Scroll To Top

Birch launches talk show with Pat Buchanan as guest

Birch launches talk show with Pat Buchanan as guest


For the second episode of her new talk show, gay rights activist Elizabeth Birch welcomed a guest she knew much of her audience would have preferred shouting at instead of listening to: Pat Buchanan.

For the second episode of her new talk show, Elizabeth Birch welcomed a guest she knew much of her audience would have preferred shouting at instead of listening to. That was precisely the point. Birch, a veteran gay and lesbian rights activist, had frequently been matched against Pat Buchanan on the kind of cable news debates that favor the quick and the loud. She wanted conversation that promoted understanding. Her hour-long talk with Buchanan can be seen starting Friday on Here, a premium network aimed at gays and lesbians that's available in nearly half of the nation's homes with television. Birch & Company debuted earlier this month with a Rosie O'Donnell interview. "I have a theory that the gay community is craving more than mudslinging back and forth for one minute--verbal assaults and then you go to a commercial, which is what it's really been for 10 years, in my experience," she said. "You never get a chance to really go down deep." Long-ago talk show hosts Dick Cavett and David Frost are her models. The personable Birch is a true Washington insider, a lawyer who spent 10 years running the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign before quitting in 2004 to help raise, with her partner, 6-year-old twins. Her contacts enabled Birch to secure a guest list that would be the envy of many shows on larger networks: Al Gore, Sen. Edward Kennedy, Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, Will & Grace creator Max Mutchnick, fellow TV host Chris Matthews, and conservative commentators Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham. Buchanan, a Catholic and former Republican presidential candidate who believes homosexual behavior is wrong, will probably never see eye-to-eye with Birch. But he considers her a friend. "She's very well-liked," he said. "She has a lot of friends, and she represents her point of view with dignity." The idea behind Birch & Company is to give viewers a picture of the guests' personalities, filtered through issues that have been important to gays and lesbians over the years. But Birch didn't want just gay guests, and she doesn't want to speak exclusively to a gay audience. What better challenge to tackle than Buchanan? "I want to be able to understand him," she said. "I want to go in there not with an ax but with a scalpel and try to figure out what motivates him, where do his values come from, and try to get people to open up in a way they don't have the opportunity to open up." Buchanan, for his part, thought it was "was an opportunity to get our message out and de-demonize ourselves." Birch asked Buchanan about his family and how his Catholic and conservative beliefs were formed. Buchanan talked about the Reagan administration's view of AIDS with an insider's perspective and about how his polarizing speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention came about. They went back two decades to when Buchanan urged the closing of gay bathhouses and wrote a newspaper column saying gays and lesbians "have declared war on nature, and nature is exacting an awful retribution." From Buchanan's perspective, the bathhouses were dens of iniquity where disease was spread. From Birch's, they were an important gathering place for gays. "It's like saying, 'We want to get to all the Irish--shut down St. Patty's Day,"' Birch said. "Well, if there's poison in the beer, you shut down St. Patty's Day," Buchanan shot back. In another exchange, Birch asked Buchanan whether he knew many gay people. He said he knew many, including some when he worked in the Nixon White House, whose orientation he didn't learn until much later. "There's many, many, many more, it seems to me," he said. "They're all over the place!" Replied Birch: "We came out." Their discussion was cordial, if occasionally uncomfortable. No minds were changed, although Birch said she sees a "softer heart" than she did early in the AIDS crisis. "On an intellectual level, it stayed up on that level," Buchanan said later. "It didn't get down to anything grisly, so I was delighted." Birch said she was "tremendously grateful" that Buchanan agreed to the interview. "He not only came and did the show, but he was gracious, cooperative, he gave us all the time that we needed, and he could not have been more of a gentleman," she said. At the end of the interview Birch attached a postscript. She explained the difference between Catholic conservatives and evangelical Christians and said of Buchanan: "He is a man who believes that if you turn everything over to the people, the people will always make the right decisions. We know from American history that is not true." The ending was the show's only sour note, sounding like an attempt to get in the last word or patronize viewers by explaining what they had already seen. Birch later said she was speaking to Here's younger audience. She didn't want to show up Buchanan. "I was trying to do a little bit of teaching at the end," she said. "I'm not sure if it will stay. These first few episodes are experimental." (David Bauder, AP)

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Outtraveler Staff