CBS Offers Fawning Profile of Left-Wing Activist Norman Lear
Published: 6/8/2009 1:16 PM ET
On Sunday, CBS's Bill Whitaker praised the liberal activism of former TV producer Norman Lear: "But in 1980, the king turned his back on his TV empire. He grew alarmed as evangelical Christian preachers grew more visibly and vocally involved in politics with views and tactics he found divisive. He responded the way he knew best, on TV."
Whitaker, reporting for CBS Sunday Morning, went on to describe Lear's efforts: "His ads spawned People For The American Way, his grass roots civics organization to keep Americans aware and protective of their rights." No liberal label was given for the left-wing "civics organization."
Whitaker asked Lear: "What is it about the approach of the Religious Right that so rankles you?" Lear responded: "Politics and religion are not the American way. My contention is every individual's compact with God, with that, is different from every other individual's. So don't come to me with your compact and insist it must be mine. America is open to all of them."
Whitaker mentioned Lear's political leanings near the end of the story, but did so in the context of declaring Lear's non-partisan goals: "And while his own politics are decidedly liberal, he preaches that democracy only truly works when everyone is involved. His latest endeavor 'Born Again American'...Using song to urge Americans to get off the side lines and get engaged in civic life...And this is bipartisan?" Lear explained: "It's totally bipartisan. I think of myself, by the way, as a bleeding heart conservative. You will not mess with my Bill of Rights." Whitaker concluded: "He defends everyone's rights. Those like him who support President Obama...And those who don't."
Earlier in the segment, Whitaker described Lear's work in television as having a major, predominantly liberal, influence on society: "Lear has been changing our world for decades...The topics, racism, rape, homosexuality, miscarriage. Never seen on TV before...Lear took our anxiety at the social upheaveal at the time - Vietnam, the women's movement, civil rights - and invited us to face it with a laugh...Always pushing our buttons. Always pushing the envelope."
Here is the full transcript of the story:
9:27AM SEGMENT:-Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center.
ANTHONY MASON: 'All In The Family' was a huge hit for Norman Lear. 'King Lear' you could call him, considering the respect that he enjoys in world of entertainment. Bill Whitaker now with a Sunday profile.
BILL WHITAKER: There's got to be a story behind the hat. Norman Lear's wife bought him his signature hat to keep him from scratching his head while he writes, but he's a man who has worn many hats over the years. TV, movie, and music producer, political activist, family man. At 86, you'd assume he's done it all. But ask Norman Lear. He's only just begun. So there's no slowing down?
NORMAN LEAR: No. There's no slowing down.
WHITAKER: Why not? I mean you've earned the right to say, 'you know, I want to sit back and watch all these things come to fruition.'
LEAR: 'I've earned the right to do what I want to do' is another way of saying what you just said. And what I want to do is wake up every morning of my life to do something that I think matters.
WHITAKER: And what matters these days is family. Married three times, he has six children and four grandchildren. And music.
LEAR: I have an enormous passion for music. You can't have 14-year-old daughters and not have passion for music.
WHITAKER: He bought into the Concord Record Company ten years ago and today his greatest passion, playing for change.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN [SINGING]: Oh, yeah. Oh, my darling, stand by me.
WHITAKER: Little known street musicians recorded separately around the world, brought together in song. It's had 12 million hits on the internet.
LEAR: I've never shown it - and I've shown it to a lot of people - where they haven't been emotionally connected.
WHITAKER: There have been club dates. Now a CD, the profits to help build schools for music in the third world. Norman Lear wants nothing less than to inspire - no, change - the world through music. Lear has been changing our world for decades. Back in 1971, he gave us his insurgent little sit-com 'All In The Family.' The language was shocking.
CARROLL O'CONNOR [AS ARCHIE BUNKER]: Let me tell you something. If your Spics and your Spades want their rightful share of the American dream, let them get out there and hustle for it just like I do.
WHITAKER: The topics, racism, rape, homosexuality, miscarriage. Never seen on TV before. All spinning around the unapologetically politically incorrect working class blow-hard bigot next door Archie Bunker.
O'CONNOR: I didn't have no million people out there marching and protesting to get me my job.
JEAN STAPLETON [AS EDITH BUNKER]: No, his uncle got it for him.
WHITAKER: It was the number one show for five straight years. What made you think that bigotry could be funny?
LEAR: It wasn't the bigotry per se. It was the state of the man's mind. He was afraid of tomorrow. He was afraid of anything new.
WHITAKER: Lear took our anxiety at the social upheaveal at the time - Vietnam, the women's movement, civil rights - and invited us to face it with a laugh.
B. ARTHUR [AS MAUDE FINDLAY]: Vivien, I'm pregnant.
WHITAKER: Always pushing our buttons. Always pushing the envelope.
ARTHUR: Just tell me, Walter, that I'm doing the right thing. Not having the baby.
WHITAKER: 'Maude' and 'All In The Family' were two of seven hit shows Lear had on the air in the mid 70's. All to be re-released on DVD this week in a new collection of the first seasons. There were 'Sanford and Son,' 'Good Times,'-
JIMMIE WALKER: Dy-no-mite.
WHITAKER: 'The Jeffersons,' 'One Day At A Time.' And the late night soap opera spoof, 'Mary Hartman.'
LOUISE LASSER [AS MARY HARTMAN]: There can't be waxy yellow build-up. Read the can.
WHITAKER: He was probably the hardest-working man in show business, running from one taping to the next.
LEAR: My name is Norman Lear.
WHITAKER: He even did the warm-up act.
LEAR: You have some questions before - yes, ma'am.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: What happens to Mary Hartman last night? I didn't get to see it.
WHITAKER: It paid off. Some weeks, four of the top five shows were Lear's. Did you plan to topple old taboos when you put these shows on the air?
LEAR: They weren't taboos to me. You could hear anything we were saying on a - you know, in a school yard. What was the big surprise?
WHITAKER: I think the big surprise was that you put it on TV.
WHITAKER: The first one to do it.
LEAR: I fess up.
ROB REINER: For him to say that he didn't have an impact on not only television, but society, is, you know, it is a little too humble.
WHITAKER: Rob Reiner is best known now as a director. But he got his show business break when Lear tapped him to play Archie's foil, Michael Stivic.
REINER [AS MICHAEL STIVIC]: You're a lot more ignorant than I thought.
WHITAKER: Lear produced Reiner's first string of hit movies and remains a friend and mentor.
O'CONNOR: Sticks and stones may break my bones but you are one dumb Polack.
REINER: We were a nation of 200 million people and we were drawing 45 million people to watch our show every week. Now we're a nation of over 300 million. And if you get 15, 20, 25 million, you're a massive hit. He was the king of television at the time when television was more important, or at least more viewed than it is now even.
WHITAKER: But in 1980, the king turned his back on his TV empire. He grew alarmed as evangelical Christian preachers grew more visibly and vocally involved in politics with views and tactics he found divisive. He responded the way he knew best, on TV.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So maybe there's something wrong when people, even preachers, suggest that other people are good Christians or bad Christians depending on their political views.
WHITAKER: His ads spawned 'People For The American Way,' his grass roots civics organization to keep Americans aware and protective of their rights. What is it about the approach of the Religious Right that so rankles you?
LEAR: Politics and religion are not the American way. My contention is every individual's compact with God, with that, is different from every other individual's. So don't come to me with your compact and insist it must be mine. America is open to all of them.
WHITAKER: As proof, he turns to the original document.
LEAR: I never know whether I'm going to cry or just tear up, or-
WHITAKER: He bought one of 25 remaining original printings of the Declaration of Independence for $8.1 million.
LEAR: It's our birth certificate, the country's birth certificate, and I never - I never look at it when I don't think of that, 'all men are created equal...endowed by their creator the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness.' I mean, come on.
WHITAKER: And just like this was used in 1776, he takes it around the country for as many Americans as possible to see and read.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: The last thing I though I'd see in class today.
JESSICA ALBA: It's not easy to top you, Norman.
WHITAKER: Buying the Declaration spawned 'Declare Yourself,' a Lear organization that has registered more than four million young voters in red states and blue since 2004.
LEAR: It is a about a rebirth of citizenship.
WHITAKER: And while his own politics are decidedly liberal, he preaches that democracy only truly works when everyone is involved. His latest endeavor 'Born Again American.'
UNIDENTIFIED MAN B [SINGING]: I'm a born again American.
WHITAKER: Using song to urge Americans to get off the side lines and get engaged in civic life.
MAN B [SINGING]: And everyone who shares the dream-
WHITAKER: And this is bipartisan?
LEAR: It's totally bipartisan. I think of myself, by the way, as a bleeding heart conservative. You will not mess with my Bill of Rights.
WHITAKER: He defends everyone's rights. Those like him who support President Obama.
LEAR: Well, Barack, you know, who could have guessed five years ago we were going to have an African-American as president?
WHITAKER: And those who don't. What would Archie Bunker say?
LEAR: Boy, I've thought about that. You know, I think he'd find some way of saying the guy isn't really black, you know. 'He's half black, that's a big difference. And you don't know if that ain't the biggest half.'
WHITAKER: But that's looking backwards.
LEAR: You know, I'm occupied with now and next. I want to matter every day. That brangs me great pleasure.