June 8, 2009
Puke Alert: Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn Appear on C-SPANBy Peter Barry Chowka
On June 7, 2009, C-SPAN II a.k.a. Book TV -- one of the three ubiquitous, non-commercial, not-for-profit cable television networks covering the Congress, government, and public policy issues -- devoted three hours of live programming to an interview with Bill Ayers, who was joined for the last hour by his wife, Bernardine Dohrn. The Ayers program was part of the channel's signature monthly "In Depth" series of conversations with leading American authors.
Ayers, 65, and Dohrn, 67, are the radical 1960s antiwar activists and, for eleven years until they turned themselves into authorities in 1981, former underground fugitives from justice who were among the founders of the violent domestic terrorist group, the Weather Underground.
In recent years, Ayers has gained some notoriety for comments he made that appear to defend his bomb making past (gaining for him in some circles the moniker "unrepentant domestic terrorist") and for his murky but apparently influential association during the 1990s with the then new-on-the-scene, up-and-coming Chicago politician, Barack H. Obama.
Ayers, who admitted in his memoir Fugitive Days and in interviews of helping to plant bombs that went off in government buildings including the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon, causing considerable damage, avoided being tried by the feds because the government dropped the charges after admitting prosecutorial misconduct in the case. Dohrn still faced state charges but got off with a probation-only sentence.
"Guilty as hell - free as a bird," as he told David Horowitz in a 1991 interview, Ayers began his second act makeover in the mid-1980s by earning two Masters Degrees in education and an Ed.D in 1987 from Teachers College, Columbia University in Curriculum and Instruction.
Today, Prof. Ayers is firmly ensconced at the University of Illinois at Chicago as Distinguished Professor of Education and Senior University Scholar. Sol Stern has written at length about Ayers' wide ranging activities and influence as an author, editor, and radical education reformer:
The C-SPAN show with Ayers was a three hour long nightmare in real time -- like the one documented in print by Sol Stern and others -- brought to life in color on the small screen. Ayers 2009 revealed himself to be a master of state of the art telegenic spin: confident, soft spoken, unflappable, professorial, casually attired in a hip leftist t-shirt and sport jacket. In a segment pre-taped at his university office, he wore his trademark black t-shirt with the large communist red star, while wearing an earring in each ear. All the while Ayers pushed for radical, socialist, or collectivist "reform" of society and government on every level imaginable, using as his talking points the unedited laundry list of a committed Marxist ideologue. The venue for C-SPAN's broadcast featured a small but rapt and adoring audience of Ayers acolytes. Everyone in the audience who got to ask a question, in fact, acted like he or she was in the presence of a truly great man, if not a cult leader.
A sense of cognitive dissonance pervaded the program as Ayers, especially during the tour of his office, rhapsodized about the three children he and Dohrn had raised, all of whom are doing well as adults, according to Ayers. Dohrn's and Ayers' eight year long caring for their elderly parents was also highlighted. One could almost be lulled into a vision of a close-knit, traditional American family. And to be fair, they do appear to deserve credit for devoting a large part of their lives to their family.
Viewer calls, a typical feature of many C-SPAN programs, were surprisingly limited in number. While a few were challenging, Ayers easily deflected or simply ignored any unpleasant questions or criticisms that came up.
Thirty minutes into the program, for example, the C-SPAN interviewer (who I did not see identified during the broadcast, and whose name I could not find online; the caption under Ayers' name, meanwhile, read "Author and Activist") summarized two questions for Ayers that had come in by e-mail. They related to Ayers' past predilection for planting bombs. In his response, Ayers launched into a five-minute long monologue of irrelevant gauzy recollections of the period between 1965-'68 that related to the civil rights movement. Like a skillful politician, he simply avoided the questions that were asked and said what he had come to say.
Ayers' obviously well-rehearsed techniques of obfuscation and deflection were similar to the strategy he used when he was interviewed by Emily Rooney on WGBH's Greater Boston television program last April 30 -- simply skate over any unpleasantness or awkward questions, while suggesting (if never quite stating outright), through implication and body language, that he is still in fact unrepentant. The hip, politically correct, punk ass leftist audiences that are already attuned to the collectivist world view espoused by Ayers and his ilk will get the joke and wink and nod along with him.
When fellow former bomber and one-time fugitive Bernardine Dohrn -- these days, hold on to your hats: the "Associate Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law" and the "Director of Northwestern's Children and Family Justice Center" -- joined the C-SPAN program, it went further downhill.
In contrast to Ayers' smooth aura of self-confidence and effective spin, however, Dohrn came across as decidedly rough around the edges and inarticulate, as when she was asked this question:
A video stream of the entire three hour program with Ayers and Dohrn can be accessed here at BookTV's Web site. Anyone not quite up for the full-length Ayers-Dohrn treatment can watch the five minute long preview that C-SPAN produced to promote the program. It's here at C-SPAN's YouTube site.
John Tabin's account in the Wall Street Journal of Ayers at a small book-signing event in Evanston, Illinois in November 2001, barely two months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, sounds similar to his appearance on C-SPAN seven and a half years later, except that now Ayers' audience has grown considerably larger:
Peter Barry Chowka is a writer and investigative journalist who writes about politics, health care, and the media.