My brief encounter with Mr. Donohue

Some years ago, I had my first – and last – on air encounter with William Donohue (who responds here to an NCR column), then not quite as well known as now. It was for a version of Chris Matthews’ Hardball, a show I rarely watched. My vantage point was the darkened studio of a local public television station in Kansas City, Mo., where I sat, plugged in only by an earphone as the show got underway.

My recollection is that for most of the next 20 minutes Mr. Donohue screamed. I had never quite met anyone like him. He shouted incessantly -- non sequiturs, insults, bromides, broadsides, a veritable firehose of mischaracterizations and conclusions all delivered at a decibel level that would have been outlawed in any other industry.

I must say I went home somewhat marveling at the man’s capability for delivering so little at such great volume.

A short time later another of those screaming shows, the now-defunct Crossfire, invited me on to discuss some other topic of Catholic interest. I was smart enough this time to ask the name of the other person invited. When they told me it was Donohue, I said, “No thanks.”

“Why?” I was asked.

Because, I replied, I don’t associate in real life with people who scream endlessly and without cause or purpose other than to drown out anyone else’s thoughts. I certainly wasn't going to subject myself to that on television before millions.

I thought that had fairly ended my rather brief career as pundit.

The show called back a few minutes later asking if I’d reconsider if it were another guest. I said I would.

When they came up with former Vatican Ambassador Raymond Flynn of Boston, I said yes.

And we had a rather civil conversation, agreeing on some points, disagreeing on others. And no one shouted, not even when taunted frequently by the show’s liberal and conservative bulldogs.

I still consider that moment my singular contribution to TV civility and polite public discussion among Catholics.

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here