Date: Friday, November 11, 1994
By Ray Richmond, Los Angeles Daily News.
NO FREAKS: DENNIS PRAGER'S TALK SHOW IS ALL ABOUT VALUES
As a man who cares more about right and wrong than sex and titillation, Dennis Prager stands out as an island of morality in the sea of media insanity.
His religion-based commentaries on the meaning of life have endeared him to audiences for 13 years on KABC Radio, where he pulls down top ratings as the weekday host from 1 to 4 p.m.
Now Prager is trying to take his message of decency to the masses with a syndicated TV talk show. "The Dennis Prager Show" airs at 1:30 a.m. weekdays on WMAQ-Ch. 5.
How did Prager make it here in an era when sensationalism is what sells?
Even he seems slightly stumped.
Munching recently on a bagel-and-lox lunch at Jerry's Deli, Prager conceded that as far as television fare is concerned, his is the freak show.
"I am ambivalent about television as a medium for deep, intelligent programming," said Prager, "but I am not at all ambivalent about this show.
"This is an incredible opportunity to reach a mass audience with my belief system. I intend to find out if Americans are so used to adrenaline rushes that merely being very interesting, entertaining and even life-changing is enough."
Ratings for the first two weeks of the show haven't been encouraging.
Prager's program brought up the rear in its time period everywhere it runs- even in Los Angeles, where Prager is a known commodity.
The fact that a show celebrating humanity is being so universally ignored in favor of programming that exploits it is something that doesn't entirely surprise Prager.
"The desire for sex and violence and yelling and freaks may just be too great," Prager said. "My suspicion is that Americans are yearning for what I have to give, but I just don't know."
Prager's television show is, by contrast, a no-nonsense discussion of values and the struggle between the forces of good and evil. It's essentially an extension of his radio show, in which he opens with a commentary detailing his thoughts on life and the issues of the day.
Prager then trots out a guest or two to discuss a variety of issues, everything from a chat with flight attendants about their views to a debate with feminists about pornography.
Prager, incidentally, was pornography's defender. That will surprise some, he suspects, who see him as either a conservative or a religious man. Both labels are accurate to a point but prove too limiting.
"I think you can be a religious man, as I am (Prager is Jewish), and still support the existence of pornography," he said. "I believe God's primary concern is whether we hurt each other, not how we fantasize."
Prager's take on life seems almost simplistic, with its emphasis on identifying rottenness in society and attacking it.
"Being simple means being heard," Prager, 47, said. "You need to have an ability to clarify moral issues."
That philosophy has made Prager extremely popular in both religious and talk-radio circles.
"I'm the only one on TV trying to transmit values, telling people and families how much we've lost touch with right and wrong," he said.
THE ZONE (1995)
Sales of Barry Sears'initial book started extremely slow despite cover lines such as "avoid the dangers of bad carbohydrates (bananas, orange juice, bagels, bread, carrots, dry cereal, popcorn, rice, potatoes, pasta)," "balance your hormonal and insulin levels," "lose weight permanently," "reset your genetic code," "prevent disease" and "eating fat doesn't make you fat." Then the author appeared on a popular drive-time radio show in Los Angeles with host Dennis Prager. The rest is a publisher's dream.
Prager told listeners he didn't usually invite guests on the program, especially one with a doctorate in biochemistry. But this book changed his life, said the radio personality; this diet plan boosted his energy tenfold.
Sears and Prager chatted a few minutes before taking phone calls. Three hours later, Sears was still fielding calls as Prager signed off for the night. Many personal trainers for celebrities were in on the buzz, for within weeks Madonna and other Hollywood stars were Zoned.
TOM SNYDER (1995)
A late riser, Tom Snyder often spends afternoons tooling around in his black Cadillac, listening to Dennis Prager, a Los Angeles radio talk show host (and a favorite guest), and other local talk-radio hosts.
PHOTO: Marisa Tinaglia wipes her tears as she listens to a speaker at a rally Sunday to get a hearing for `Baby Richard.'
PHOTOS: Kelly Guinaugh (left) accepts a gift from talk-show host Dennis Prager, who raised $8,000. Even 14-month-old Elizabeth Weissman (above) lobbied at the rally. Tribune photos by Nuccio DiNuzzo.
LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988)
Among the speakers were Rev. Donald Wildmon of Tupelo, Miss., head of the American Family Association; Bill Bright, director of Campus Crusade for Christ; and Dennis Prager, a Jewish writer and host of religious radio programs.
Rev. Wildmon, among the first to begin organizing the nationwide boycott, accused America`s film industry of ``Christian-bashing`` via discriminatory hiring practices and negative stereotypes of Christians in films.
He called the ``Last Temptation`` the last straw: ``Universal has released a movie, but more than that, they`ve unleashed a movement that will not stop here.
``You may not respect our religion, but you do respect our pocketbook!`` he shouted to cheers from the crowd. ``And we will express our faith at the marketplace!``
Bright, whose offer to buy all copies of the film in order to destroy them was rejected by Universal, said that if the emotion of Thursday`s rally leads to greater participation and unity among Christians, ``What man intended as evil, God will ultimately use for good.``
Prager said that unity should include Jews, as part of a ``Judeo- Christian solidarity against aggressive secularism.``
Anti-Semitic aspects of the protests to date-primarily relating MCA chairman Lew Wasserman`s being Jewish to anti-Christian motives behind releasing the film-have been cited and decried. Even as Prager spoke, there was a placard nearby chiding the film as ``Jews II.``
"The American Bulldog: The Always Controversial Dennis Prager"
by Michael Finley
[This is a report of the Dec. 5th session by Dennis Prager at The Masters Forum in Minneapolis. For more information on The Masters Forum, call 612-935-7334.]
Dennis Prager, who joked that he is always introduced by squeamish emcees as "the controversial Dennis Prager," didn't mean to be equating himself with Winston Churchill.
All he said was, "I feel about marriage and family the way Churchill felt about democracy, that it was the worst method of governing ever created, except for all the other ways."
Think of the comparison this way: Churchill was a person who went largely ignored throughout the tumultuous period before World War II. Britons did not want to believe they were on the brink of another world calamity. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich with a piece of paper in his hand, signifying "peace in our time."
It was what people wanted to believe they did not want to believe Churchill's insistence that the buildup in Germany spelled trouble. Churchill was a figure of popular fun. Intellectuals called him paranoid, a cartoon.
Now we have Dennis Prager, whose name is unavoidable paired with "the controversial." Prager, too, looks beyond what we all wish we could see in our society, toward the society we all dream of a compassionate society that has driven out racism, injustice, and abuse. Instead of the dream, Prager sees what is actually out there a well-intentioned society trying to complement a handful of really bad ideas.
Like Churchill, Prager takes his share of shots. A search for mentions of Dennis Prager's name in the Los Angeles Times over the past three years turns up an assortment of TV listings, and a mountain of letters to the editor, nearly all of whom dump on him for violating some sacred canon of liberal convention and occasionally conservative convention.
Like Churchill, Prager wages total war on what he perceives as the great lies of his time: the sham sentimentality of our day, the fracturing of society into groups, the elevation of feelings over values.
Unlike Churchill, the targets of Prager's wrath are often the trivial character's from the daily newsfeeds:
* the department store Santa who sued to get his job back, even though his beard was an un-Santa-ish black color;
* the woman who called in to his radio program to lament that she dearly wanted a child, even if she had no man in her life to be its father.
Our society is messing up, Prager says, and it is ironic because our errors arise from our virtues. Our desire to have good things happen is, as often as not, causing the opposite kind of things to happen. One by one, he tweezed the splinters from our national eye.
"Race explains everything."
This Dennis Prager calls the Lie of the Right, it says that race alone can be used as a measure of worthiness and justice. The lie has been the cause of history's most horrific excesses the Holocaust, the excesses of Japanese fascists, the genocide in Bosnia today it has been largely to rest in this country.
It was an easy answer for the Nazi to hate the Jew, and to pin the blame on all the bad things happening to postwar Germans on the outsiders in their midst. It would have been easy, too, and understandable, for Jews to hate Germans following the war.
But Prager recalled the story of Viktor Frankl, who spent three years at Auschwitz and other Nazi camps. Frankl would go on to write Man's Search for Meaning, which ranks among the most important five books Prager has ever read. In his book, Frankl talks about the adaptations prisoners made to the everyday horrors of concentration camp life.
When it was all over, Frankl was asked if he didn't hate the Germans. Frankl responded that there are only two races the decent and the indecent. His message we are only allowed or justified to hate those who behave indecently not the race these individuals happen to belong to.
To Prager's mind, the United States beats itself over the head for not achieving to a higher degree its stated value of equal opportunity for all. As a Jew and author of a book on anti-Semitism, he nevertheless can think of no way in which being Jewish has held him back. "I love and cherish America. I think it is the last best hope for mankind, that it is, as Lincoln said, the only society to say it doesn't matter what group you belong to. What matters is what kind of person you are, and what you do with your opportunities."
Yet the racial mindset persists. We ally ourselves with whatever group we belong to. If we are black or Hispanic or female or rich, that is our first allegiance. Prager recalled a New York Times story on the O.J. Simpson verdict featuring a black woman who gave the opinion that, as a woman, she yearned for a guilty verdict, but that as an African-American, she hoped for verdict of not guilty. Either way, her reasoning infuriated Prager.
"Why didn't it strike the reporter that that was an evil idea, to be driven by one's loyalty to one's race or one's sex? Whatever happened to loyalty to the truth, and to decency?"
He cited a Harvard Law School professor, during the Clarence Thomas hearings in the Senate, remarking that Clarence Thomas didn't think like a black. What are the ramifications of such a remark, Prager asked. Is there a difference between a white brain and a black brain? Or are black people not free, as white people are allowed to be, to learn different views in life and form different opinions?
"The air," he said, "is so poisoned [with race] that we don't know what we are breathing in. If you are afraid to call a black thug a thug, he said, then you are the racist.
"When white Germans burn the homes of Turks, we call them fascists. But when black Americans burn the businesses of Korean Americans, we say they are 'angry.'
The Los Angeles Times, covering the riots in South Central Los Angeles, dummied up a daily banner labeled 'Understanding the Rage.' Would it have been acceptable to us, Prager asked, if a major newspaper had called upon readers to empathize with to understand the rage of the Germans terrorizing the German Turks?
Prager did not use the word multiculturalism, but he is plainly troubled by the tilt in emphasis away from individuals and toward groups, and the unintended results of this political obsequiousness slanted and negative history, reverse discrimination, and a pathological hypersensitivity to all things dealing with race and difference. He holds universities to be the worst offenders in this rush to divide.
"Every time a college or any other institution asks you your race, they nail another coffin in one of the greatest values the world has ever known the idea that the group you belong to doesn't matter, but you do."
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