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.