In an article published in the November 29 issue of New York magazine, contributor Kate Pickert named several conservatives under consideration to succeed New York Times columnist William Safire, who is retiring in early 2005. Weekly Standard senior editor Christopher Caldwell was among those candidates. On the December 1 edition of Air America Radio's The Al Franken Show, host Franken described why the Times should not consider hiring Caldwell:
FRANKEN: This is about the [Senator Paul] Wellstone [D-MN] memorial [after he and seven others died in a plane crash in October 2002]. He [Caldwell] wrote a piece for The Weekly Standard, in which he basically said a number of things. He said that: "The crowd of 20,000 booed a succession of people who had come to pay their respects to a dead colleague." Now, 20,000 people didn't boo anybody. A few people booed. I was there. And I challenge anyone to go to the website. The guy who was booed was Trent Lott and you cannot hear the booing. OK, there's that.
Also he compared Kahn's speech ... Rick Kahn, who, by the way, Wellstone's best friend. He's just lost his best friend, his best friend's wife, who's a very close friend of his, his best friend's daughter, three other very close friends. And he gave this very impassioned speech and he compared Kahn's speech to a "Maoist reeducation camp," "a sinister incident, unexampled in [recent] American politics."
And then he called the crowd a "mob." Then he said he "tuned in on television to watch a solemn" -- he said viewers "tuned in on television to watch a solemn commemoration and found a rally devoted to a politics that was twisted, pagan, childish, inhumane and even totalitarian beyond their worst nightmares."
Now, I called up Caldwell and I told him, I said, "Hi Chris, it's Al Franken, and I like some of the stuff you've written" -- and I have. He said, "I liked some of your stuff," and I said, "OK, you wrote this thing, you called this thing pagan. Did you see the stage full of clergy from every faith tradition in Minnesota, the stage full doing an ecumenical prayer?" And he goes, "uh, no."
"OK, you say 20,000 people booed a succession of people. What are you talking about? Did you see 20,000 people boo anybody? Did you see the booing?" "No."
I go down the whole list. He said that the people, other people who died other than Wellstone weren't even treated, weren't even talked about, were barely treated at all. Most bizarrely, he writes: "The pilots and aides who died with him were barely treated at all." Which is just crazy. The first three hours of this thing were -- the pilots were not eulogized -- but the aides of Wellstone were. Will McLaughlin, the driver. Tom Lapic. And, I'm sorry...Mary McEvoy. ...They were eulogized by friends and family. By people family had chosen. It was three hours before Paul was even gotten to. I asked if he'd seen any of those. I asked if he'd seen David McLaughlin's unbelievably beautiful eulogy of his brother Will. No, he hadn't seen it.
I said, "Where did you see it? Did you see the thing?" He said, "Yes, I did." I said, "What, a tape of it?" And he goes, "No." "So you saw it on C-SPAN, like a repeat? Did you see it live?" "No. no. no." "Where did you see it?" "Well, I saw it on TV." "What does that mean?" "I saw it on TV." "What does that mean?" "I saw some clips of it." He saw, like, whatever Hannity & Colmes had pulled.
And these things are lies. They are lies. And I had him on the phone, and he said, "Listen, I'm on deadline, I gotta get off." And I said, "Oh yeah, I'm sorry, listen, if you're on deadline, let's talk as long as you can talk," and then he got off. And then I called him every business day for the next two weeks. He must have been on deadline for a book or something because he didn't ever get back to me and still hasn't.
This was vile. This was vile. So they will not get Chris Caldwell.
Franken also described his conversation with Caldwell in his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right (Dutton, 2003), pages 197-199.
Media Matters for America has reviewed the records of other potential Safire successors, including New York Times "Political Points" columnist John Tierney, Washington Post syndicated columnist and FOX News Channel contributor Charles Krauthammer, Weekly Standard executive editor and FOX News Channel host and contributor Fred Barnes, and nationally syndicated columnist and National Review Online editor-at-large Jonah Goldberg, whose purported candidacy for the position, as Media Matters has noted, is being promoted by the weblog "Send Jonah to the New York Times." Each has a long record of introducing falsehoods and misinformation into the media.