These days, it's not easy being the lone liberal commentator on Fox News Channel's daily ensemble chat show The Five (5/4c). With the recent stream of Obama administration scandals, co-host Bob Beckel says he has "often felt like the only fireplug at the Westminster Dog Show."
But the former Democratic campaign operative says he never expected to have as much fun as he's had on the program, which was originally conceived as a temporary replacement for Glenn Beck's cancelled show in 2011. The Five, which celebrates its 500th episode on Tuesday, June 25, usually pulls in the second highest ratings in all of cable news.
"My initial thought was that we'd inherit some of the Beck audience and a fatwa would be put on my head," says Beckel. Instead, he says, the reaction from viewers across the ideological spectrum has been positive. "People tell me there is a comfortable feeling about it — like a dinner table with a family having a debate about politics." The son of a civil-rights activist, the feisty Beckel — whose co-hosts include Greg Gutfeld, Andrea Tantaros, Eric Bolling, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Juan Williams and Dana Perino — recently talked to The Biz about life in the left lane at Fox News.
TV Guide Magazine: Some of the liberals we've seen on Fox News Channel in the past seemed a little wimpy. You're a tough guy. That has to help the cause, right?
Bob Beckel: My dad was a civil rights worker. He got the hell kicked out of him in the south in the civil rights days. I'm much more of a workingman's liberal. I followed my old man into the [movement], and that was not pleasant. It was in the later stage of the movement, but going out and registering voters in Alabama in the 1970s — it was not easy to do. I'm not somebody that's easily pushed around. That's gotten me in enough barroom brawls that my hands are busted up. I think liberals tend to be afraid of defending themselves. My view about it is, "Rest well tonight friends because tomorrow we ride at dawn. Let's go." Some people think I'm a little too much like that. An example is my swearing.
TV Guide Magazine: Since you brought it up, what's the phone call or office visit with management like after you've dropped an F-bomb on the air?
Beckel: When it happened the first time on Hannity, I didn't know we were on the air. When [Fox News executive vice president] Bill Shine took me to [Fox News chairman] Roger Ailes's office it was like a scene from Dead Man Walking. But Roger was really good about it. He knew it was a non-forced error. When I did it on The Five it was because Eric Bolling hit me in the arm with his fist and it hurt. My general reaction to that is to knock the s--- out of the guy or say f--- you. That's what I did. I shouldn't have done it. That was wrong and it caused them to put the show on tape delay. Most people have some filter in their brain that says when you have a thought, 'Is this going to work or not work?' For me, the filter burned out somewhere along the way.
TV Guide Magazine: The rest of The Five team does gang up on you a bit, don't you think?
Beckel: Yeah they do. But I figured that out a long time ago. I change the subject. Or I'll do something else to get off the point.
TV Guide Magazine: You need to get heated to keep it entertaining. How do you keep a working rapport going with your conservative co-hosts?
Beckel: We spend a lot of time off camera. I consider each one of them to be my friend. I understand where they're coming from and they understand where I'm coming from...I've got a very thick skin. If you don't have a sense of humor you might as well forget about it. I've been sober for over 12 years now and I go to AA all the time and there are things that you learn about life. You can't take stuff personally. Things are going to be what they are and you have to take care of your own side of the street. I think they are all wrong. I think Eric Bolling was dropped on his head as a young man to be that right wing. But my best friend at Fox News is Sean Hannity. I go to his house every other weekend because I don't live in New York. Hannity is the most generous, decent human being I've ever met. When I was a guest on that show I thought he was the worst kind of right-winger you can get. We just agree not to argue about politics. Same thing when we're off the set of The Five. We don't argue about a topic after or before the show.
TV Guide Magazine: There's a rosy nostalgia about Ronald Reagan among Republicans. You ran the Democrats' presidential campaign against him in 1984. Looking back, what do you think about Reagan?
Beckel: I admired him for his great communication skills and all that. But people forget quickly about Iran-Contra. They forget some of the lousy appointments he had. The guy was a hard core conservative and a lot of his policies sucked. But I thought he was fair-minded. The guy never shut down a department of the government. The government grew under him. He worked out deals on Social Security, so he was a guy who was willing to work with the other side. So this bit [by Republicans] about "we're all going to be Reagan conservatives." If he were alive today, he'd be appalled. It goes two ways. He's either praised too much as a guy who did no wrong, which he did. Or he was a doctrinaire guy, which he was not. For younger Republicans, the myth about Reagan is just that. He was a smart guy who understood what he was doing.
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