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  •   Levey Live: Speaking Freely

    Friday, February 12, 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 polling director, Rich Morin.

    Here is a transcript of today's session:

    Burke, VA: Hey, Bob, what's your opinion about newcasters expressing their personal opinions while delivering the news? The other morning I was watching Channel 9, and it happened twice in one minute. First he (Gerald?) said "That's the way I like to see hockey--just the highlights." Then Peggy Fox, when introducing a story on the impeachment hearings, said "It looks like it will soon be over (heavy sigh) -- at long last." These are just a couple of examples, but it seems to happen a lot. I watch the news to find out what's happening, not what the newscasters THINK about what's happening. Is this a new trend or something?

    Bob Levey: It's an old trend in a new form--the dominance of consultants in the TV news biz. Don't think for a minute that these off-hand remarks are truly off-hand. Consultants have suggested that these anchors toss in such bon-bons to "humanize" themselves (and thereby induce poor suckers like you and me to tune in regularly). As always, there's a surefire way to protest--that little button marked OFF.

    Burke, VA: Hi, Bob. I love the fact that you don't mince too many words when stating your opinion. Here's my question: I'm probably one of those cretins who mispronounces local place names, such as L'Enfant Plaza. As a newcomer to the area, it's hard to find out the correct pronunciation, since no two people seem to pronounce them the same. Any suggestions?

    Bob Levey: Call me. Seriously. 202-334-7276. I didn't major in French in college for nothing. I can lawn-FAWN with the best of 'em.

    Bethesda, Maryland: Bob, there is hoopla in Maryland that lawmakers want to ban the use of cell phones while driving. Personally, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't take at least one five-minute call in my car, but I understand that some people can't do two things at one time. I assume that busy legislators probably are as guilty of this as I am and won't inconvenience themselves for the sake of safety.
    What's your take on it?

    Bob Levey: It's dangerous and silly. Be honest: how many of those five-minute calls you've taken in the car couldn't have waited? I am a professional in the communications business. Time is very precious to me. Yet I don't own a cell phone or a pager and I never will. They're just millstones (and expensive millstones!). It's only a matter of time before cell-phoning-while-you-drive is illegal, everywhere.

    Rockville, MD: What's your take on the NFL/Redskins "ownership" flap?

    Bob Levey: Arrogance, thy name is the NFL. Milstein and Snyder put together a perfectly legitimate bid for the team under perfectly legitimate circumstances. And now their money isn't good enough? The NFL is a bunch of silly old men.

    San Antonio TX: If you had a friend in San Antonio, would you like to visit some time?

    Bob Levey: Johnny Boy! I don't have to ask whether the cerveza is cold, because I know you wouldn't have it any other way. For those of you in the $3 seats, Brother Means had the misfortune of editing my column here at The Post for a scandalous number of years. He did it fabulously well. Then he retired when he could no longer stand it. He is gracing Texas, big time. If and when I'm down there (maybe for the NBA Finals?), we'll get caught up.

    Rockville, MD: As you revisited again this past week in your column, when will lawmakers realize that driving and talking is a lethal mix? Unless in extreme emergencies, if drivers need to talk, let them pull off the road and/or limit their omni-important chats to when stopped at a traffic light. How did we ever manage before car phones?

    Bob Levey: I don't know about you, but I thought smoke signals were just great

    Chicago, IL (Potomac, MD): Bob,

    Just wanted to know your thoughts on the whole idea of the cutting of our trademark core curriculum by the University of Chicago administration.

    A fellow Maroon ('02)

    Bob Levey: The core hasn't been cut. It has been slightly redeployed. I see nothing whatsoever wrong with the result or the process. Knowledge changes, constantly, so approaches to knowledge should change, constantly. Nobody is dumbing down The University of Chicago and no one ever will try (unless they want to hear SCREAMS). This isn't Wichita State-takes-over-Chicago. This is a minor tweaking of a core that is still the basis of all undergraduate education at Chicago. I don't think you can ever take an educational concept, spray it with formaldehyde and decree that nothing about it will ever change. By that reasoning, no Chicago student would ever have studied nuclear fission, quantum mechanics, the modern American novel.

    Washington, DC: Who do you think has the biggest smile today: Mary McGrory, Maureen Dowd or Kate Graham?

    Bob Levey: Bill Clinton. But you'll never see it. Not even he is silly enough to give his enemies that much raw meat

    Washington, DC: Hey, Bob--you're being too rigid about wearing a pager. Maybe donning one won't work for you, but it's been great for me by expanding the concept of "office." I'm no longer tied to my desk or a phone the way I was. People can reach me wherever I am. And if I want to zone out, I just shut the pager off. I'm hardly a prisoner of technology.

    Bob Levey: You're not? You have to wear the blasted thing on your belt all the time. It beeps in all the wrong places and at all the wrong times. Why not just a remote voice mailbox that collects your messages, and which you can invade whenever you like? I defy you to tell me that having a pager has saved you a client you would otherwise have lost or gotten you a date with a girl you would otherwise not have had.

    Washington DC: In light of the recent articles regarding accidents on Metro, what's your take with this trend? Under-reported? Inevitable part of a major transport system? Symptom of trouble that will only worsen? I'm troubled that no-one will compare the statistics we have here (which are themselves hard to find!) with other transport systems so that we have an idea of how we're faring.

    Bob Levey: I'm worried that, as they age, our Metro escalators will cause even more accidents. But don't forget that human beings are at the center of every incident. In many of the dragged-to-their-deaths stories about scarves and escalators, the victim turned out to have been drunk or on drugs. And why in the world did the mother of the dead 6-year-old boy EVER let go of his hand in a busy subway station? I don't mean to be rubbing it in at a time when that mother is obviously suffering. But other parents should think hard about how careful they are with their kids in public places.

    San Francisco, CA: Okay, he's been acquitted. What do you think will happen to Linda Tripp in terms of the illegal wiretap? Jail? Fines? Having to sweep the streets of Washington DC?

    Bob Levey: I'd be surprised if Tripp is NOT prosecuted in Maryland for illegally taping Lewinsky. I'd say she's in serious danger of going to jail.

    Arlington, VA: I get my news now mainly from and I only buy the paper on Sunday. How does this pan out revenue-wise for the Post? How do you make up enough money from Web surfers to make up for lost hard copy revenues? Inquiring minds need to know...

    Bob Levey: Inquiring minds here are worried about the very same thing. The reasoning goes like this: True enough, right now we are giving away to web-sters what we charge for on paper. But those who snack on the Web might later eat full, regular meals by subscribing to the paper. Also, whenever you land on our site, there's a chance that you will notice advertisers there. Which will mean more ads. Which will mean more bucks. However, for the foreseeable future, is an open firehose of red ink.

    Burlington, VT: Why do you think graying Baby-Boomers support those doddering old fools (Republicans) and bloodthirsty, partisan jackals (Democrats) in congress? Surely they can't be feeling THAT great about their 401k's...

    Bob Levey: I haven't noticed too many boomers (or anyone else) supporting politicians of either stripe. Now that The Great National Circus has ended, I think you'll see that trend accelerate rapidly--which is a shame for all of us.

    Falls Church, VA: Are you really a total moron or is that just a persona you adopt to make your column more entertaining?

    Bob Levey: In don't do personas. My moron-hood is intrinsic, deep-seated, carefully cultivated. It is who I am. It is me.

    Alexandria, VA: Bob - I've been saving all of my Giant and Safeway receipts which I'd like to have you use for the school you've designated as the recipient - What is the address that I should send them to?

    Bob Levey: Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071. And do it early, please. We don't want all receipts to land on us on the last day.

    Wash DC: About a year ago, I was driving on I-66 and almost rear-ended a van that had come to a complete stop because it had no brake lights. I took down his plates, but never reported it. A few months later, I was on 236 when the same thing happened... with the same van. I called the police when I got home, but they said there was nothing they could do. For all they knew I may be wanting to get revenge on the driver. That makes no sense. I just wanted to prevent any future accidents. The driver may not even have known his brake lights weren't working. All I wanted was for someone to let him know. Any ideas why the police wouldn't get involved?

    Bob Levey: This exact question came up 10 days when the chief of the Fairfax County Police was my guest on the Tuesday edition of "Levey Live." As I recall, he said there was a special number you could call. But (here's the glory of the Web) you can find out for yourself. Just find the Bob Levey Archive (go through the Metro section that's listed on our home page), check out the 2/2/99 show, and you'll have your answer.

    Arlington, VA: After hearing Linda Tripp this morning, do you think you'd want her for a friend?

    Bob Levey: I wouldn't want her for an enemy. A totally bankrupt person. My favorite moment in this whole disaster was when she stood on the courthouse steps and said (having been coached by squadrons of p.r. consultants) that she was "just like me." Sorry, Linda, you're not.

    Washington DC: In all seriousness, in your years in this business, have you felt that we collectively know and understand more about the world around us, or is the reverse true?

    Bob Levey: We know and understand much more. Coverage of science, politics, business, sports, even scandals, has gotten much deeper and more thorough. Sure, sometimes you want to scream, "Enough!" But if you want to scream, "More," your wish will be answered better than ever. And I'm not just talking about newspapers. Radio is vastly better. TV is, too (except for the local news shows, which are incredibly bad and getting worse).

    Washington, DC: I heard Charles Krauthammer on NPR this morning say that the Clinton-Monica-Impeachment Mess is NEVER going to end. Next we are going to move into the Monica-Barbara Walters interview, the book tours by journalists, the book reviews of the MonicaGate books and so on and so on ad nauseum.

    So, will it EVER END?

    Bob Levey: I think it'll end as an hourly, pulsating gotta-know-what's-new story. I don't think it will end as a topic of conversation. Too much ground was broken here--and too much of it was saucy and sexy. I do think, however, that all books about this scandal will bomb. It's all been said. The one exception would be a tell-all book by Starr. That would be a 30-week No. One bestseller, especially if he hinted that he really IS a right-wing zealot (fat chance).

    springfield va: where can i start if i'm interested in volunteering, particularly for children's causes?

    Bob Levey: United Way has a good list of child-oriented agencies. I can give you some more specific local ideas if you have a particular area in mind. Fire me an e-mail. I'm at

    WashDC: Hiya Bob! What's the best vacation you ever went on in your whole life, the first one that comes to mind?

    Bob Levey: The Soviet Union in 1977. Not because I danced the night away with supple blondes. Because the culture was just beginning to come apart there then, and it was very clear, and it was fascinating to see how ordinary Russians were responding.
    Second choice: England with my wife in the fall of 1985. Cold, gray, veddy British, veddy wonderful.

    boston, ma: What aggravates me the most about the whole impeachment affair is that I believe that in his heart of hearts, the President feels no remorse whatsoever for the wrongs he has committed (whether they are properly called private or public), for the lives he has adversely affected, or for the distraction and diversion of resources that this mess has created. Am I judging him too harshly, do you think?

    Bob Levey: I don't think you're judging him harshly enough. This man sold out his closest aides and cabinet members in the coldest, most calculating way. He STILL has no remorse for inducing Donna Shalala and various female Senators to lie for him. It continues to amaze me that no one on his staff has quit on principle.

    Burtonsville MD: So what do you think about what happened today with Bill Clinton? I waste of tax payer dollars!

    Bob Levey: Not a waste at all. This will serve as a national lesson in some ways. It will cause us to think about what we really expect our president to be. It will cause us to think about how we really feel about severe partisanship. Nothing unhealthy there.

    Montrose, Co.: Do you believe that the morality of our country has gone downhill from the decision that was made in the Senate today?

    Bob Levey: Not at all, because this was a political decision rendered by politicians, not a moral judgment handed down from a mountaintop. The morality of our country has already declined hugely in the last 50 years. Clinton is a product of that, not a cause of it.

    Arlington, VA: What is your take on the fact the Republican house managers accomplished the polar opposite of what they set out to do in punishing the President? And as a practical matter do you think that the outcome could not have been better for the Democrats chances of governing this country in both houses and in the Presidency?

    Bob Levey: The next great "Saturday Night Live" sketch will be Republican strategists sitting down to "reap the benefits" of the impeachment push in the 2000 elections. What a bunch of hyenas! When Lindsey Graham said that the Founding Fathers never knew what a poll was, I roared--because you do, Lindsey!

    WashDC: Wow, so your 2 best vacations were 21 and 14 years ago? I think it's time to come up with another incredible one. How about Cuba?

    Bob Levey: Great Vacation One came before we were married and Great Vacation Two came before our second child was born. Great Vacation Three will have to await a major restocking of the Levey family bank account. As you may have heard, marriage and kids tend to perform the opposite effect.

    Philadelphia, PA: Don't you think paper dailies are going the way of the dinosaur? Who has time to buy, read and recycle a newspaper (except possibly on Sunday)? We get our news by radio and internet - one way to make technology work in our favor rather than interfering!

    Bob Levey: If you think you can have your fill by eating canapes, there's not much I can say to you. But I know that major metropolitan dailies are here to stay because only they can provide the depth that more and more stories need. Try it this way: Are International affairs getting more simple? Are issues more simple? Are politics more one-dimensional? So how in the world can a 20-second radio report give you all the insight you need and want?

    Washington, D.C.: So what's the next big issue before Congress? Are we really going to be hearing about Medicare and Social Security reform for the next six months?

    Bob Levey: Yup. But you'll also be hearing about the 2000 campaign (yes, this early). That means tax cut fever will break out again.

    Springfield, VA: Sen. Byrd of W. Virginia came right out on the Sam and Cokie Show and said that he was convinced that Clinton perjured himself and obstructed justice, but that "the good of the country" as perceived of course via poll results might require that the president be allowed to remain in office.

    So, if Nixon had only had a booming economy and a "popular" war...

    Bob Levey: Nixon abused the power of the presidency in ways that made the republic teeter. Clinton is an egomaniac who seems uncomfortable when he isn't taking crazy risks. Monica was his reward to himself because his polls were good. As for Byrd, I have to agree with him, as ludicrous as he may have sounded. Obviously the Founding Fathers thought of impeachment as medicine for misbehavior that threatened the nation. Clinton threatened only Paula Jones's chances for a fair trial. Remember that he still may be prosecuted for perjury.

    Alexandria, VA: Speaking of the 2000 election, do you see Bush/Dole or Dole/Bush as being even remotely possible?

    Bob Levey: I see Dole as being more than remotely possible. I think she's very strong, maybe even likely, because she can raise bucks (and has already started). I don't think Bush would accept the No. Two job on a Dole ticket. Look for someone very young and very strong in California--maybe Rogan.

    Washington DC: Why are Republicans talking about cutting taxes? That'd save most of us, what 50 or 100 dollars apiece? Far better to pour our collective resources in worthy projects such as public transport for Tysons. Are they not that farsighted?

    Bob Levey: I agree totally. This is always the phoniest issue in the world. It's a cookie to give voters, in hopes that they won't notice how complicated the world is (and how expensive solutions can be)

    Washington DC: Why are Republicans talking about cutting taxes? That'd save most of us, what 50 or 100 dollars apiece? Far better to pour our collective resources in worthy projects such as public transport for Tysons. Are they not that farsighted?

    Bob Levey: I agree totally. This is always the phoniest issue in the world. It's a cookie to give voters, in hopes that they won't notice how complicated the world is (and how expensive solutions can be)

    Mike, Germantown, MD: My dumb question was going to be "Why do you think that the impeachment process went as far as it did?" But instead, who do you think are the winners and losers from this tawdry affair??

    Bob Levey: No winners and no losers, now or ever. It's a mud bath. Anyone who was touched by it is the color of mud, regardless of his role, his motivations, his guilt

    17th & M Sts.: Say there Bob,
    I think you have such an interesting and fun job(s). Did you want to be a journalist when you were little? Or did you fall into it as you got older?

    Bob Levey: Been wanting to do this (and have been doing this in one form or another) since I was a very little boy. I grew up in New York City in the '40s and '50s, when newspapers ruled the landscape (seven were published in New York in those days). There were no blown-dry anchors telling you to "stay with us." There were great reporters, great columnists, entire newspapers (like the NY Herald Tribune) that were feasts, every day.

    Arlington, VA: Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe had an observation about reading the newspaper from its website. He asked, to paraphrase, "can you read the computer while sitting in the bathroom, huh?"

    Bob Levey: The way I say it is: Can you imagine some guy dashing for the bus and slapping a laptop under his arm as he does so?

    Alexandria, VA: You consistently manage to find trite subjects for your columns. Do you anticipate this style of writing to continue or do you plan to write about meatier subjects?

    Bob Levey: Well, at least I'm consistent.

    Washington DC: How do you think DC compares to other cities, in terms of fitness, trends, and people?

    Bob Levey: Fitness is a sometime thing here, mostly because people get so savagely busy that they fall off the regular exercise wagon. As for trends, we hatch them by the instant. If I were in a K Street restaurant right now, there'd already be extended discussions of Post Impeachment Chic--20 minutes after The Man was acquitted. People? If we aren't the smartest collection of souls on the planet, then I just have missed something

    Arlington: Didn't they once release hundreds of cats into Congress to rid the building of rats? Do you think it'd work for the rest of DC? I heard Tony Williams promised to end the

    Bob Levey: Never heard this one. Maybe they should release cats in Congress today, so they can chase down a few Republicans who still think this whole show was worth it

    Washington DC: Personally I've always felt that your choice in topics had more to do with my everyday life (especially that one about pills - I'd wondered too) than high-handed articles about what one shouldn't say if she doesn't want to be called unPC or (ugh) more articles about what we're learning from the impeachment.

    Bob Levey: I appreciate the compliment very much

    Washington DC: Don't you take at least occasional breaks from work even if you don't exactly Go Somewhere? I'd think doing so would help freshness at work.

    Bob Levey: How very timely.... That's it for today. Thanks for joining this cavalcade of calumny, this dervish of deliciousness. We do this every Friday from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time. I invite you to return next week, and also to sample the Tuesday edition of "Levey Live," which appears from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. Our guest on Feb. 16 will be the director of polling for The Washington Post, Richard Morin.

    © 1998 The Washington Post Company

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