It was refreshing, it was real, it was engaging. And the feisty face-to-face conversation on set at Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle” Friday night between host Laura Ingraham and long-time director and actor Rob Reiner — live from California last night — could actually be a model for future dialogue between people on opposite ends of the political spectrum (elected lawmakers, are you listening?).
Ingraham and Reiner debated everything from the personality of President Donald Trump to the success of the iconic “All in the Family” television sitcom in the 1970s, in which Reiner played the liberal son-in-law, Michael Stivic, who was forever objecting to the politics of the arch-conservative Archie Bunker.
Mostly, though, the 15-minute-long discussion between Ingraham and Reiner focused on politics, at times heatedly.
“To be honest, when I first read about this, I kind of laughed. Let’s be honest: It’s a Hollywood guy and a guy who writes for The Atlantic, and they’re going to do what 20 lawyers in Washington with an unlimited budget can’t do? Explain that,” Ingraham asked Reiner early on.
She was referring to Reiner’s establishment — along with Dave Frum of The Atlantic — of the “nonpartisan” Committee to Investigate Russia, which is focused on potential 2016 U.S. election interference.
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“We’ve got some pretty knowledgable people in the intelligence community. And the reason I started it is because I just felt that the public was not really understanding the gravity of what has happened … Warfare has changed. We have this cyberwar now, which you can’t ‘feel,'” said Reiner, noting that this was not about buildings coming down or the like.
Ingraham pressed Reiner. “Why focus on Russia? Why not China?”
“What I do know is that they [the Russians] were able to have thousands of trolls and bots and go through Facebook and take out ads,” Reiner responded. “Every campaign, Republican or Democrat, you put out your propaganda. You always do. If paid ads on television weren’t good, you wouldn’t see people do that.”
“But that doesn’t mean Trump colluded with Russia. That just means the Russians are good at what they do,” she said.
“I’m not saying [he] did. Whether or not there was coordination between Trump and the Russians, that’s for [Robert] Mueller and the congressional investigations to determine.”
Ingraham eventually shifted to what politics “does to art.” She noted that any conservatives in Tinseltown, if they dare to identify themselves as such, almost immediately find their careers thwarted or blacklisted today because of their political leanings. So what of that?
“I don’t know that there’s a blacklist, but I can tell you that the vast majority of artists, directors, writers and actors are liberal,” Reiner replied. “And there’s a reason for that: A liberal has a very big view of things. This is what I’ve said. I said this to Bill Clinton, in the Oval Office. I said, ‘You know the difference between Republicans and Democrats? Republicans know they’re right. Democrats entertain the possibility that they might be wrong,’ and that’s the big difference. And that’s why you see liberals drawn to the arts. It’s more of an open-minded kind of a thing.”
He added, “And I’m open-minded. Look, I came on your show.”
“I love it. This is what it should be about,” said Ingraham. “I love it. I think it’s fantastic.”
Ingraham asked Reiner if he was ever bothered that Archie Bunker (played by Carroll O’Connor, a liberal in private life) was more of a beloved television character than was his own character, Michael Stivic, the famously liberal do-gooder.
Reiner said Bunker was “lovable” and the show was criticized for creating a “lovable bigot.”
“And we always said, ‘He’s a human being. He loves his wife, he loves his daughter — and that makes him human,'” said Reiner.
“But you say Trump — you’ve said he’s a racist,” Ingraham said.
“Well, he is,” Reiner responded.
“I will tell you this, and you have to believe me. You might disagree with [Trump’s] policies. That’s fine. I have no problem with that,” said Ingraham. “He’s not a racist.”
“He absolutely is not,” she replied. “Do I look like a person who would hang around with someone who is — I don’t hang around with him, but I’ve known him for 15 years. I will tell you this, and you have to believe me. You might disagree with his policies. That’s fine. I have no problem with that. He’s not a racist.”
“Then why did he spread this thing about Obama not being a citizen? … That’s a very racist thing.”
“A lot of people did that … He’s not a racist,” said Ingraham.
“And why does he say there’s good on both sides when they’re Nazis marching?” said Reiner.
“Sometimes he’s not the most precise in his linguistics,” responded Ingraham.
“And why does he say ‘s***hole countries’?” said Reiner.
“Oh, like Obama said, ‘s***house,’ or ‘s***storm’ about Libya?” said Ingraham. “Or Lindsey Graham — is he a racist, who talked about the hellhole of Mexico and Central Mexico?”
“I think he’s a racist.”
“But you don’t know him.”
“I don’t know him that well. I’ve met him one time.”
The two then discussed the rampant, runaway narcissism in Hollywood. “I work with the biggest narcissists in the world,” acknowledged Reiner. “Actors are the biggest narcissists in the world” — then he tucked in a mention that he thinks the president trumps them all, which Ingraham refuted.
A bit later in the conversation, the Fox News host noted that Reiner recently made a film about former Democratic President Lyndon Baines Johnson called “LBJ” — and that Johnson was hardly the most wholesome president the country has ever had.
“I showed the bathroom scene [in the film],” acknowledged Reiner.
“My point being — judging people in a full context [is what’s important]. He had a lot of flaws, personal flaws … You just don’t like [Trump’s] policies.”
“I don’t like his policies, that’s true. But I don’t like the way he conducts his life.”
The sparring partners ultimately agreed that honest conversation — opposing views and all — is what’s important. Ingraham took the time to invite Reiner on her Fox News show — and he took the time to come on to discuss his views. That’s something Ingraham said even a lot of Republican lawmakers, including Lindsey Graham and Jeff Flake, have refused to do.
“We do have a lot in common, believe it or not,” said Ingraham — and mentioned how much she admires Reiner’s dad, the iconic comedian and entertainer Carl Reiner, who is 95 years old.
“He gets up every morning and says, ‘If I’m not in the obits, I eat breakfast,'” responded Reiner.
The director said he’d return to “The Ingraham Angle” for another conversation in the future. And “maybe the government will be running” by then, he said — a pointed reference to the government shutdown.
Tom Joyce is a freelance writer from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He covers sports, pop culture, and politics and has contributed to The Federalist, Newsday, ESPN, and other outlets.