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Caught in the
political crossfire

Caught in the
political crossfire


After his Democratic opponent appeared on Rachel Maddow's Air America show in May, Ohio congressman Bob Ney tried to derail his campaign by painting him as a radical for talking to the openly lesbian radio host, whom he deemed a "cross-dressing lesbian" and a "transgender king." Now Maddow responds.

When Republican congressman Bob Ney of Ohio found out that his Democratic challenger, Zack Space, had been interviewed in May by openly gay Air America radio host Rachel Maddow, Ney saw an opportunity for political positioning. In an effort to damage Space's campaign, Ney launched a series of attacks against him for talking to Maddow, whom he called a "cross-dressing lesbian" and a "transgender king" in a prerecorded telephone message to voters. He continued the offensive in an e-mail and two press releases, and has refused to appear on Maddow's show or take her calls. After a recent show Maddow told The Advocate that her interview with Space was "innocuous" but that Ney, who's under investigation for alleged links to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, was corrupt.

Why Zach Space? Did you wake up one day and decide you wanted to stick it to Bob Ney--and all you had to do was interview Space?Hardly. There was nothing unusual about it. It certainly didn't make a huge splash. I'm not campaigning for Space, and I never have. I just think he's running in a really interesting race, but I don't get to vote there, and I don't tell my listeners how to vote. I mean, he's not for gay marriage. He certainly didn't agree to do it because he's part of the Rachel Maddow fan club. But the interview made him seem like a generally good person. It was innocuous.

What was your reaction when you found out Ney was criticizing Space because he talked to someone gay? I thought it was a godsend. It's not every day that as a radio host you get singled out. I laughed out loud. Ney's one of the most corrupt members of Congress, and here was his audio file [the recorded message used in the automated telephone calls in Ohio] handed to me on a silver platter.

What about his comments that you're a "cross-dressing lesbian" or "transgender king"?Perhaps he does not like ladies to wear pants? I mean, my girlfriend is a femme and doesn't wear pants, and I know that's controversial in some areas, but I don't know what a cross-dressing lesbian or a transgender king is. I'm sure I'm for either, though.

Will these attacks change the way you do your show or select the guests you interview?However much these tactics are buffoonish or caveman-like, just the fact that he's willing to take a swipe [at me] like this makes me wonder if it will have a chilling effect on politicians who may reconsider doing an interview with openly gay journalists or talk show hosts. These attacks may make him look ridiculous, but others may decide it's not worth the risk to speak with me. But no, it won't affect the way I approach whom I invite to be a guest on the show.

But you're a public personality, and you're out. This can't be the first time something you've done has resulted in so much attention. I have received threats of a more anonymous nature--death threats and violent threats that have seemed to be the result of my being out. But over Memorial Day weekend [right after Maddow first learned of Ney's campaigns] I was thinking about how one of these call recipients, some kook, might decide to do something about me. That was unsettling. I realized I was unsettled because of it.

Have people declined to go on air with you since Ney's attacks began?I haven't noticed an obvious change in who says no. People say no to me all the time. They don't have to give me a reason. But it's a morning drive show--a consistent top-10 morning radio show. And I don't want it to have to be an act of bravery to come on my show. It shouldn't be a big gay-rights issue or a statement, not in 2006.

But did he get anything right? Come on. Admit it. Are you a cross-dresser or transgender king, Rachel?As I said, I'm not exactly sure what those are exactly.

Should Bob Ney decide to take one of your calls or agree to appear on your show, what would you talk about? You mean, besides the fact that he's named in five separate plea agreements related to the Jack Abramoff corruption investigation, or that he's currently under criminal investigation? I did consider writing a letter to his toupee, but I'm over it. The next time he attacks me, though, I'm going for the toupee.

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