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Talking With Radio Star John Batchelor


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Listening to “The John Batchelor Show” on WABC is like taking a graduate course in current events. Batchelor covers the news nightly from domestic to foreign affairs, politics to the economy, China to the Middle East, election campaigns to planetary exploration. His insightful take on the day’s stories is delivered with an elegance and punctuated wit rarely heard on today’s airwaves.

One can almost glimpse his imposing figure and trademark bowtie through the AM dial.

With its signature musical interludes, Batchelor’s show, which is number one in its time slot, features in-depth analysis by regular co-hosts John Avlon (CNN), Lawrence Kudlow (CNBC), Gordon Chang (Forbes.com) and Malcolm Hoenlein (Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations).

Batchelor’s frequent guests include John Fund (The Wall Street Journal), David Drucker (Roll Call), John Bolton (former United States ambassador to the United Nations) and Salena Zito (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review).

A recent Daily Beast article by the aforementioned John Avlon sums up Batchelor’s success.

“Batchelor’s show gives in-depth analysis that acknowledges the wider world from Afghanistan to China to India and Iraq. “This depth and breadth is unmatched in any other medium, even in the city that never sleeps, and it is gaining pick-up stations in major markets across the nation.”

Batchelor reads a book a day and there seems to be no subject he will not touch.

“I go to where the heat is,” he explained. “I go to where the marching of the drum is.”

That drum has led to many far-flung places of the globe and even to Gush Katif in 2005, in a live broadcast days before the Disengagement with investigative reporter Aaron Klein and Batchelor’s producer, Lee Mason.

Born in 1948 in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Batchelor studied at Lower Merion High School, Princeton University and Union Theological Seminary, graduating from the latter in 1976.

In addition to his work as a radio host, Batchelor, who is married and lives in New York City with his wife and two children, has authored several novels and a history of the Republican Party.

He recently sat down with The Jewish Press to discuss his show, Israel, the Middle East and U.S. domestic politics.

The Jewish Press: How did you get your start in radio?

Batchelor: I was doing a six-month gig with a colleague in which we flew around the country and did a political report, when the WABC host who was to handle the show in December of 2000, Steve Malzberg, had an event that night. He asked us to sit in for him and it turned out to be December 9, the night the Supreme Court delivered its election decision on Gore vs. Bush. We were on the air that night and got a lot of attention and were asked to come back and take a Saturday show. We were on air just before the [9/11] attack, so that folded into my start as a daily broadcaster. One thing led to another.

Your talk show analyzes the news through interviews rather than personal editorializing, though listeners get glimpses of your viewpoints through your comments. How would you describe yourself politically?

I am a 20th century American male Republican. That’s it. Born to a Republican and his dad was a Republican. My mom is Persian and she picked up American politics mostly because she married into a Republican family.

My father is buried in Arlington and my mother will follow him in Arlington, so I’m the eldest son of two army veterans who were decidedly Republican in their vote and lives. Once you start with that foundation you just add things on.

I went to seminary after college. I didn’t have a calling so I didn’t become ordained, yet what I have today is a great memory of studying the Bible and understanding theology. When I’m in Jerusalem it’s just a delight to go to the same places again and again and hear the same stories.

Aaron Klein, a Jewish Press columnist and now a talk-show host himself on WABC, got his start on your show. Do you choose the people you interview based on similar viewpoints?

No. I actually choose people on the basis of their being writers, because I use their reports or op-eds as a foundation for what we’re going to talk about. So almost the only filter I can count on is the fact that everyone is a correspondent or writer, author or novelist.

How do you feel about President Obama’s handling of the Egyptian crisis?

I think it is a wise policy for the president to remain quiet, and I think it would have worked in Egypt as well. I think it would have been easier at this point to know what our options were in Egypt if the president hadn’t gotten involved early, personally commenting about the demonstrators, because I was never comfortable with who the demonstrators were and what they wanted.

And we see now that Egypt has turned back into the shadows and we don’t know who’s running the government and who is opportunistically looking to move toward governance in the future. In other words, we don’t know where the Muslim Brotherhood is.

Would the outcome in Egypt have been different had Obama sat quietly and let it take its own course?

I think we wouldn’t be in a situation today where the Arab world is extremely distrustful of the White House because it betrayed an ally. It was seen to betray an ally on television. You can do that without being seen on television.

The Obama administration, which has alternated between hostile to lukewarm in its relationship with Israel, recently vetoed a UN resolution against Israel but not before proposing that it “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, which is a serious obstacle to the peace process.”

Do you believe settlements are a serious obstacle to peace and do you predict further shifts in the U.S.-Israel relationship?

No, I do not think settlements or Jerusalem are obstacles to peace. Do I predict any further shift? No. Congress is very firmly consistent with its support of Israel – both houses and both parties. I don’t look to the president or the National Security Council [for] anything certain. They’ve been shifting their position for two years and will continue, but because the Congress is so clearly in support of Israel I don’t see any severe or profound change.

I don’t think Obama will do anything because my presumption is that it would be unsatisfactory to his own party. He’s running for reelection. He lost the midterm election badly, and now we have [Democratic] retirement after retirement in the Senate pointing to the fact that the Republicans are on the rise in the Senate as well.

So we can presume that in 2013, whether the president is reelected or not, we will have a Republican-dominated Congress. And the Republicans will have a great deal to say about foreign policy as well as domestic policy, both of which are important for the strength of America overseas.

You have covered the ongoing story of Israel’s conceding territory in the face of worldwide pressure. Though such concessions have only resulted in increased hostilities, the push for Israel to give up more land continues. What advice would you give Israel regarding negotiations?

The issue is not what Israel will do. The fact is that the Palestinian Authority has no legitimacy. They’ve not held elections in several years. Mahmoud Abbas is hardly an elected president. He has suspended the last several opportunities, and he’s being duplicitous again about calling elections in September.

You cannot have any solution with something that is not a state. The PA at this point is fragile to the point of self-destruction, and Hamas is the major authority in both the West Bank and Gaza. Hamas is a terrorist organization committed to the destruction of Israel, and I’m certain Israel will not treat with its enemy.

Given this scenario, why would Netanyahu feel compelled to play along?

“Play along” is the right metaphor. There’s no change. Abbas is not a legitimate president and you cannot deal with a man who has no legitimacy. The White House knows this. And it frustrates the NSC and it frustrated the Bush administration. So Netanyahu is a very good prime minister in not making himself the story. He’s not. When and if a legitimate representative of the Palestinian Authority shows up I’m sure the negotiations will go very quickly. But that’s not realistic at this point.

Are you concerned about the threat of a unilaterally declared Palestinian state?

Sure it’s a threat. They talk a good game. But right now what’s happening in the Ummah is that the presumed Arab leaders have been revealed as – to be generous – paper tigers. Abbas and Erekat have no legitimacy, and it’s become suddenly apparent to their own constituency that they do not represent anything but their assertions and the money that’s poured into their hands by their allies. And that’s happening in Bahrain, Tunisia, Algeria, and Djibouti.

So I think at this point Israel does well to just stand back and not worry about it. In other words, how I see this going is that there’s a fire going on and the Arab capitals are not going to survive as they were. They’re not going to be united and they certainly are not going to have one voice because of their own bad governance.

In Egypt, I think the threat now is the Muslim Brotherhood, and that’s a threat that will be longstanding because they are dedicated to the destruction of democracy, not just Israel.

Obama pushed to oust Mubarak, yet ignored pro-democracy demonstrations in Iran in 2009. Do you think Obama has marginalized American influence in the Arabic world with his inconsistent policies?

America is in a weakened state because of its finances and because of the Obama administration’s decisions to back off overseas, especially in Iraq and Ahfganistan but also throughout the region. In a weakened state the rascals will take advantage and that’s what’s happening now.

I do not think the president is leading wisely. I do believe his administration admitted it was caught unawares by Egypt. Odd, very odd. And now we’re told they’re scrambling about Bahrain. Very odd. And the president’s been judicious in his remarks about Tehran, which is also odd. I am told that in the Arab constitutional monarchies, kingdoms and republics, there isn’t anything negative you can say about the president and this administration that has not been said.

Some claim a parallel between riots spreading from one Arab country to another and demonstrations spreading from one state to another here in America. Others say that while the Arabs are fighting for rights, the unions and their supporters are fighting for entitlements.

No, I wouldn’t agree that the Arabs are fighting for rights. “Rights” is too broad a word. [Domestically] I think there are different stories in different states. And with regard with what is going on in Madison, there’s nothing spontaneous about it. This is very much a political operation being run by the Democratic Party, probably in coordination with the White House reelection committee out of Chicago.

In fact, my best information is that this is in response to the budget cutting that’s going on in all the states, and they identify two Republican states in order to make a narrative that favors the president’s supporters. They could easily have demonstrated in Sacramento and Albany and chose not to because that’s not the narrative that helps them in 2012. I think what we’re seeing going on right now is the election campaign.

Obama interjected himself into state politics by openly backing the unions in Wisconsin, much as he did with illegal immigration in Arizona. Do you feel this is an overreach by the federal government and do you think this kind of involvement will backfire and hurt the Democrats in 2012?

No, I do not. There are choices here. Does the president go to the people in 2012 as a centrist or does he go to the people as a committed progressive from the Democratic left? Those are the choices he must make. Right now it’s a possibility they’ve decided to go what my colleague John Fund calls the “Karl Rove road,” which is to very much whip up the base and go for every Democrat they can find in 2012 and ignore the independents.

Do you have a favorite among possible Republican presidential candidates at this point?

Yes, I do. John Bolton.

Do you think he has sufficient fiscal experience to garner enough votes?

There are many roads to the White House. They don’t all lead through the Harvard Business School.

Sara Lehmann, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a freelance writer and editor living in Brooklyn.

About the Author: Sara Lehmann, a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, was formerly an editor at a major New York publishing house.


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