The day before MSNBC announced that it was pulling the plug on Phil Donahue’s nightly show, the man who pretty much invented talk TV was interviewing actress and author Rosie O’Donnell. But this was not the standard celebrity interview. Rather, Donahue led O’Donnell through a serious discussion of her feelings about whether the U.S. should go to war with Iraq. “Well, I think like every mother, every mother that I’ve spoken to, every day when I go to pick up my kids from school, every person I’ve spoken to has said they’re against this war, for basic reasons,” said O’Donnell. “I don’t want to kill innocent mothers and children and fathers in another country when there are alternate mean available, at least at this point.” And when Donahue asked why anyone should take what celebrities say about war seriously, O’Donnell came back, “Nobody wants to interview the mother of the two kids in my daughter’s class who feels the same way. I stand with 36 women every day outside the elementary school. And if any newscaster wanted to speak to any member of the PTA across America, I have a feeling they would say the same thing I’m saying. I’m not speaking as a celebrity. I’m speaking as a mother and I’m speaking for the mothers who don‘t have the option of an hour on the Phil Donahue show.”
As of Friday, no one will have the option of an hour on the Phil Donahue show. The show has been cancelled, and with it will be lost one of the few consistent forums for progressive voices on cable television. Just this month, Donahue’s guest list has included U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Institute for Policy Studies foreign policy analyst Phyllis Bennis, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Global Exchange director and “Code Pink” anti-war activist Medea Benjamin. And it is a pretty good bet that, now that Donahue is going off the air, we will not soon see another show like the one where he featured Ralph Nader and Molly Ivins in front of a crowd of laid-off Enron employees. And we certainly are not likely to see such a show on MSNBC, which appears to be veering hard to the right in its programming — adding former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, and former U.S. Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Florida, as regular contributors, and conservative talk radio personality Michael “Savage Nation” Savage as a regular host. MSNBC will temporarily replace Donahue starting next week with “Countdown: Iraq,” hosted by Lester Holt. Talk about adding insult to injury. Getting cancelled is bad enough; getting cancelled to make way for a program devoted to anticipating an unnecessary war is just plain awful.