I am very saddened by the news that Alan Colmes has died. I began my NewsHounds career by critically writing about Colmes and quickly infuriated him. However, I came to respect and admire him and have long considered him the best liberal advocate on Fox News.
After some angry email, I’d like to think that Colmes and I came to an understanding. I, at least, believe I came to understand him. Though Colmes had an image as a Hannity lapdog, I believe he chafed at the role he was forced to play on the Hannity & Colmes show. In any event, I watched him evolve into a very effective voice for the left. People who didn't see that could not have watched him. When he left Hannity & Colmes, I sent him an email wishing him the best for his future. I also acknowledged I had been too hard on him in the early days of my blogging. He sent me a gracious note in return.
In an on-air tribute today, Sean Hannity, Colmes’ long-time television partner, called him, “One of the nicest, kindest, friendliest people and a dear personal friend.” Hannity claimed to have “forged a deep friendship” with Colmes. “In the midst of great sickness and illness,” Hannity also said, Colmes “showed his incredible wit and humor that was Alan’s signature throughout his entire life.” Those first and last parts are the most believable.
Lastly, on a personal note, I met Colmes long before there was a Fox News, when he was a standup comic. My then-boyfriend, Art, was also a comic, a few rungs down the ladder from Colmes. But they often found themselves at the same open mic nights where they would work new material or just polish their acts.
At first Art and I thought Colmes was the biggest, most uncool nerd ever. But later, after getting to know him, Art told me what a nice guy Colmes was and that he had gotten to like him. Alas, my strongest memory of chatting with Colmes was at a club called Mostly Magic, somewhere in downtown New York City, on their open mic night. Colmes was sitting at our table and he chastised me for smoking. I was not very receptive to the message. Once again, I realized much later, many years after I quit smoking, I had been too hard on him.
When I wrote to Colmes to wish him good luck post H&C, I told him we had previously met. He did not remember ever being at Mostly Magic and thought we must have chatted at Catch A Rising Star, a much bigger club, where he was the emcee on open mic night.
But I’m pretty sure I was right this time.
Anyway, below is one last round of applause for Colmes plus Fox News’ remembrances which aired today.
I understand the frustration many here felt about Alan in the early years of the program, so did I, but we need to remember that during that time Sean had a lot of raw meat to chew on. The Monica Lewinsky scandal, the 2000 election and Florida recount, followed by the disappearance of Chandra Levy with Democratic Congressman Gary Condit being the lead suspect, and then of course 9/11. Alan was forced to play defense every night.
It was Sean’s show and he picked Alan to be his partner. After all the show wasn’t called Colmes & Hannity.
Kevin Koster, was there a falling out between the two and that’s the reason why Alan left? I wouldn’t be surprised, but if there was they did a very good job of keeping it quiet, which I understand.
I remember when Alan announced he was leaving the show and many us here were either guessing or wanted to see who Alan’s replacement would be, I think I said Phil Donahue, but looking back we should have seen that Sean was about to go solo since Sean was doing a show on Sundays called Hannity’s America, which at the time I thought he was doing leading up to the 2008 election, when it turned out he was preparing for his solo act.
Many left wingers I know were extremely disappointed in Colmes’ appearances with Hannity while he was on the show. They were incensed that Colmes never called Hannity out for his constant cheap shots, his simmering racism and his inability to see past partisan viciousness. I myself recall being confused when I first heard his name back in 1996. Fox News billed him as a “top liberal voice”, but that was news to any of us who regularly listened to Pacifica Radio or even to NPR. If Fox News had been interested in actually putting an openly left wing voice on the air with Hannity, they would have given that seat to Jeff Cohen of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Instead, they put Cohen on in a much more minor position as part of the panel on their Fox News Watch weekend show. They also could have talked to Amy Goodman or to Larry Bensky or to Alexander Cockburn or to any of a number of truly left wing scholars who would have wiped the floor with Hannity on a regular basis. But that’s not what Fox News wanted. They wanted a nice, easy-going guy who frankly had a more bookish appearance next to the red meat of Hannity. And that’s what they got.
Again, it is sad for Colmes’ family that he has passed away, and I wish them well in this difficult time for them. But I have no sympathy for the purveyors on Fox News who presented him in the manner that they did over the years. Colmes’ own willing participation in the ruse makes this situation even more unfortunate. I realize this gave his family a more lucrative lifestyle, but real left wing journalists like Bensky never prioritized that.
The key to any left winger agreeing to appear on a Fox News show is to be aware of how the hosts will attempt to spin their presentation in a wildly slanted manner, and to be ready to challenge the false premises being offered as “facts”. Tucker Carlson has become a master of the typical Fox News approach – present a “question” to a guest that is in fact a wildly propagandistic right wing opinion and then try to trap the guest in their answer. If the guest accepts the premise, Carlson has already won the debate. If the guest does not accept it, Carlson will then attempt to throw false moral equivalencies or absurd comparisons that may initially sound reasonable but are intended to buttress Carlson’s initial preset hypothesis. If the guest points out what Carlson is sneakily doing, Carlson will then attempt to talk over the guest or make funny faces and pretend to laugh. There’s really only one way to deal with this kind of bullying as practiced by Fox News – and this to directly challenge them on their bias and to point out their behavior. I wish that Colmes had taken much more initiative in this area over the past 20 years.
I also came to think that he was probably under tremendous pressure both from Hannity and from Fox to be that Hannity lapdog. So I give him quite a lot of credit for what he was able to do.
That said, I’m sorry he never left Fox and wrote a tell-all about the place and about Sean Hannity.
This is the flag pin episode. Unfortunately, we lost the video but I think my post summed it up pretty well, if I say so myself.
To me, this was the period in Alan’s life where he came into his own and was pretty effective. Once he split with Hannity, he got even better.
I’m interested to see what Stephen Colbert has to say tonight. He was kind of hard on Alan when he left Faux. But Alan Colmes was a sport about it. RIP fellow liberal.
Despite all of that, Alan made his points in a forceful but respectful manner.
RIP Mr. Colmes.
RIP, Mr. Colmes.
It appeared obvious to me that Sean had the power to frame the debate for each show where he always got to play offense and Alan, defense, by Alan having to play George Custer against the Indians, since Sean would have guest that agreed with him, outnumbering Alan.
My best memory of Alan was a show where they were debating wearing that silly flag pin as a sign of patriotism. I don’t remember if it was Al Gore or John Kerry that Sean was having fake outrage and freaking out for not wearing one, but they had on a guest, who I don’t remember who that was on Sean’s side, and once the guest finished with his fire breathing right wing phony talk, very calmly Alan said to him, where’s your flag pin? He wasn’t wearing one. It was hilarious. The guest did a great Jackie Gleason, Ralph Kramden, humana, humana, humana moment.
Rest in Peace Alan and thank you. You’re insights will be missed by many. I always felt better informed listening to you.
I had no idea that he was 66 as he always seemed younger than that to me for some reason. I was completely shocked to read of his death as I didn’t know he was dealing with health issues. My sympathies go out to his family and close friends. His listeners and fans will miss him terribly especially in the age of Trump when strong progressive voices are needed. RIP, Alan – you did good.