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Why Alan Colmes mattered to Fox News

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“Would you prefer a country that was purely white protestant? Is that the country you want?

“I would definitely enjoy living in a country like that, why shouldn’t we have a homeland for…Japan for example, I don’t see them asking for more diversity in japan. Why aren’t we asking for more blacks in Japan? Or in China?”

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“Would you prefer it if blacks left the country?”

“Well they’re here now. The thing is, I don’t think the government should have to tell me to live in a neighborhood that’s mixed. If I want to live in or create an all white community…”

“But the point is, would you like to live in a country where there are no blacks, no Jews, not even Catholics? Would you live in a country that is all white Protestant if you could?”

“That would be ideal of course. It’s great to visit other cultures…”

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“But you wouldn’t want to live there”

“Having what we have here in America, all these different cultures fighting each other, all these different gangs–you don’t have that in a country that’s racially pure.”

This was an exchange on Fox News Radio between Frank Ancona, the Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, with host Alan Colmes on his radio show in 2014. Most radio hosts would be hesitant to have a cordial conversation with a KKK member, but Colmes did it, and let the audience judge for themselves the true meaning of what Ancona was saying. Colmes did this over an over again with guests for mostly conservative listeners, until yesterday. The death of Alan Colmes was announced on Fox News Thursday, igniting an outpour of commentary from every kind of media outlet.

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Colmes’ passing comes at a time when Fox needs a liberal commentator to balance out the political leanings of the network. Known as the left-wing pundit for Fox News Radio, Colmes had hundreds of right-wing trolls commenting on his website Liberaland’s articles, posting to his social media accounts, and calling into his show. With roots in standup comedy, there couldn’t have been anyone better to face daily criticism than Colmes.

I first interacted with Colmes in June of 2011, when he messaged me on Twitter to contribute to his blog, Liberaland. Colmes ended up being my first national editor, and at a time when I wanted to be opinionated, encouraged that sort of writing for his website and his Fox News Radio shows.

Colmes had hosted a show with Sean Hannity from 1996 to 2009, and started Liberaland in 2007. After Fox announced his departure from the show, he continued to host “The Alan Colmes Show” on Fox News Radio.

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You couldn’t look at Liberaland’s Twitter account without thinking that he was aiming for TMZ-esque headlines. His stories got under many Fox viewers’ and readers’ skin, and on the other side, liberals called him a punching bag, and labelled him as weak, a puppet, and a guy Fox propped up to get more traffic to its site from a broader spectrum of the political sphere. I’ve always thought they were wrong.

Colmes’ news blog and Fox News Radio show were the last vestiges of any sincere attempt for Fox to remain fair and balanced, Aside from the analysis of whether or not Fox is fair and balanced, Colmes was able to have a platform where he could goad the masses of conservative listeners who loved to hate him. I am not sure of how many minds he changed with his shows and articles, but I do know that the content of his reporting and commentary was heavily based in facts, research, and truth-telling. Considering the recent media analysis of fake and false news, and the constant fact-checking from nonpartisan think tanks, Colmes was the guy who held people’s feet to the fire when he interviewed them, in his own slightly sarcastic way. He dealt with the left’s cavalier take on his show by standing his ground.

Senator Al Franken took at a stab at him in his 2003 book, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,” surmising that Colmes’ Fox News duties included, ”adding toner to the copiers and printers, loofah-ing Roger Ailes,” Fox News chairman, ”in his personal steam room, and ordering Chinese food for editors working on misleading video packages.” Colmes appeared on Franken’s own show for his rebuttal.

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His humor spurred debate, taking whatever he was discussing a step further to PG-13 territory. On June 24, 2014, Colmes was taking calls from listeners about Lois Lerner, a former unit director at the Internal Revenue Service who was in the middle of an ongoing investigation into lost IRS emails. When Lerner invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked to testify before Congress after accusations floated that the IRS had targeted conservative groups for special scrutiny, the media world (particularly conservatives of course) was in an uproar. Colmes wasn’t having it.

He said, “You know it’s funny to me that conservatives talk about how much they love the Constitution, but when somebody exercises their constitutional rights, they’re declared guilty when they’re not supposed to be. Simply because of the Fifth Amendment. Does invoking the Fifth Amendment indicate guilt? I mean, I love how conservatives always tell me how much they love and admire and basically want to have sex with the Constitution–except they’d probably get paper cuts with that old parchment paper–but when somebody actually exercises their constitutional rights, it’s a big problem.” Real Clear Politics and bloggers feigned shocked, but didn’t combat the premise.

In August of 2014, I wanted to meet the editor who had been sending me work for three years. Colmes and I met at the now shuttered Evergreen Coffeeshop and Restaurant on the hunt for milkshakes. We talked about writing, his work before Fox, and his standup routines at the Comic Strip in the early 80s. He talked about his “early years,” pushback he had faced, and his decision to move to New York to be with his “Doctor” wife, Jocelyn Elise Crowley, who he couldn’t talk about without breaking into a grin.

Everyone knew the man. From the server at Evergreen, to the security officer at the Fox Building, and the make-up artists in the elevator, he had a kind word for everyone, and they had a remark about one of his segments.

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As a young reporter, I was struggling with diving into journalism full time, believing that making a living would be impossible. He encouraged me to leave the safety of public relations, and jump headlong into writing and producing. When I decided to apply to Columbia with a week before deadline, he fielded the international call from Bolivia and my begging for a recommendation. He wrote it in a day. When I moved to New York, he was the mentor who wanted to meet up for lunch, and hear about how the fellowship was going. He was a genuine man.

In a statement released this morning, his family said, “Alan Colmes passed away this morning after a brief illness. He was 66 years old. He leaves his adoring and devoted wife, Jocelyn Elise Crowley. He was a great guy, brilliant, hysterical, and moral. He was fiercely loyal, and the only thing he loved more than his work was his life with Jocelyn. He will be missed. The family has asked for privacy during this very difficult time.” The Washington Post reported that Colmes died of lymphoma at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. According to Fox News publicist Carly Shanahan, his last hosting for the “Alan Colmes Show” was the inauguration on Jan 20.

Colmes’ sister-in-law, and debate adversary Monica Crowley, posted her condolences online. Crowley was being vetted to join Donald Trump’s administration until she was accused of plagiarism in January. Sean Hannity also expressed his condolences on air and social media.

People may think that conservative reporters and trolls are coming out of the woodwork to express their condolences, and that most of them must not be sincere. But I think Colmes was a journalist who inspired a gut-reaction, and if listeners are experiencing remorse over his passing, it’s mostly legitimate.

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Fox News Radio posted a message from Colmes on Jan. 30. “As I previously mentioned on the show last year, there would be times I would be taking off from the show to deal with a medical issue. This is why I’ve been out recently and will be out this week as well. But I will be back taking your calls as soon as I can.” – Alan”

He’ll be missed.


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