Democracy Dies in Darkness

Arts and Entertainment

Howard Stern makes his pitch: Why Hillary Clinton should do my show

By Geoff Edgers

August 1, 2016 at 6:00 AM

Howard Stern, left, and Hillary Clinton. (Evan Agostini/AP; Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)

Hillary Clinton said it herself. The "public" part of public service has never been easy. Now, with the Democratic nomination in hand, it's time to meet America. And please, advisors, that doesn't mean popping up on "Carpool Karaoke." It's time to go on Stern.

Don't do "The Howard Stern Show" because he's been a Hillary supporter. Do Stern because of what he does: Simply the best broadcast entertainment interview show around. Because, as he said in a rare, more than hour-long interview with The Washington Post, "the ultimate Hillary interview hasn't been done yet." Stern talked about how he would proceed if Clinton agreed to go on his SiriusXM show. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

The Clinton campaign has said no so far. What if you got a call tomorrow that she would love to do the show? What's your strategy?

I don't think I'd handle Hillary Clinton any differently than I would a musician. I had a three hour conversation with Billy Joel and we really talked about his music writing process, how this happened, how it evolved, and his relationship with his parents, his marriages, the love of the piano and the songwriting process and also the torture of it.

You think about politics. Who really would want to go through this scrutiny and the torture and the criticism? Now we see it on Twitter. Everyone's getting bullied. But politicians have been getting bullied forever and I'm not so cynical. I certainly don't believe that a young person goes into politics with the idea, I'm going to get rich. I think there is a desire to serve. Is it any different from Steven Tyler saying I want to write songs since I was 9 years old?

I wonder what you thought of Bill Clinton's speech at the convention. Rachel Maddow called it "shocking and weird" because he was talking about Hillary as the object of his desire and, of course, he had his famous affair.

When I watched his speech I, too, had that reaction. But look, there are so many hypocrites out there. You know how many guys and women are having affairs? I was able to evaluate Bill Clinton as a president without sitting there. How many great CEOs of companies have had affairs? It's an epidemic. So for everyone to be so holier than thou and say they can't buy into the fact that he had a love affair with Hillary. Of course they had a love affair.

Trump. He's been a regular guest on the Stern show over the years. Is it fair to say you like him as a guy but not as a candidate?

No. I won't say that. Before Trump even got in the race, way before he got in the race, I had announced I was supporting Hillary. I believe she would be an extremely powerful president. I don't dislike Trump as a candidate but I am absolutely enamored by Hillary. And I've told Donald that. Hillary as a president was sort of dream of mine for a long time. I thought she was an excellent senator.

You voted for Obama but did you support her over him in the 2008 primary?

I did.

If Hillary agrees to come on, do you do that interview in your studio or do you go somewhere?

To me, I'm on satellite radio and that's the best place to do it. Having said that, if there was some kind of concept of doing it somewhere else, I'd do it.

Did you hear Marc Maron's podcast with Obama?

I didn't. No. I had [Maron] on once but honestly, I haven't heard his show.

The big thing is Maron does it in his garage, which is his studio, and Obama showed up to his garage. For Hillary, I think it would be better if she came to your turf and experienced in that way.

It's be nice. But it's almost irrelevant. [Pause] Yeah, I hear what you're saying. Now on second thought, maybe you're right. That's the setting I'm comfortable in. and the more comfortable I am, it's like when you have someone over. If you're in familiar surroundings, you can make someone feel welcomed in your place.

[Is Howard Stern going soft or just getting sharper?]

So your producers reached out to the Clinton campaign. Do you ever get involved to make a stronger push?

I wouldn't feel comfortable having someone in who is pressured somehow and kind of overhype the experience. They've got to come to that conclusion on their own. Having said that, we've reached out and said, we'd love to have Hillary on. And it would expose her to an audience that might not be thinking of voting for her. She could also have a direct pipeline to a lot of people who wouldn't normally get to hear her speak the way we have the ability to do it. There's a lot of time to develop an answer. Not do a sound bite. And oddly enough, because of that format, I notice a lot of the media takes the interviews we do and makes sound bites out of them.

Well, Howard, one of the biggest sound bites is Trump. He has said he never supported the Iraq war, but there's a clip of him voicing his support in an interview on your show in 2002.

Somebody comes on and everyone suddenly goes, 'oh, Howard Stern got a lot of out of this person or that person.' It's because we're having a real conversation. Alec Baldwin said to me, I don't really want to do any other show but yours. Why is that? He said, 'Anywhere else I go, it's like hurry up and answer. And when I come on your show, I really get to explain myself.' Lady Gaga said to me, 'I feel most safe when I'm doing your show.' And that floored me.

The first time I remember you really talking politically was with Christie Todd Whitman. And at that time, more than 20 years ago, it wasn't about your political views. It was basically, 'hey, the first politician who calls me, I endorse.'

On terrestrial radio it was a whole different approach. It was about me. In my mind it had to be about me. It had to be outrageous. I didn't have the opportunity or the desire or the medium where I could ask Christie Todd Whitman real questions. I had to be, okay, I'm going to get on the air. I had 5 or 10 minutes. If you tuned in at 6:10 in the morning, I had to drag you to 6:20. How could I get you to stay with me for those 5 minutes? Wham, bam thank you ma'am.

And [Whitman opponent James] Florio would have gotten your support if he had called first.

That's right. And so it was about me. Look how powerful I am. Me me me me. The show I'm doing isn't about that… What my approach is now, because I am on satellite, it's a different show. … A broadcaster who doesn't change becomes irrelevant very quickly.

Christie Todd Whitman really did herself a service in coming on your show.

She came on and she was absolutely human. You don't get to see that in everyday politics. Our media world is changing so rapidly. And from what I can see, the approach of getting up on the stump and making a speech is an antiquated as going back to the days of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. I don't even think going on some show and being self-effacing and doing a game show format or a sketch, I don't think that's the way to run for president. The position is just too goddamned important.

It's as if they think we go to the polls and say, 'oh, that candidate can poke fun at himself. I'll vote for him.'

It's not the way it works. The only way it works is the same way you promote a record album on my show or a movie. Don't promote the movie. Promote you and being a human being and relating to people on a very human level and then they'll vote for you or they'll go see your movie.

So with Hillary, do you ask her about the e-mail scandal?

I would leave that to the interview on "Meet the Press" or the Fox News channel, CNN, George Stephanopoulos, even Matt Lauer. They can do that interview.

How about her marriage? You have to ask, right?

But I don't think it's necessarily the central thing. When you're talking about the scope of someone's life and that becomes something in their life, it becomes more comfortable to talk about. You've heard my interviews. I don't avoid topics. When Gwen Stefani walked in I didn't know if she was talking about her marriage or not. I know her [former] husband very well. Gavin. I like him very much. But I wasn't going to avoid the topic either. But it wasn't the focus. I didn't have her walk into the studio and go, 'Gwen, I can't believe what happened with Gavin.' That's just poor form and that's not the way I approach a conversation in my home.

"Welcome to dinner and tell me about that affair from 10 years ago."

Exactly. You'd have to be a complete idiot to do that. Or if you were just looking to do a confrontational show and have the person walk out. I know guys in radio who do that. They ask the worst question up front and then the person walks out.

Back to Trump. You're obviously a big believer in free speech. He's been blocking the press and trying to control the press and trying to shut the press out. I can't imagine you support that.

Trump is not a traditional candidate. Quite frankly, I've spoken to Donald Trump off the air and I've said, why the hell you would want to be president? You've got such a great life. You've got a spectacular wife. If you've ever checked out this place, Mar-a-Largo, it is fantastic. He's got lots of money. He's got all the toys that a person would want. Why on god's name would you want that? And I will tell you the reason he's such a good guest on your show is because he's unfiltered and he's ready to say anything.

What did he tell you when asked him why he's running?

I don't know that that's fair for me to say what he said to me off the air.

[From playboy to president? Trump's past crude sex talk collides with his White House bid]

You've had Steve Martin on, Bill Murray, McCartney, almost everyone. Is Hillary the Holy Grail at this point?

I wouldn't say that. I would be fascinated by Hillary Clinton. I think she's a fascinating person and I also think no one has sat down with her and really provided a forum for her to not be the politician but to be the human being. So would that be a fabulous moment for me to try to communicate with Hillary Clinton in front of my audience? Yes. It would be fabulous for me. The dinner conversation I would have privately with Hillary Clinton is the conversation I'd like to put on the radio.

And I love the idea it could go on for three hours.

It could go on all night. And so yeah, would it be the Holy Grail? Sure, it would be great. In the same way that Mick Jagger would be the Holy Grail and the same way that when I talk with Paul McCartney, it's the Holy Grail. And you can ask him, 'gee, when you wrote 'Maybe I'm Amazed,' what was on your mind? The same thing. What was that moment, Hillary, when you decided you wanted to be president?

I'd want to hear what it was like being so accomplished and so skilled and then basically deciding, hey, Bill, I'll become a mother and let you do it.

I talk to actors about what it's like when they audition for a movie or they get offered a movie, they turn it down and then someone else takes it, and it becomes the biggest hit. Isn't that the same thing in Hillary Clinton's life?

Yes, you go to law school, you're an intellectual and suddenly you're on TV getting grilled about some offhand comment about baking cookies.

And oh my god, you have to sit there, all this time as a senator, building, building, building and this guy comes out of nowhere like Obama. And then in relation to her entire history as a little girl. And everybody always saying, yeah, 'you can be the first lady but you can't be the president.' This is fascinating stuff.

And there is the idea that after she lost eight years ago, she didn't take her marbles and go home. Clinton participated and stayed in the game.

How many people do that? And I've got news for you. I relate to that on such a human level. I remember being in Detroit radio and being at my lowest and it never once occurred to me to quit radio. That's when I dug in my heels in and said, I've got to get better. I'm not working hard enough. And I was working day and night on this thing.

We have heard Hillary joke around on "Saturday Night Live" and reference how she's sometimes perceived, but I have never heard her emotionally open up and engage on what it's like to feel that rejection and to bounce back.

That's exactly right. And now you know my agenda. I don't give a f— about e-mails and scandals. She's already talked to the FBI about that. She's testified. That's not my thing. My thing is, 'wow, as a human being how do you succeed?' Don't we all need to know how to succeed. This is a phenomenal story.


Geoff Edgers, the Washington Post's national arts reporter, covers everything from fine arts to popular culture. In the last year, he's profiled Bill Murray, outlaw country singer Billy Joe Shaver and told the story of the making of Run-DMC's version of Walk This Way.

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