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CNN Novak, Hunt & Shields

Interview With Art Buchwald

Aired December 22, 2001 - 17:30   ET


AL HUNT, CO-HOST: I'm Al Hunt. Robert Novak and I are here with our annual holiday visitor.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: He is the syndicated columnist and beloved humorist Art Buchwald.


(voice-over): Art Buchwald is in his 52nd year as a columnist, and he has been a guest on this program most years during the Christmas season dating back to 1982.

When he was here last year the disputed election of Republican George W. Bush as president had led prominent Democrats to ponder leaving the country. We asked Mr. Buchwald whether he would consider returning to France, where his column was born long ago.

ART BUCHWALD, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: No, I don't have it. I'm going to stick it out. I think that Bush is going to provide me with some wonderful material. I think he's my kind of president.

NOVAK: But he had only nine months this year to concentrate on the president before Art Buchwald had to figure out how a humor column fits in after the anguish of September 11.


NOVAK: Art Buchwald: Has George W. Bush disappointed you as president, as fodder for your column?

BUCHWALD: No. He's untouchable. You know, we talk these days about irony. And for two months you weren't supposed to talk about irony. But now there's a lot of ironic things.

For example, Attorney General Ashcroft, he told us to go about our business, but be alert. So coming here today I thought to myself, I'm alert. I don't know Novak that well. I don't know Al Hunt that well. What are they really like? I know they do a television show; but I'm going to be very alert today on this show because I'm trying to follow my orders.

NOVAK: But let's get back to George W. Bush. You know, I get the feeling that you people in the Georgetown set -- you and -- people like you and Al, you really have a lot of contempt for him as a Texan and as a conservative. You really don't care for him that much, is that right?

BUCHWALD: No, you can't say things like that. That's wrong. He's the president of the United States, and so right now we're being very kind to him. In the dining rooms of the Georgetown people, we're very kind to George Bush. We don't have use for some of the other people there, but he's OK.

NOVAK: Do you think that George W. and Laura are pretty funny people? I mean, good for the Buchwald column like Lyndon Johnson and Nixon were?

BUCHWALD: No, not now.

NOVAK: You thought he was a funny guy when...

BUCHWALD: Yes, before then he was good. He was a Texan, and he was my kind of guy.


BUCHWALD: But now he's the president of the United States, and it's hard to make fun of him.

HUNT: Do you see, Art, skull and bones taking over this town?

BUCHWALD: Skull and bones being the Yale thing?

HUNT: Yes.

BUCHWALD: I don't know. I don't care, so that...

HUNT: You weren't a skull and bones person were you?

BUCHWALD: No, I was not. Skull and bones -- people don't know that -- it's a Yale secret society of which people -- some people say is running the country. I don't say that.

HUNT: Let's talk just a moment about the war. You wrote a column in which you said in Afghanistan you can't tell who's on which side.

BUCHWALD: Yes, that's a good column.

HUNT: I mean, really, as a patriotic American, can't you tell who is an American over in Afghanistan?

BUCHWALD: Let me tell you something, Al, this is true. I made five calls before I wrote that article -- to the Marine Corps, the Defense Department, to the "Washington Post" saying, How do you tell the difference between the northern guys and the al -- whatever -- al Qaeda?

None of them knew. None of them knew. Well they each had some crazy answer. You know, they know each other like brother and -- like the McCoys and the...

HUNT: Hatfields, right.

BUCHWALD: Yes, the Hatfields.

HUNT: Well, are you more of a Northern Alliance, a Southern Alliance an Eastern Alliance or a Midwestern Alliance kind of guy?

BUCHWALD: You know, we're fooling ourselves into thinking that the Northern Alliance is one group of people. They're about 100 groups of people. And one of the things I have suggested was when this government gets together, the new government, instead of growing opium, we ask them to grow avocados.

HUNT: One question about Osama bin Laden. They say he's hiding in Tora Bora right now. Didn't you used to winter in Tora Bora?

BUCHWALD: That was the other one.

HUNT: Oh, it was?

BUCHWALD: I was surprised they had two Tora Boras. The one I was in in Hawaii, in the French -- was good.

NOVAK: You really did winter there? I didn't know that.


NOVAK: Can you get high on avocados?

BUCHWALD: Well, the thing about it is after we get the place together again, which is not going to be hard; rebuild it, which is not going to be hard, we are going to have to fight them to stop making dope. And so that's the madness of the war, is one, you don't know who they are, and two is that the main crop is opium.

NOVAK: Do you miss Bill Clinton for your column?

BUCHWALD: No, no. I stopped writing about him. I have a book coming out in which he's in my book, but...

NOVAK: What kind of book is it?

BUCHWALD: It's a collection of articles. And the first 20 articles is after September 11, and the other is before that.

NOVAK: Well Art, is the question of -- I was reading your columns from this year, and you -- early in the year, when he was -- after he had pardoned Marc Rich and all those...


NOVAK: You looked like you had a little bit of Clinton withdrawal problems, didn't you, even though his wife was in the Senate.

BUCHWALD: Well, you've accused me of that, and you're wrong again. So I'm not going to go into that. NOVAK: What do you think of Hillary as a senator?

BUCHWALD: I like her as a person.

NOVAK: You still -- you told us a couple years ago you were in love with her. Are you still in love with her?

BUCHWALD: Oh, sure.

HUNT: You mentioned Attorney General Ashcroft earlier. In 1967 he proved his patriotic stripes when he got out of school and he got a deferment so he could assume a critical job. That critical job was teaching business law at Southwestern Missouri State.

What did you do when you got out of school?

BUCHWALD: I went to Paris.

No, but I'd to go back to Ashcroft. You know, he says he's for everything to save our country from the terrorists, except the FBI is not allowed to look at the files of the NRA or the gun dealers to find out who owns a gun. So the people that are holding them -- we don't know how many are there -- the FBI can't check up on them through gun purchases because Ashcroft is a member of the NRA. And that was a good column.

HUNT: Is he your favorite administration Cabinet member?


HUNT: He is.

BUCHWALD: Yes, I think so.

HUNT: How about Don Rumsfeld? Do you find him sexy?

BUCHWALD: No, I don't remember doing much on Rumsfeld.

HUNT: I haven't seen any columns on the Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

BUCHWALD: No, nobody knows who they are.

HUNT: There's not a lot of good material, is there?

BUCHWALD: No, it's not that. But you have to go to the Missing Persons Bureau to find out who these people are.

HUNT: Do you have a favorite Cabinet member, other than John Ashcroft?


HUNT: We have to take a break. But when we come back, we'll determine if Art Buchwald is a member of the vast left-wing conspiracy. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Art Buchwald, in a column this year you revealed that your son Joel is a Democrat, even though it was -- you'd been solicited for a contribution by the Republican Party.


NOVAK: Now that you've made that revelation, can we reveal once and for all -- stop all this obfuscation -- that you, too, are a Democrat?

BUCHWALD: No. What I'm getting at is that -- in the column -- is that now that Joel is on the Republican list, he can't get off it, and they want money from him. And the same goes for me. Once you get on the list, you can be a Democrat, you can be a terrorist if you want, but you have to give money to the Republican Party.

NOVAK: Like Ari Fleischer, you avoided the question. Are you a Democrat?

BUCHWALD: No. You know I'm not.

NOVAK: But your son is a Democrat, but you're not?

BUCHWALD: No, I said in the column he was -- he was Democrat and he wasn't a Republican. He resented me saying that.

NOVAK: He did? OK.

Mr. Buchwald, I read your column regularly in the "Washington Post."

BUCHWALD: I appreciate that.

NOVAK: And then I -- for this column I review it. And I don't think it's a humor column; I think it's a brutal attack on the Republican Party and on conservatives. And for example, on July 26, you wrote this. You said, quote: "Vice President Cheney isn't suffering. He can get $186,000 worth of electricity and the Navy will pay for it. No wonder people are suspicious of his energy plans."


NOVAK: That's pretty mean, isn't it?

BUCHWALD: No, it's not mean, it's true.

You see, the thing about the administration is they were responsible in many ways for Enron. And Enron is, to my mind, one of the biggest tragedies in this country. And Cheney had the head of Enron in his office. Mr. Love, who works in the White House, sold his stock at a very high price, and all the employees of Enron lost their pensions.

So that's not mean. I'm mean because -- and sometimes I get real angry; and I'm very angry at Enron, and I'm not going to stop because they got golden parachutes and the poor people didn't.

HUNT: You also wrote in June about my colleague Bob Novak -- and we'll put it up for our viewer to see that you had called him to ask him when he thought of the mess. And in typical right-wing fashion, he refused to take your call.

That didn't really happen, did it?

BUCHWALD: No, it didn't happen, but it was a good line.

NOVAK: You admit you tell untruths in your...

BUCHWALD: Yes, once in a while. Only when it comes to your writing.

HUNT: Did you have a big investment in Enron?

BUCHWALD: No. But here's one thing that I'm serious about. I'm a serious guy; people don't know that. And it hurts; it hurts me to see all these people out of work. It also hurts that people like Enron get away with it. They don't go to jail. You know, I would put them in a military tribunal -- all the Enron people, the top guys.

But it's a stupid thing because they were selling somebody else's oil to somebody else who needed the oil, or electricity. And they lost a fortune. And Enron is not the only company; but all these mergers are costing jobs, and that's what I'm concerned about.

HUNT: You have been in Washington for many years. You know this town incredibly well. Where do you think Dick Cheney is hiding?

BUCHWALD: I don't know. I think that Che Guevara and Elvis Presley and Cheney are somewhere in this area, but I'm not allowed to tell you.

HUNT: In a cave, do you think? In a cave?

BUCHWALD: He could be in a cave somewhere. But I wish he'd get that Enron guy.

NOVAK: Mr. Buchwald, we're making progress for the first time in 18 years. You admit you lie about me in your column.


NOVAK: You know, I have a great deal of affection for you. And I asked you to be one of the presenters a few weeks ago when I spoke -- when I was given the State Award at the Press Club.


NOVAK: And I was just stunned that I invite you and you proceed to attack me.

And for example, let's just take a listen to one of the things you said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUCHWALD: Despite what you've heard, he was never a member of the Northern Alliance.


BUCHWALD: The rumors started when Nixon resigned and Bob shaved off his beard.


NOVAK: Now, why would you spread rumors that I was a...

BUCHWALD: I didn't -- I spread -- (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I'm proud of, and that is you were the only personality in Washington that you didn't have to go through a gate -- security thing to get into your dinner.

NOVAK: Well that was nice, wasn't it?


NOVAK: Why not?

BUCHWALD: You weren't important enough.

NOVAK: But the idea of -- you do know I was not a Taliban or a member of the Northern Alliance, we can stipulate that, can't we?

BUCHWALD: Yes. I said that.

NOVAK: OK, all right.

HUNT: You had -- there were several people who were very close to you in this business who passed away this year. Rowlie Evans being one, Kay Grant and Herblock. Can you just tell stories about them?

BUCHWALD: Well Rowlie and I used to meet on this show, and we had a very funny time together. It was good. He's a good guy. He was a Marine. Kay Graham was a good friend of mine. And I'll always remember her for Martha's Vineyard, where we used to spend time together. And I used to lob her in tennis, so she threatened to fire me based on where I played tennis.

HUNT: Who would win those tennis matches?

BUCHWALD: It depended on who I was playing with. When I was playing with somebody good and she was on the other side, she got furious at me. And then -- who else...

NOVAK: Herblock.

HUNT: Herblock. The great Herb Block.

BUCHWALD: Herb, he was such a sweet guy. Ninety-one years old and still writing. And he's my role model. I want to be 91 before I pass away. And he was working until the very day he passed away.

HUNT: He was probably the most influential cartoonist of the 20th century.

BUCHWALD: Probably the most influential. And I always maintained that Nixon -- Herb Block drove Nixon crazy, because you didn't have to read the articles in the "Post," but they had to look at that cartoon. There was no way of getting away from it.

HUNT: Yes. Well, that's for sure.

Listen, we're going to take a break right now. But we'll be back in a minute with "The Big Question" for Art Buchwald.


HUNT: "The Big Question" for Art Buchwald.

The last few years of the Clinton administration -- there's no nice way to put this, Mr. Buchwald -- you were stiffed from the White House press Christmas party. You just weren't invited. This year the new President George W. Bush reached out to anyone of even minor consequence, ranging from Bob Novak to me.

Were you invited to the George W. Bush press Christmas party?

BUCHWALD: No, I wasn't. And this -- we're talking about 50 years in the White House practically, no one has ever invited me to the party that you guys were invited to. And so I'm getting used to it now.

HUNT: Do you think there's a reason they don't invite you?

BUCHWALD: Yes, but I don't know what it is. I think the FBI does, but they're not allowed to look it up.

NOVAK: You know, I had been stricken off list by President Clinton the last couple -- I don't even understand why either. I mean, it's just like the French Revolution, who gets to the guillotine.

But for reasons I don't understand either, President Bush has put me back on the list. We've already had the Christmas party this year, but for next year would you like me to ask the White House to put you on the list?

BUCHWALD: I don't think so. I'm doing well without it. I'm going to see a lot of people there that I'll just attack.

NOVAK: You would attack members of the...

BUCHWALD: No, I'm kidding. I'm kidding.

NOVAK: Arthur, thank you very much. Happy holidays to you.

And my colleague Al Hunt and I will be back with a comment after these messages.


NOVAK: Al, for many years my late partner Rowland Evans would comment at this time on Art Buchwald. And let's listen to what Rowlie said about Art just a year ago.


ROWLAND EVANS, CO-HOST: You know Bob, one of the big stories this year is Art Buchwald is back. You know, a fellow who goes through a stroke the way he did and bounces back the way he did -- and saw him here today -- feeding off all those politicians. And he just gives them the devil; they give him all the material, and he gives them the devil.


HUNT: You know, two ex-"Herald Trib" people, two ex-Marines; Rowlie and Art Buchwald were really of that great journalistic generation. We miss Rowlie so much, and it's great to have Art Buchwald back in Washington. He's a national treasure.

NOVAK: He sure is.

And, you know, he was very kind to George W. Bush. I gave him a lot of opportunity. I thought he was awfully mean to those Enron executives. He feels strongly about it. But when you've got a president you've got to be nice to, I guess you've got to have somebody to kick around.

HUNT: Why would he be mean to Enron? All they did was rip off all their employees, Bob? You know, if anybody can find humor in this administration, it will be Art Buchwald.

NOVAK: He likes Ashcroft.

HUNT: Oh boy, Ashcroft is tailor made for Art Buchwald, isn't he?

NOVAK: He sure is.

I'm Robert Novak.

HUNT: And I'm Al Hunt.

NOVAK: Coming up at 7:00 p.m. on "CAPITAL GANG": the latest on the war in Afghanistan, and a stimulus stalemate in Congress. And a musical "Newsmaker of the Week," political humorist Mark Russell.

HUNT: CNN's Coverage of America's new war continues. Thanks for joining us.