Alec Baldwin is Everywhere
Star of stage and screen is HERE, right now, sharing Bob's bully pulpit.
In this unholy amalgamation of interview and free-form kibbitz between two cranky former employees of WNYC, Bob Garfield and Alec Baldwin discuss life, acting, and the great Stockton Briggle. Plus, find out more about Bob’s split with “On the Media.”
TEDDY ROOSEVELT: Surely there never was a fight better worth making than the one which we are in.
BOB GARFIELD: Welcome to Bully Pulpit. That was Teddy Roosevelt. I’m Bob Garfield with Episode 12: Alec Baldwin Is Everywhere (Including Here, Right Now).
ALEC BALDWIN: I'm a game show host. I'm a podcast host. I'm a father of seven children. I'm out of my mind....
GARFIELD: ..and see what I mean? That’s him, star of stage, screen, Page 6, iHeart Radio, and, in this case, Instagram Live, where he appears once a week for his 2.1 million followers in conversation with actors, musicians, and at least one dashing, elderly podcaster. Why? Because he graciously wanted to call attention to this show. It was something of an interview, something of a promo appearance, and something of a free-form kibbitz between two cranky former employees of WNYC radio in New York City. I warn you, like other friendly conversations you’ve overheard, it comes with a lot of random digressions.
BALDWIN: I'm here with the one and the only Bob Garfield to talk about his new show, Bully Pulpit, to talk about his career in journalism (his long and wonderful career as a journalist), to talk about the fate of journalism. We might talk about that for like 60 seconds, because what's the point? But first of all, Bob, tell me, you left public radio--you were on public radio for quite a while. On the Media, wonderful show. Of course, I'm obviously a fan of yours, a huge fan of yours. But when you left there, talk about the genesis of Bully Pulpit, how did that come together?
GARFIELD: Well, first of all, I left there the way an artillery shell leaves a cannon. I was fired. And you know, we can get into that a little bit. The lawyers prevent me from being, you know, too candid. But yeah, we can talk about that. Can we just observe one thing, since this conversation is taking place the day after the Facebook shut down and the Instagram shut down and two days after this blockbuster interview on 60 Minutes with the whistleblower? We are on Instagram, which we now well understand triggers self-loathing in kids, right? Because, you know, Mark Zuckerberg, if we're talking like evil, he makes Vladimir Putin look like Mr. Rogers. So I guess what I'm saying is, kids, please love yourself and we love you too. That's where I want to start. I apologize for talking to you, Alec, on this particular platform because evil.
BALDWIN: [coughing] I’m choking.
GARFIELD: I know, it was poignant. I understand.
BALDWIN: It's very moving. [coughing]
GARFIELD: You know, if that were in a movie (that little episode), in 12 minutes, you would die of consumption.
BALDWIN: Well, someone wrote “Trump 2024,” so I immediately started convulsing.
BALDWIN: Well, listen, I am someone who Instagram is my primary, if not sole social media source. I have a Twitter account which I keep open just as a placeholder for my name. Facebook--I have a Facebook page for myself, for my foundation. My wife and I have a charitable foundation. We have a Facebook page for that. But Instagram is it for me. And I guess Instagram is owned by Facebook, correct?
GARFIELD: It is. And you know, obviously it's a fantastic utility, but it is both utopian and dystopian, and the dystopian side is really dystopian. I mean that because Mark Zuckerberg and company know exactly what the deleterious effects are of the social dynamic on these platforms, and they will not do anything to remediate them because it screws up their business model. So they are constantly apologizing and explaining and being on the defensive, but they never actually fix what’s broke. So, nonetheless, like I said, really good utility, and I'm delighted, de-freaking-lighted, to be talking to you on this or anywhere because I'm always delighted talking to you.
BALDWIN: Well, thank you. Now a guy who shall remain nameless contacted me quite a while ago, probably last year in the heart of the first waves of the COVID (probably more than a year ago), to talk about a more user friendly platform. Like this with more integrity. Everybody’d have to register. You’d have to give all your real information. You’d have to give a photograph. You'd have to be completely transparent. It's you as you, being you, doing you, posting as you. The question, of course, is how many people really, really want that? Or do most people really kind of like the way it is, where you can hide and you can conceal yourself and say just hateful things?
GARFIELD: Well, it’s a playground for the id, right? And it, you know, it empowers you to have power, even if it's only the power to intimidate or to terrorize or to bad mouth. And, you know, it taps into something that unfortunately is all too human.
GARFIELD: Can I say one other thing, Alec? This is so weird. I'm sitting here looking at your face because Instagram, right? So, last night I was watching the Jerry Lewis documentary, which popped up on Amazon Prime, and there you were. A couple of weeks ago, I was watching the John DeLorean docu-drama--
FRAMING JOHN DELOREAN CLIP: I’m gonna try to be DeLorean.
GARFIELD: --and there you were, not only as DeLorean, but as yourself commenting on the DeLorean saga. I just watched you in the mini-series, (I think on Peacock), Dr. Death--
DR. DEATH CLIP: Duntsch is never going to stop on his own.
GARFIELD: --which is a really, really, really perverse story. And I watch you every week on the Match Game.
MATCH GAME CLIP: We’re looking for….penis.
GARFIELD: Well, OK, that's actually not true, I don't watch the Match Game. But Alec, I'm afraid to open the fucking fridge because I think you're going to be in there like drinking my orange juice from the carton.
BALDWIN: There I am on the missing — I'm missing on the carton.
GARFIELD: I don't understand. You've got between like 6 and 47 kids. How do you have the time to be everywhere all at once? I don't understand this.
BALDWIN: I wish that were true. But Peacock--we started Dr. Death in March of last year. They shut down. They came back and were rebooted and ready to go with all of their protocols by mid-October. We shot from mid-October to the end of like, I think middle or end of February, you know, because we have the holidays. It was like a almost five month shoot to do eight episodes because of all the shutdowns and protocols. But it was a group of people--what you see very often in the business now is how hard people are working to keep everything going. They don't want to be the one that shuts down the production. They don't want to be the one that brings the COVID on the set. They’re working really, really hard--like my kids’ school. When you go to my kids’ school and we drop them off at school, everyone's working really hard, masking, gloves, spraying things down, and distancing. And everybody on the staff is vaccinated. Everybody on the faculty is vaccinated. And I would imagine most of the parents are vaccinated as well, and we're assiduous about all of this because the kids can't be vaccinated yet. So we're always trying to protect unvaccinated children. So the job I did with Peacock (and my part was rather small. I mean, the real star of it was Joshua Jackson--played the eponymous character, if you will.)
GARFIELD: Very well. He does a sociopath very, very well, that guy.
BALDWIN: Wonderful performance. And so, everybody worked really hard to protect everything COVID-wise. I'm leaving to go to New Mexico in a little while to go shoot a film very quickly, and that's the same thing. Everyone just busting their back to keep everything safe for everybody.
GARFIELD: A Western, by the way.
BALDWIN: Yes, I'm going to do a Western.
GARFIELD: Is this your first Western?
BALDWIN: I actually did--the producer was a dear friend of mine. I love this guy. And his name was Stockton Briggle. And we did a--for CBS TV back in the 80s, we did a remake of The Alamo with James Arness and Brian Keith.
THE ALAMO: THIRTEEN DAYS TO GLORY CLIP: News is that Santa Anna has crossed the Rio Grand.
What about Fannin and the boys from Goliad?
Same with Houston, what about him?
Both Fannin and Houston are on the march to come to our aid
When do they get here, Jim?
As of this moment..
How about it Jim?
As of this moment, we are on a battle alert.
BALDWIN: ...and the Alamo Historical Society picketed the sets because they said that the two other men were old enough to play the fathers of their character. They were both long in the tooth for their role. So, I did a Western once. I did The Alamo for CBS, and it was memorable, but not for the right reasons.
GARFIELD: I'm sorry. What was the name of the producer?
BALDWIN: Stockton Briggle.
GARFIELD: Right, of course, the Stockton Briggle. I once did a piece, that involved the director of the McLean Symphony Orchestra, whose name, as you know, is Dingwall Fleary, and that was a career highlight.
BALDWIN: Well I'm always looking for names to stay in hotels under. And my favorite, one of my favorites was the great Mozart biographer who wrote the great books on Mozart. His name was Cuthbert Girdlestone.
GARFIELD: Yeah, you know what, his name was actually Shecky Cuddlestein. And you know, he changed it at Ellis Island.
BALDWIN: Real name was Phil Cohen.
GARFIELD: Yeah. [laughs]
BALDWIN: But I want to ask you--Bully Pulpit, how did that come about?
GARFIELD: Well, it came about because I got fired...
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Bob Garfield is out this week, and as many of you know by now, every week.
GARFIELD: ...under the allegation that I had violated the WNYC’S anti-bullying policies. Not that I was a bully, per se, not that that nicety ever came through. As far as the world is concerned, I'm a bully, and, you know, to some degree canceled, but I'm certainly fired. And it was catastrophic in many, many ways: financially, reputationally. I am fighting it, and I probably will prevail, although there's no such thing as a slam dunk in this kind of law. But in the meantime, I still want to journalize. So a friend of mine, who was my co-host on a podcast that Slate did called Lexicon Valley...
LEXICON VALLEY: From Washington, DC, this is Lexicon Valley, a podcast about language. I’m Bob Garfield with Mike Vuolo.
GARFIELD: It was a wonderful podcast...
LEXICON VALLEY: Today, Episode 64, titled “Yada Yada Yada: Europeans Don’t Get Seinfeld,” wherein we discuss why the classic American sitcom doesn’t translate. Hey, Mikey.
Hey, Bobby. How you doing, buddy?
Splendid, thank you. And your own self?
I am great...
GARFIELD: ...which we both--we left. He went and did one thing about Supreme Court decisions. I went to do another thing about MacArthur Genius laureates. And then it was handed over to a Columbia professor, a linguistics professor, named John McWhorter. Anyway, Mike Vuolo his name is, came to me and said, Look, I'm starting this company with my friend, Matt Schwartz, from NPR, and it's called Booksmart Studios, and we would like you to consider doing your thing for us. And I said, Yes! Yes! This is the best part about getting my ass fired and being humiliated and everything else that comes with my fate, now I can do exactly what I want--the same kind of social and political media criticism that I wanted to do, (I don't want to mischaracterize this), but without having to deal with, let's say, the internal politics of an organization, without having any kind of sort of received ideology that has to be at the bottom of it. I'm free to be me, you know, asking the kind of questions and making the kind of observations that I want to make. And that has been very liberating. You know, I wish I hadn't been fired, but I could not be more delighted to be doing this particular show because it's just been a fantastic experience and very well received among the 11 people who listen to it.
BALDWIN: I had a show for quite a while. I was several years at NYC.
HERE’S THE THING WITH ALEC BALDWIN: My first clip is from an interview with the legendary Barbra Streisand who talks here about how she wanted control of her films in a way that...
BALDWIN: When the show ended, when I left NYC to go to iHeart and go from public radio to commercial radio, it was difficult because I was sad to leave behind, figuratively, the public radio audience. I like the public radio audience. And I was always getting--people would tell me how much they liked my podcast in New York more than anything else I was working on. It was kind of funny. But NYC was a place where--I'm a fan of public radio, but not all public radio stations are created equally. And NYC, which has a huge nut, they are, in the COVID era, I would imagine, obsessed with raising money. But NYC, of course, got into the kind of firing jag: Lopate had to go, Jonathan Schwartz had to go, and Hockenberry.
I was given a mandatory set of questions that I had to ask Woody Allen. And I said to them, I said, now Woody Allen told me in my conversation with him--we had one conversation, and I said, you know, they're coming after me to ask unanswered questions. And I just find asking those questions--again, not that there's anything wrong with them, but it doesn't mean a good show. He's already been over this a thousand times. And they said, well, if you don't ask these questions, we're not going to air the show. I mean, I found the chuck. This is public radio. They said, if you don't ask the questions--the guy, whatever his name was. What was that guy who was in charge of content there?
GARFIELD: I just, I see no need to bandy about names, Alec. Let's just leave them anonymous.
BALDWIN: I'd love to put his name right up on the screen, but he was the one that said, yeah, if you don't ask these questions, we're not going to air the show. So in my mind, that was it, I was going to quit. I was out of there. And so, I said to Woody, they're demanding that I ask these questions. I apologize. This isn’t at all what I had in mind. He said, listen, he said, don't worry about it. So we do the show. He was great. I mean, he was great, great, great.
WOODY ALLEN: I was coming from a position--people were thinking, my god, this older person has seduced this young girl, and he’s taking advantage of her. You know, it looked awful. I understood that. I mean, I can understand that.
BALDWIN: And then we finished and I called my lawyer and I said, I'm out of here. They didn't care. So I just kind of took a deep breath and I said, you know something, I mean, just about anywhere has got to be better than here. Do I like being on commercial radio? There's benefits to it. Now, you're on commercial radio now as well.
GARFIELD: I wish there were more commerce. it's an interesting model. We are on Substack, which is a platform for independent creators of content who are not in the employ of media companies to fend for themselves. You know, put their content out there and be paid by subscriptions by their followers. And Bully Pulpit is, in effect, a Substack talent. And at the moment, we are three shows. There's Bully Pulpit. There is Lexicon Valley, which Mike and I started, and McWhorter now does for us.
MCWHORTER: Having a pronoun to mark nonbinary identity could be seen as pretty basic. It could be seen as something that a critical mass of people could agree is a moral advance if you think about history, if you think about what seems to be the case in all cultures.
GARFIELD: Then there's Banished by an academic, a professor named Amna Khalid, which looks at what loosely is called “cancel culture” and looks at its implications for the society and so forth.
KHALID: To what extent is this just kind of generating frankly bullshit work and legislation to make a political point and just to kind of grind down the machinery and keep the conversation going around these issues? And to what extent do they genuinely think that they are going to be able to control the space that is higher education?
GARFIELD: She really asks smart questions, and, you know, listens carefully to the answers. And it's something. I mean, when you listen to an episode, when you're done, your jaw aches because of the tension of this moment in our society. And yes, of course, in answer to your question, yes, you can subscribe to all of them for free at Booksmart Studios. BooksmartStudios.org. And if you ask me later, I'll also plug the shows.
BALDWIN: [laughs] What are the benefits of the show you're doing now as compared to where you were before?
GARFIELD: Well, I get to be me. I don't have to worry about other people's ideology, about their their red zones, you know, I don't have to worry about their aesthetic. I mean, collaboration is great, and I worked with extremely, extremely, extremely talented producers. But they weren't me, and there were times when I was stymied in my wishes for a particular piece of subject matter (often subject matter) or an approach, a line on a piece or something like that. And now I am free to either soar or fuck up all by myself. I'm free to be me, if you call that freedom.
BALDWIN: Now, you had on one of the episodes your friend who you've known for many years, who did the 911 Museum documentary. Correct?
GARFIELD: Yeah. Steve Rosenbaum.
BALDWIN: Rosenbaum--the director or the producer or both?
BALDWIN: And Michael Shulman, I remember that clearly he was the kind of protagonist of the piece.
ROSENBAUM: I mean, he's quite brilliant in the way that lots of thoughtful New Yorkers are about images and sound and picture. He's just not a museum person in that he doesn't play by the rules...
BALDWIN: I liked the film a lot and I just couldn't get enough of Shulman. I wanted to see more of Shulman.
GARFIELD: Shulan. Shulan.
BALDWIN: Oh, Shulan? Yeah, Michael Shulan. Sorry. So, you know Rosenbaum from where?
GARFIELD: I've known him for, you know, six or seven hundred years. I was a--believe it or not, this is going to sound ridiculous, but before I got into the media criticism racket, I was an advertising critic. I was a, believe it or not, world famous advertising critic because I worked for Advertising Age, which was the global publication for media and marketing industry. And I passed judgment on new commercials and campaigns and print ads and so forth. And as such was--[laughs] it's crazy.
“BOB GARFIELD: EXCELLENT RADIO MAN”: Good, old Bob Garfield is the best man in the whole wide world. Good, old Bob Garfield is very intelligent. Good, old Bob Garfield is the nicest man who ever lived.
GARFIELD: You know, you know what it's like to walk down the street in Cannes during the movie festival in May and people turning their heads and going, [whispering]. Well, that's what would happen to me when I walked down the Croisette in Cannes in June for the advertising festival.
BALDWIN: I thought you were going to say that that was what it was like when you walked down Madison Avenue in the 70s and 80s. That was your Croisette.
GARFIELD: As you well know, Alec, as a native New Yorker, nobody makes eye contact with you on Madison, so.
CHARLI XCX: Why you looking at me? Why you looking at me? All these bitches looking at me.
GARFIELD: You know, it's easy to be anonymous walking down at North to South Street. Anyway, so he called me once to book me for a speaking gig, and we became friends.
BALDWIN: You were a person who was immersed in the world of advertising. I used to do voiceovers in the early days with the Young & Rubicam and of course, my favorite piece of Madison Avenue trivia, my favorite anecdote, was when someone said that BBDO (Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn) was the sound made by what? What was the joke?
GARFIELD: A trunk falling down the stairs. And it was Fred Allen, said it on his radio show back in 1644.
BALDWIN: Batten, Barton...
GARFIELD: Durstine and Osborn, yeah. [laughs]
BALDWIN: What's your media diet? I mean, I talked to a couple of people, all of them say the same thing, and I don't fault them for that. Their go to in the morning is The New York Times online. They’re all reading The Times first and foremost. What's your media diet every day? What are you committed to listening to, reading every day?
GARFIELD: Well, as we've discussed, the major thing that I consume it turns out, is Alec Baldwin movies, which is is getting to be a problem.
GLENGARRY GLENN ROSS SPEECH: You see this watch? You see this watch?
That watch costs more than your car. I made $970,000 last year. How much you make? You see pal, that’s who I am, and you’re nothing.
GARFIELD: You know, I read The New York Times. That's my first go. And then, because I'm always looking for story ideas, the other thing I read is everything. Now, one of the things I really miss, one of the things I really miss about On the Media is the producers in the aggregate had far more scope in their media diets than I did, and they would bring stuff that I otherwise would not have found. And, you know, sometimes it was from Atlantic or The New Republic or The Nation or some even less brand name publications, but far greater than I personally consumed. And now, because I have constantly to be on the lookout for ideas, for pieces and commentaries and essays, I just obsessively scroll everything. So the answer to your question changes hour by hour, but I'm just going to go with everything.
BALDWIN: So again, the podcast is called Bully Pulpit. It can be found at Booksmart Studios?
GARFIELD: BooksmartStudios.org. You can subscribe for free. You can pay $7 a month and get bonus content from Amna and John and from me. I write a weekly text column, which might be even funner for me than the audio pieces. You know, in my life, I've written 3 or 4,000 columns. That's really how I got started in this business. What we do, or at least what I do, is observe. I observe my ass off, try to look at what is happening in our society, and ask questions that for whatever reasons some are uncomfortable about asking. And I may sometimes seem polemical. But the key is I make an argument. I don't just say things as if they were received truth. I make an argument and the arguments are pretty strong and it's often kind of funny. Have you heard any of the pieces?
BALDWIN: Yes. I listened to the one about the tortillas. I listened to one about the documentary. Yeah.
GARFIELD: So, I mean, in two words and one of them being “transcendent,” how would you characterize Bully Pulpit from BooksmartStudios.org.
BALDWIN: Almost transcendent.
BALDWIN: To get back to your media diet, no TV for you? You're not watching any TV news at all. That's hopeless to you.
GARFIELD: Well, cable news is not news. It's just highly conflicted people arguing about the news, right? Fox News obviously is not news because it's just political propaganda and opposition research. And it's, you know, it's a cancer on the society. And the local news is, you know, people standing in front of police tape talking live from something that happened yesterday. So that's utterly useless. And unfortunately, local news reporting, it's all but disappeared. We are awash in national political reporting. But the collapse of the media industry has devastated, decimated, the journalism business everywhere in this country. In some places, there are vast deserts where there is no local news available. And you know who's behind that too? You know who is at the heart of that collapse? Well, the digital revolution in the first instance, because it bollixed up the advertising model and it created an endless glut of content and not enough advertising to support it. But then Facebook and Google snapped up everything. They own the advertising economy, and everybody else has to fight for scraps. So, on top of all of the other evils of Mark Zuckerberg that we began with, they have, more than any other institution including the Trump administration, eviscerated the news business here and around the world, and from this, I believe we shall never recover.
BALDWIN: You don't see any hope?
GARFIELD: No, I mean, I'm in the despair industry, but there's not a lot I see. Let's just say the planet does not burn into a cinder, about which I'm also increasingly skeptical. I don't see the problems, the intractable problems, in the news business doing anything but getting worse and worse and worse.
BALDWIN: The show is called Bully Pulpit. The site is BooksmartStudios.org. I'm especially interested in both the other podcasts--Banished, and what’s the other one, Lexicon Valley?
GARFIELD: Lexicon Valley. They both are transcendent. And also Alec, I should say I'll be at the Valley Forge Music Fair June 7th, 8th and 9th, and I'll be doing some summer stock in Meridian, Mississippi. I'm doing Music Man. It's long been a dream of mine. I will be playing the Shirley Jones character.
BALDWIN: I'm so sorry to miss that. Let's record that. Anyway, my very best to you. I look forward to Bully Pulpit, Lexicon Valley, and Banished on BooksmartStudios.org.
GARFIELD: Thanks, man. It's always a pleasure.
BALDWIN: My pleasure. We'll talk to you down the road.
GARFIELD: All right, we’re done here. You now know what my conversations with Alec Baldwin tend to sound like and you also know more about the origins of this show. In due course, you will learn more about my WNYC ordeal. It is as frustrating, I promise you, to be muzzled as it was to be smeared in the first place, but I promise you in time the truth will emerge.
Meantime, we encourage you to become a paid subscriber to Booksmart Studios, so you can get extra content from Bully Pulpit, Lexicon Valley and Banished. The big Bully Pulpit bonus is my weekly text column, which some have described as “like Bully Pulpit but you don’t need earbuds.”
Also, I can’t emphasize this enough, if you like what you hear from our shows, please share with your peeps and go to iTunes to rate us. Those ratings to date are phenomenal across the board but scale matters a lot. So, please please weigh in. And I, of course, thank you very much.
Bully Pulpit is produced by Mike Vuolo and Matthew Schwartz. Our theme was composed by Julie Miller and the team at Harvest Creative Services in Lansing, Michigan. Bully Pulpit is a production of Booksmart Studios. I’m Bob Garfield.