Even liberals dislike TV's Alan Colmes

Friday, October 24, 2003
Fox News Channel's Alan Colmes, co-host of "Hannity & Colmes," poses for a portriat at Fox's newsroom in New York. The political debate show thrives as part of Fox's high-flying prime-time lineup.

NEW YORK -- Alan Colmes has been called an on-air punching bag, a runt, wishy-washy, a milquetoast and -- this one must really hurt -- a conservative at heart.

And these words are from people who usually agree with him.

You should see the e-mails he gets from people who don't. Wrote one disturbed fellow: "When you talk I fantasize about shooting you. I pretend I have a pistol in my hand and shoot you all over. I pretend to shoot you in the head and in your torso ... If you died I would celebrate."

As Fox News Channel's resident liberal and half of "Hannity & Colmes," Colmes must feel a kinship with Internal Revenue Service auditors, process servers or telemarketers.

Conservative fans of Sean Hannity have little use for him. Liberals want to see him throw a few more haymakers, but that's not his style.

"People say to me, 'Why don't you fight fire with fire?"' he said. "You fight fire with water, not fire."

Colmes' low-key manner -- in the face of Hannity's fire -- is on display in his new book, "Red, White and Liberal." Unlike political authors who snarl and bite, Colmes is nice. He writes as much to reason with conservatives as to rally liberals.

"Hannity & Colmes," meanwhile, thrives as part of Fox's high-flying prime-time lineup as other political debate shows, like CNN's "Crossfire," have faded.

"I think the American public likes to see people who like each other debate," he said. "I don't think they want to see people who want to kill each other."

His liberal critics question Colmes' political commitment and demeanor, and suggest he's fighting a rigged battle.

They say Hannity is clearly the show's star; the conservative talk show host was hired first, and the show was jokingly known backstage as "Hannity & Liberal to be Determined" before Colmes was selected, partly upon Hannity's recommendation.

The liberal media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Media studied two weeks of "Hannity & Colmes" this summer and found that between the co-hosts and their guests, conservatives spoke 2,768 lines to 2,004 for liberals.

FAIR has likened Colmes to the Washington Generals, the hapless basketball team hired to lose to the Harlem Globetrotters every night.

"Hannity gives no quarter," said Steve Rendall, a FAIR analyst. "Colmes is often giving points when he should be fighting. When the chips are down, Colmes often concedes."

In his best-selling book, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them," Al Franken ridicules him, even reducing Colmes' name to a smaller type size than Hannity's.

Franken imagines Colmes having to earn his Fox News Channel salary by doing other odd jobs.

"In Alan's new autobiography, 'Back to You, Sean: The Alan Colmes Story,' we learn that Colmes' duties as co-host of 'Hannity & Colmes' include adding toner to the copiers and printers, loofah-ing Roger Ailes in his personal steam room, and ordering Chinese food for editors working on misleading video packages," Franken writes.

Colmes called Franken's book "very funny," but the typical liberal line.

"What am I supposed to do?" he asked. "Should I not work there because I'm a liberal and they want to paint Fox as a conservative? For them to make the argument that Fox is conservative, they have to diminish my role there."

Colmes, like Hannity a veteran radio personality, said some of his liberal critics misinterpret his style.

"Sean is a fastball pitcher," he said. "I may throw a change-up or a curveball as well as a fastball ... I may deal with things with a little humor sometimes. That may be perceived as weakness. I think most thinking viewers realize that's why our show works."

He dismisses the idea that he's not on equal footing with Hannity. Other people suggested him for the job -- not just Hannity -- and he wouldn't have lasted seven years if he wasn't up to it, he said.

Colmes' book jacket includes a blurb from former President Clinton, who writes that Colmes "knows that facts and evidence count for more than ideological and personal attacks." (Thanks, perhaps, for a chapter titled, "Bill Clinton, Our Greatest President").

It drives Colmes' critics crazy, though, that the jacket also includes a testimonial from Newt Gingrich that Colmes "is definitely my favorite liberal with whom to argue."

Wouldn't a true liberal recoil at praise from Gingrich?

FAIR cites other instances where it claims Colmes hasn't been reliably liberal: he voted for Republican Rudolph Giuliani as New York mayor, refrained from criticizing the Iraq war while in progress and supported Trent Lott during the uproar over comments that appeared to praise Strom Thurmond's pro-segregation campaign for president in 1948.

More recently, Colmes backed Rush Limbaugh in the controversy over the radio host's comments about Donovan McNabb.

"I thought a true liberal is someone who was open to the other side and open to all ideas," he said.

"I certainly lean left and I'm proud of being a liberal -- I don't duck that word -- but I don't consider myself an idealogue. I see things on an issue-by-issue basis. So I annoy both sides in the process of doing that."

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