Ben Shapiro is one of the smartest humans I’ve ever met in person. He was born in 1984, entered UCLA at the age of 16 and graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in June 2004 with a BA in Political Science. While at UCLA he was the only counter-protester at an Affirmative Action Rally (attended by over 1,500 people) and he “repeatedly challenged liberal professors and faculty”. He graduated Harvard Law School cum laude in June 2007.
Shapiro was hired by Creators Syndicate at age 17 to become the youngest nationally syndicated columnist in the U.S. His columns are printed in major newspapers and websites including Townhall.com, ABCNews.com, and he is a regular commentator on Fox News. He has also written many bestselling books including one of my personal favorites of 2011, Primetime Propaganda: the True Story of How the Left Took over Your TV. This book is a fascinating expose on the liberal inner-workings of television shows in which I (sadly) learned that many of my childhood favorites had extreme liberal messages. Of COURSE ‘Room 222’ was liberal…sigh—but who knew at the time?
Shapiro is married and currently runs Benjamin Shapiro Legal Consulting in Los Angeles. He is Editor-At-Large of Breitbart.com and Shillman Fellow at the Freedom Center. He is also the co-host of hit radio show The Answer on KRLA-AM 870 in Los Angeles.
The following is my 2011 interview with Ben, soon after the release of Primetime Propaganda.
A-M: SHEESH your resume is impressive–you’ve done a little of everything for such a young man! What are you working on now?
BS: I’m starting my own company, trying to create some jobs for people and I’m working on another book for Harper-Collins about corporatism in America so I’m excited about that.
A-M: Your book Primetime Propaganda is doing so well and is such a fun, informative read. The media is going nuts over it and everyone, myself included, seems shocked to learn how many of our seemingly innocuous TV shows had that liberal agenda sprinkled throughout.
BS: Yeah, it varies show by show but they’re very much oriented toward pushing certain liberal agenda and they’re very clear. What’s nice about the book is it wasn’t just me commenting on this, it was all of them admitting this was happening. These people are all very open egotists so when I approached them saying I’m doing a book on the biggest names in Hollywood, they were more than happy to give me the time. They just didn’t realize quite who I was but only one complained later, saying I’d been deceptive but I explained to him it’s not my obligation to give you my politics before I interview someone. And what you’re really saying is that if you’d known my politics you would’ve lied to me. You thought I was on your side so you didn’t lie—it’s your own intolerance.
A-M: I hate that word ‘intolerance’ these days…
BS: Absolutely. Tolerance is a word that the left has hijacked and used for their own purposes. If we’d been ‘tolerant’ of the Nazis they’d still exist. It’s all based on what the object of tolerance is. If it’s tolerance for something bad, that’s good but tolerance for its own sake is idiocy.
A-M: What was the media frenzy like when ‘Primetime’ first came out? For a while I was seeing you on almost every TV show, both liberal and Conservative.
BS: It was pretty fun. I leveraged my own publicity into a lot of that. I’ve had similar experiences with my other books but it was nice to have mainstream media take notice. The Hollywood Reporter, Times and Variety—I was really more interested in what the left said than the right. I knew the right was going to resonate to it but I wanted to make sure we broke through over to the other side of the narrative because they’re the ones that really need to hear it. People don’t really know what TV does and these folks on the left that try to pretend that entertainment isn’t propaganda is nonsense.
A-M: And people don’t know this! The media’s been so sneaky over the years. I grew up with Walter Cronkite and had no idea what a liberal man he was; we all just trusted him blindly.
BS: It used to be that radio and TV were guests in your home and now it’s the other way around. When they moved over to ‘it’s a privilege for you to watch us’ as opposed to ‘it’s a privilege for us to come into your home’ they started perverting the purpose of their being.
A-M: At one point you were the youngest syndicated columnist in the U.S. at age 17.
BS: I never tried to make a huge deal of it but I always figured look, at some point I won’t be that so I’m going to have to start building a career. You can’t rest on your youth. Shirley Temple when she’s forty isn’t so great (laughs).
A-M: What in the world was that like for you as a teenager? Did you have a normal youth?
BS: Yeah absolutely! Well, I’m an orthodox Jew so that automatically says ‘not really’, right? (laughs) But I wasn’t dating a lot, wasn’t going out on the town a lot but yeah I had a perfectly normal teenage life. It’s what I do for fun. People ask me what I do outside of politics and I say this is what I do for fun and it’s something very rewarding. That’s why I worked for a law firm for a year—I hated it and I quit because it wasn’t something that I enjoyed doing, so now I enjoy what I do.
A-M: Who is your current political favorite, and why?
BS: That’s a tough question because I don’t respect a lot of politicians. There are certain thinkers I think a lot of, like Charles Krauthammer. There are certain columnists like Michelle Malkin I respect and mostly people outside government. People inside government, not so much respect for them. Tom McClintock is good, when he speaks he’s very right on point and there are a lot of good folks in Congress.
A-M: What (or who) do you believe is currently the biggest threat to America, and why?
BS: Obama’s clearly the biggest threat to America at this time. If you’re talking in terms of foreign enemies I think the Islamo-fascist threat is number one and the Chinese are number two. I think that Islamo-fascism is number one because Obama allows them to be number one. He is obviously not a Muslim—he’s not a Christian either, he’s an atheist, but he’s an ideological Muslim in the same way that Hillary called herself an ideological lesbian, meaning he agrees with their goals and their perspective on the world politically. And that’s deeply problematic.
A-M: What do you think it will take to get America back to being that ‘shining city on the hill’?
BS: It’s going to take a prolonged effort to roll back—not just stop them in their tracks—but roll back what they’ve done and it’s going to take a dramatic ground-shift in the way that Americans think. Just because money’s coming to you doesn’t mean it is good government money. Government has very little focus and government should only be doing a number of things and it is exceeding its mandate and we need to take it apart. If it happens there’s going to be a period of decades, not years—and I think Republicans and Tea Party people, they’d better not give up when we get rid of Obama because even if we win we’re going to have somebody in office that’s going to be undoubtedly from the Republican Party who still has some of the same problems that President Obama has. There’s still going to be a massive infrastructure and it’s not going to go away overnight if Obama gets kicked out. This didn’t start with Obama and it’s not going to end with Obama. This took decades and it’s going to take a while to roll it back.
A-M: What advice can you give to Conservatives wanting to make a difference in their communities?
BS: Get involved. It’s really fun. Don’t be afraid; if people call you names you’re doing something right. If they attack you you’re doing something right. Don’t kowtow to their views just to please them. Conservatives have a tendency to be nice to people and that’s okay, it’s a good thing but it’s not worth being nice to people when they’re wrong. It’s worth being cordial, but it’s not worth bending over backwards to please them. I think Republicans need to get involved with both feet in the boat and start rowing.
A-M: Will you ever consider running for office?
BS: I would consider running for office. It would be difficult in California—I’d have to move to Oklahoma somewhere or maybe Arkansas and learn how to noodle (laughs).
A-M: Which office would you run for?
BS: As high as I can get. Why not? I want to make as much difference as I can and that requires getting as much leverage as possible.
A-M: So we’re talking President Shapiro someday?
BS: Well, I think if the American people—yeah. We’ll see if time justifies that assessment. Let’s put it this way—if somebody gave me the opportunity to be president I wouldn’t turn it down. That would be a good 40 years in the future.
A-M: Are you planning on maybe running for Congress anytime soon, sort of building up to the presidency?
BS: Maybe in 3-5 years for Congress. I happen to live in Henry Waxman’s district; that’s a locked-down district and there’s not much hope for a win there.
A-M: What are your 3 must-read books for Conservatives?
BS: Henry Haslett’s Economics in One Lesson; Robert Bork’s Tempting of America and if you’re going to read one of my books—well, just read all my books (laughs). David McCullough’s John Adams is very good. Saul Alinsky Rules for Radicals—read it and then learn how to fight it.
A-M: Name one event that changed your life.
BS: When I was in 4th grade—I’d skipped 3rd and 9th—
BS: I was ahead of the curve and they couldn’t deal with me, so I had to move on. When I skipped 3rd grade my teacher knew I was smart so she came to me and she said, ‘Don’t let potential be written on your tombstone.’ That was something I’ve always carried with me.
A-M: Every teacher should say that to her students!
BS: I acknowledged her in my first book.
A-M: You get to spend either one day in the past or one day in the future. Which do you choose–and what will your mission be?
BS: I’m Jewish so Revolution at Sinai would be difficult to turn down (laughs). In terms of going back to the past to avert catastrophe, obviously it’d be difficult to say not going back to assassinate Hitler. It’d be wonderful to see the ratification of the Constitution. It’d be great to sit with Lincoln and chat a bit.
A-M: But NOT in the theater!
BS: (laughs) No, not in the theater–that would be a short evening.
A-M: If given endless supplies of money and resources, what would your fantasy week consist of?
BS: Basically me alone on an island with my life—that would be it. And a lot of books.
A-M: Your all-time favorite song was what, and why is it so special to you?
BS: That’s tough. I grew up with classical music; I’m a classically trained violinist with 22 years of experience. At one point I was world-class. There’s so much great classical music but for traditional song, I like I’ve Got a Name by Jim Croce. Anything by Rogers and Hammerstein is terrific. There’s one from a musical about the Rothschild’s that’s terrific—it’s playing in my head right now, called ‘In My Own Lifetime’.
A-M: 16-year old Ben Shapiro is getting ready to go to UCLA. What would Ben Shapiro of 2011 tell him on his first day of school?
BS: Go forward, kick ass!
A-M: New York, LA, or somewhere else? Why?
BS: If my family wasn’t here I’d live in Texas. Texas is a great state with zero percent income tax—nice climate, nice Jewish community, people are friendly and their stores are named things that stores ought to be named. Like ‘Big Store of Boots’. Good! I don’t need any of this pretentious stuff like big chain stores. It’s a great state, when I’ve visited there it’s been one of my favorites.
A-M: Well you just made a lot of new fans with my family and friends in Texas! (laughs) What inspires you to push through? Is there somewhere you go mentally or physically?
BS: I think it’s just an inner drive. There’s nothing I have to push through; I have the support of my family which is wonderful, but I think some people have an inner compulsion to push, and that’s me. I have an inner compulsion to push and even if I wanted to relax and sit back and do nothing I don’t think I’d be physically capable of it.
A-M: What can you tell the young Ben Shapiro’s of the world, who are either trying to write national bestselling books or anything else they’re working hard to successfully achieve?
BS: Read, read, read! Educate yourself. Go out and fight with liberals; don’t be scared, don’t be afraid to go into the arena—it’ll make you stronger. Pressure makes coal into diamonds. And that’s why I think Conservatives should go to liberal universities. Learn from liberal professors and learn outside of class why everything the professors are saying is wrong. It’s a great time to broaden your knowledge. Don’t attack without having your capabilities right. Once you go to war you go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish you had so make sure that you’ve got your knowledge base completely solid. Make sure you’re a good writer and a good thinker and build up your confidence so you can deal with whatever comes along.
You can find Ben Shapiro at benshapiro.com