Off the Cuff: Bill Whittle, Political Commentator

Bill Whittle is a political commentator, writer, film director and TV editor living in Los Angeles. He writes and hosts the PJTV programs Afterburner, Firewall, National Security Review and Middle East Update, and co-hosts Trifecta, in which he ties together conservative values, current events and history. On Thursday, Whittle gave a lecture as part of the Ronald Reagan Political Lectureship Series. The Review sat down with Whittle Wednesday evening to talk about the “liberal indoctrination” of college students and how his political views have developed.

Caroline Hui

How did you get your start in politics and media?

I didn’t know whether my dad was a Republican or Democrat until I was 16 or 17— I just had no idea. We never talked about politics, it wasn’t interesting to me, it certainly was never a part of my childhood, and I hadn’t given politics a second thought. You’ll probably be surprised to know that in college, I was far more liberal than I am now. I just became more and more conservative [and] started reading and thinking about these things.

But really, the thing that got me started was [that] my dad died about nine or ten months after 9/11. For some reason he decided he was going to be interred in Arlington. So I went out to Arlington National Cemetery in October 2002, and we drove out to McClellan Arch and there were 40 18-year-old men in the army honor guard, and another 40 18-year-old men in the army band. Earlier, I walked along the rows of the cemetery and you could see that all the headstones are exactly the same — a guy who’s been in the army for 60 years gets the exact same headstone as a guy who’s been in for three days. The whole thing just blew my mind.

This was after 9/11 when everyone was saying, “Well, we deserve it. It’s all our fault. It’s all America’s foreign policy — that’s why they hate us,” and I finally said, “I’ve had enough of it. I’m just not going to sit still for it anymore. I’m going to fight back as much as I can because I know how to write.”

What is the mission of your political commentaries?

[Two of my shows, Afterburner and Firewall], are virtually identical. Both are political commentary written and performed by me, and both are basically the same show with different skins on them. [Both are] political commentaries that I do on whatever particular subject moves me. I try to think of something that happened to me in my personal life that most people can relate to. If I’ve got a big point to make, I don’t want to walk right at the point. I want to walk away from the point, get people emotionally connected to it, and then bring in whatever arguments, statistics [and] facts. So you bring in as much evidence and as much history as you can, and then people begin to connect a personal thing they can relate to in their micro lives with some giant macro theory that’s virtually impossible to understand, and hopefully you can get people to make that connection and emotionalize the bigger picture.

On your show, you talk a lot about students and why they tend not to lean to the right.

When I was [a college student in ‘79], looking back on it now, I realize there was a lot of left-wing indoctrination. But that was nothing compared to what’s going on today.

What kind of indoctrination?

What we see again and again is when conservative commentators go to universities, they’re often chanted down. And my big question is always, “What are you so afraid of?” If you’re right, it should be a piece of cake to shut us down in the question and answer period. You should be able to let us talk for 45 minutes, and then in two quick slashes you should be able to just take us to pieces. But they won’t even let us speak, and the fact that they won’t let us speak is something that’s very, very telling. What it tells me is that this worldview is very broad, but very shallow, and most people who believe these things don’t know how to defend them. I want to be crystal clear on this by saying I was one of those people. When I was in college, I passionately believed in things I knew nothing about. That doesn’t mean that I’m right now but it does mean I’m a lot more informed. When somebody comes up with an argument that’s backed up by logic and facts and history and it makes sense to me, I will change my mind. And I had to do a lot of changing my mind to get to where I am now, and I’m not done changing my mind. But there is no question that leftist thinking really began to take hold in universities as much as 40 to 50 years ago, and it’s become so commonplace that it’s just accepted as the standard.

Can you talk about your lecture [Thursday]?

I think what we want to talk about are the bedrocks of conservative philosophy. What is it? What does it mean? What is it about? A lot of people think they know what it’s about — I think most conservatives probably know what it’s about — but speaking to somebody who’s in the middle of the media machine in Los Angeles, I am astonished by the slander. I think one of the main things about my experience, having done this for a while, is that I feel conservatives have a much better idea of what liberals are about than the reverse, and it’s fairly obvious because pop culture is controlled by liberals … So my experience has been that very few liberals really understand what conservatism is about, and I’m hoping I can change that in this little pocket [Thursday].