Another of their onerous Telecom Act taxes.

    Calculating my local phone bill, this makes the seventh tax or fee. My phone service is now taxed at 80%! Yes that is not a typo- 80%.

    That's high- even by Democratic Party standards.

    Bob Levey: At last! We've figured it out! It must be the Democrats who have taken over Bell Atlantic, and who are squeezing us so hard! Give it a rest, my friend. In just this decade (and several others), Republicans have acquiesced in zillions of dollars worth of tax increases (even if they never introduced the tax measures themselves). It's totally bogus to blame one group of people for the fact that your phone bill went up a trickle.

    Fairfax, VA: How do you explain a country that impeaches a president over consentual sex but allows a man who is responsible for 20 deaths to walk away free and clear (with a smile on his face)?

    Bob Levey: The president was impeached for obstructing justice and perjury, not for engaging in consensual sex. And "the country" did not allow that pilot to walk away free. A small group of people did. I understand the emotions behind your question, but you need a little more time with your homework.

    Bethesda, MD: The Washington area has a relatively high proportion of federal government employees. Therefore, I raise two questions regarding the generally thorough Post coverage of Feds' issues: (1) Why was Mike Causey's column moved out of its easily accessible spot near the outside edge of page 2 of Metro to an inside location on an inside page. Most of us won't leave for work without a glance at Causey. (2) A large number of Feds have a portion of their retirement in the Federal Thrift Savings plan, a large segment of which is keyed to the S&P index. Why is it so hard to find that number in the business section of the paper--it is prominently displayed on the front page of the web version?

    Bob Levey: As to the Causey move: An inside page is an inside page. I don't think it matters much to many people whether Mike is on page two or page five. Actually, any left-hand page (like page two) is considered awkward real estate because it's harder to turn there when you're holding the paper in a crowd (on the subway, for instance).
    As to the Federal Thrift Savings Plan: Good point. You ought to suggest better display to our business editor, Jill Dutt.

    Bethesda, Maryland: Hi Bob.

    Do you think the Greaseman will ever work in radio again?
    Is he untouchable now or do you think he'll be bankable once the fires cool down.
    Also I hear that than in the final minutes of his "Nightline" interview last night, he sort of alluded to the fact that he may take some kind of legal action against the station. Know anything about that?

    Bob Levey: Have't heard anything about any legal action. I'd be amazed if it went anywhere. On what basis could Grease sue? I hope that he never works in radio again, but I know that business far too well to make any such prediction. Right this second, some beady-eyed general manager is lapping up all the Grease publicity and thinking, "This guy is so well known that just having him on my station will drive ratings, even if all he does is read children's stories on the air." Radio is about notoreity, not about fairness.

    Colesville, Md.: What do you think about the smoking ban recently voted on in Montgomery County?

    Bob Levey: What took them so long to enact it? Hip, hip, hooray! By the way, I don't buy in the slightest the argument that smoking bar and restaurant patrons will go to the District. They will go to the graveyard. And if Montgomery establishments do lose any business as a result of this law, they'll gain twice as much from people who now stay home because they stand to be around smoke and smokers when they've trying to eat.

    Washington D.C.: Mr. Levey I really don't believe that Mr. Tracht is a racist person but just a comedian whom crossed the line with his comment about the Jasper incident. In your opinion do you really believe that U.S. citizens in general will ever rid themselves of hatred for themselves for the most part and hatred of others and if so how? Is the hope?

    Bob Levey: I don't believe that Grease is a racist. I believe he is a victim of a radio culture that says, "You've got to be right out on the edge all the time or they'll stop listening to you and you won't make your huge salary any more." What Grease said wasn't social commentary the way a columnist might write it. It was an attempt to attract attention and drive ratings. He did both, of course--although not in the way he wanted.

    Manssas, VA: It has been interesting to observe Bob Dole's various actions that have put him in the limelight recently (Redskins sale, Kosovo). Do you think he is trying to do things that will garner support for sweet Liddy?

    Bob Levey: For sure. I look for an orange juice commercial any day now.

    Colesville, Md.: Does Kathleen Townsend have a legitimate shot at the Governor's Mansion in 2002? It seems we've been hearing since pre-1994 that it was going to be Duncan when Glendening was out and now Kathleen's sort of coming out of nowhere.

    Bob Levey: Out of nowhere? She's a Kennedy! She's been running (or been in a position to run) all her life. But don't sell Duncan short. He is just as well known and just as well financed. Besides, Glendening keeps handing him issues with which to flog Townsend (like the smoking ban). It should be a lively battle.

    Bob Levey: Half an hour left in today's proceedings. Keep 'em coming

    Arlington, VA: Do you think that Shawnta Rogers can make it in the NBA? Isn't he just the sort of player the Bullets always used to draft?

    Bob Levey: Anyone who's 5-feet-4 is going to have to be Superman in some respect to last for more than five minutes in the NBA. Muggsy Bogues is now in something like his 13th season because he's a brilliant playmaker. I believe Bogues still ahs the best assists-to-turnovers ratio in the history of the league. Rogers doesn't seem extra-gifted at any one skill--especially not at shooting. I'd say he's a cup-of-coffee NBA player at best.

    Washinton,DC: With respect to the Lewinsky matter: when are we going to admit that the very nature of an affair is a lie! Nobody can engage in an extra-marital affair without lying. Unless one has an open marriage.Clinton has done what too many pubic officials have done since the beginning of the Federate. It is the hypocracy of those who sit in udgement that has earned the disgust of the American people.

    Bob Levey: Certainly the "hypocrisy" of Starr and friends has disgusted a large slab of America. But so has Clinton's behavior, even though, as you say, so many do it and every one of them must lie about it. Can't we conclude that both Starr AND Clinton were terribly wrong? That's where I come down on the whole sorry mess.

    Washington DC : I find it sad and ironic that even minority group members can be racist. How can this be, and why is it tolerated?

    Bob Levey: Who tolerates it? Not me, pal. You can never stop people from thinking racist thougths privately. But actual, outright racism has to end. Has to. What am I talking about exactly? I'd say we begin with red-lining of certain neighborhoods by insurance companies, job discrimination, unequal money for schools in "bad" neighborhoods, wanton unfairness in the legal system.

    Vienna, VA: You really made me mad with your generalization of Hockey fans as "being there for a fight (paraphrased)".
    You are so wrong. Last night as I sat at home watching the Capitals-Rangers game I was LITERALLY on the edge of my seat. I could not sit back on my sofa. The excitement & speed of the game, along with a close score and the drama of a game both teams needed to win to get a post-season birth, was all I was interested in. There were no fights to speak of, yet I enjoyed the game (though not the outcome) thoroughly.
    Open up your mind, Bob. Just because you can't (or won't) see what others find in the sports and entertainment that they enjoy... doesn't justify you generalizing hockey fans as brutes looking for a fight. Or NASCAR fans (which I am not) of being so ghoulish as to hope for a crash (I have friends who enjoy NASCAR & not one of them enjoy seeing a crash).
    These "observations" of yours are no more valid than the so-called "observations" of any other prejudiced person.

    Bob Levey: I absolutely agree that you have a right to enjoy hockey just as much as I have a right to hate it. I'm delighted you were on the edge of your seat. But wasn't it still, when you get right down to it, 25 seconds of real action floating around in small bites in a game of 60 minutes? Even the best hockey games have way, way too many dead patches--endless faceoffs, pointless passes, players who fire the puck all the way to the other end of the rink just to kill time. This keeps you on the edge of your seat?

    Washington, DC: Bob--Your webmaster needs to fix the "freeze" and "unfreeze" functions on your web chats. I've pressed the freeze button, and the screen continues to refresh every 45 seconds. Also, when your chats are over each week, the freeze functions are not turned off. Your columns are the only ones on this site with this problem. Makes reading your chats very cumbersome.

    Bob Levey: My handlers tell me that vast armies of geeks are working on this problem even as we type. Seriously. Drives me nuts, too.

    Manassas, Virginia: I like being a law abiding citizen by driving 55 miles per hour on the Beltway and I-95. Recently, by illegally speeding, I clocked the speed of my fellow drivers, and here is the estimated results:

    2% of the traffic was traveling between 55 and 65 MPH.
    78% of the traffic was traveling between 65 and 70 MPH (which includes the majority of commercial trucks).
    18% of the traffic was traveling between 70 and 80 MPH.
    2% of the drivers would have to be put into the Jeff Gordon of NASCAR fame class. These people travel at such a high rate of speed that I could not monitor their speed safely.

    The State police have failed to control speeds under the existing traffic laws. It's getting absolutely crazy out there!!! Why can't the State police do their job and slow down traffic to a "sane" level? What are our options? Can we barcode tags and electronically give out citations? Should we form a separate "metro area" police force with the sole purpose of giving out speeding tickets? Well Bob, what is the answer to this growing problem?

    Bob Levey: Every police department is undermanned and overwhelmed, and not just by speeding. So we'd need a HUGE tax increase to pay for all the additional cops we'd need even to put a dent in the numbers you lay out. Even then, we'd probably not come close to a solution. I've long said (and long written) that the best solution is to prove to speeders that it ain't worth it. How about an extensive media campaign (donated by major outlets) that lays out the numbers: Even if you do 70 in a 60-mile-an-hour zone for a solid hour, you will gain only ten minutes. That's not even enough time to argue with Bob Levey about a hockey game!

    Alexandria, VA: Bob,
    How do you confront the perpetuation of urban legends politely in this town? I recently had the experience of being a member of a group of parents who were being fed the "flashed headlights gang ritual" legend. The parent who was telling the story was absolutely convinced that the story was true, "it had just happened in Vienna!" I couldn't come up with a reasonable response other than, "I can't believe that you could fall for that!" So I excused myself and went on about my business.
    The Washington area has one of the most highly educated populations in the world, but people still pass on stories about microwaved babies, $250 Neimann Marcus cookie recipes and the like. The current legend has a dark side because it discourages that basic driver courtesy of flashing high beams at an on-coming car to indicate that their headlights are out. How do you handle the gullible who peddle these stories?

    Bob Levey: Pass them on to me. I'll debunk them in my column. Been doing it for ages. By the way, you left out the one about the thumb tack being left in coin return slots of pay phones. The myth is that the tack is treated with LSD. Alternative rumor: AIDS virus. For any of you who aren't too swift mentally, let me lay it out clearly: there is ABSOLUTELY NO PROOF that this is true. There has never been a single verified case of it. Believe me, I've checked.

    Arlington, VA: I find it "sad and ironic" that people can equate racist behavior by members of majority and minority group. In both cases the behavior is appalling. But let's face it, when you're the group that's suffering from discrimination and has been for generations, racist comments and actions have a lot more power to harm you.
    I'm white. People of color can call me all the racist names they want, but I still don't have to deal with people crossing the street when I pass because I'm a black male, store security people looking at me because I must be a thief, etc. It's not the same as what a black male my age has to put up with. Or a woman. or... you get the picture.

    Bob Levey: I do get the picture, and I agree 100 percent. Yet I see a basis for hope: our kids. They are way beyond judging people by their religion, our national origin, our skin color. Go to a local high school sometime and see what diversity has accomplished. You see kids hanging out with one another without the slightest regard to race or creed. Terrific! As for gender, well, the birds and the bees still fly, if you catch my drift....

    Washington DC: Bob-
    how do you deal with people who misspell your name, which I would think happens all the time?

    Bob Levey: I used to throw a nickel in a can every time someone misspelled my name. I soon found I couldn't afford lunch. It is annoying, for sure, but I'm very used to it. What I'll never get used to is the carelessness that this indicates about our glorious citizenry. I'm a guy whose name appears in a major newspaper every weekday, nearly every week, and has for 18 years. I appear on this website twice a week. And STILL 40 percent of my correspondents butcher my name! Is there any hope for American education (or powers of observation)? By the way, my hands-down favorite is the guy who calls me, all put out, because he has just tried to e-mail me and "something must be wrong with The Washington Post's damn e-mail system." Every single time, the problem is that he has aimed his message at

    Washington, D.C.: Another vote for the freeze/unfreeze mechanism to get fixed. I find your column/chat hour to be very interesting. However, I won't continue to join in until it gets fixed. It's driving me bonkers!! Sorry.

    Bob Levey: Hang on, brother! Don't switch channels yet! The geeks SWEAR it'll get better.
    Hey, if I were a TV guy, I'd say: "Stay with us."

    Washington, DC: With the lastest news out of Alabama, I'm just wondering how many Homosexuals will have to die brutal deaths before the government steps in and passes a national Hate Crimes Bill?

    Bob Levey: I have the same problem with that idea that I do with the death penalty. How will such a bill stop such murders, or bring victims back to life? Murder One seems good enough to me.

    Washington DC: The whole Greaseman debacle is the result of all of us raising the bar of tolerance for behavior of all kinds. I've listened to Grease, Howard Stern, WHFS morning talent Lou Brutus, and although they are of different styles, they all look to shock in some way. The simple act of insulting someone's looks or intelligence in public is distasteful, and that is done on a regular basis (I am thinking about all time spent on Linda Tripp's appearance by these folks). I'm no Miss Manners, but when did it become OK to just speak your mind without regard to others feelings?

    Bob Levey: When shock-jocking started, people listened precisely because they'd never heard such constant insulting anywhere else. Now that they have, for many years, I'm hoping the pendulum will swing, and the market will operate the way free markets usually do. Why listen to juvenile hogwash when it's juvenile and hogwash? It just isn't funny after a while. Same way with Rush Limbaugh: His anti-Clinton act is incredibly stale. Why does he still draw such big numbers? Beats the heck out of me.

    Arlington, VA: I know you'll disagree with me, but if 78% of the drivers are driving 65-70, by all means speed up a little from 55. I'm not saying that those 78% are right or safe, but the high speed differential between you and them makes your speed a hazard, too.

    Bob Levey: True enough. I'd rather be alive to face my next speeding ticket than be dead and know I was abiding by the letter of the law.

    Washington, DC: I must say I find it baffling how much certain segments of society despise President Clinton. I personally have a number of reservations about him and have had my disappointments, but don't understand the hatred of him personally. What has happened to people's sense of proportion? I recently heard a person describe him as evil!

    I never like Reagan, and I disagreed with him on nearly every issue, but I never thought he was evil and I truly believe his opponents in Congress fought him largely on the issues.
    Do you think this is a fundamental change in our national political discourse, or some type of reaction to Clinton personally?

    Bob Levey: Neither man is or was evil. Both are highly flawed. Clinton is immature and immodest to an almost amazing degree. But I would agree with you that the reactions (and overreactions) are a product of the times. No one seems to offer considered analyses any more--just "how do you feel" reactions shot from the hip.

    Washington DC: Babylon on the Potomac, Bob? Surely you jest. I walk by your office on the way to/from work and it's certainly in the middle of town, nothing to look at.

    Bob Levey: Not much inside, either. And the coffee is often cold

    Arlington, VA: Bob:
    I don't know if I am in the majority or not, but I am disgusted with the state of affairs in America whereby we, as a society, would make someone like Monia Lewinsky into a celebrity. Am I wrong in my assessment?

    Bob Levey: No. But get used to it. Monica (and those like her) will command attention forever.

    Mountain View, CA: I have a two-part question about the Redskins. One, is this sale EVER going to get done? And the second -- will the new owners change the name to something a little less offensive?

    Bob Levey: I can't believe that even the NFL would be stupid enough to deny a bid of $800 million. As for the name, the new owners (if indeed they ever take over) are on record as saying they will at least consider a name change.

    Bob Levey: That's it for today. Many thanks for all those lively queries. Join us next Friday at the same time for the next installment of "Levey Live: Speaking Freely." And check out our every-Tuesday show, "Levey Live," which appears from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. Our guest on March 9 will be The Washington Post's new TV critic, Lisa de Moraes.

    © 1999 The Washington Post Company

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