Monday, August 02, 2010

Michael Steele Sneak Interview

Michael Steele was a big “get” for George Stephanapolous but he got nothing.

On April 5, 2010 Stephanapolous, host of the Sunday morning mainstay “This Week” got the first interview with Steele since the Daily Caller made him a national laughing stock by disclosing that his charges plunked down nearly $2000 at a bondage-themed night club in Hollywood.

Rather than grill Steele about strippergate and other misdoings at the RNC, Stephanapolous, who needed to stay on Steele’s good side so he’ll do the show again, let him do more spinning than a Chanukah dreidel. 

For example, when Steele said he’s held to a higher standard because he’s black the obvious follow-up would have been, “Oh, really? Can you name one head of a white organization who turned his group into a national laughing stock but wasn’t forced to resign.”

At least Stephanapolous brought up strippergate. Chris Wallace didn’t even ask Steele about GOP scandals when he appeared on Fox News Sunday May 24. Neither did CNBC when Steele appeared June 22 on its “Squack on the Street.”

And that’s been it for interviews.

Nevertheless, I was determined to get Steele on the phone and ask him questions that Wallace, Stephanapolous and CNBC should have but didn’t.

Still, I knew Steele, a walking argument against affirmative action, wouldn’t talk to me or any other reporter.

(In fact, I later heard that when a television producer showed up at his house to ask him questions he slammed the door in her face.)

But maybe he would talk to a potential donor with deep pockets.

The idea, which is a standard journalism tool, was get him to talk about one thing that excites him and he’ll inevitably start talking about other stuff.

And Steele just loves to talk.

It was just a matter of breaking the ice.

And, of course, everyone loves money. Steele needs lots of it for his private jets.

On July 26, around 930pm, I called Steele at his listed home number in Upper Marlboro, Maryland.

Well, actually my alter-ego who works at a hedge fund called him.

And sure enough Steele picked up. 

Or did he?

The conversation went as follows. 

Michael Steele: Hello

Evan Gahr: Michael?

Michael Steele: Can I ask who’s calling?

Evan Gahr: Yeah, this is Bertram. I work in a hedge fund and I’m interested in making a donation but I’m worried my money is going to go to strippers and that kind of thing.

Michael Steele: Well, let me leave a message for him. 

What a goofball. He’s been on television gazillions of times but Steele thinks nobody could possibly recognize his voice?

Evan Gahr: It sounds just like him. 

Michael Steele: [Laughs]. Who is this?

Evan Gahr: I said that’s my name, Bertram. I want to make a donation but I'm worried the money will go to strippers.

Michael Steele. That’s crazy. That was a staffer who got fired as soon as I heard about it. We put all the appropriate controls and not one dollar goes to that kind of activity.

Evan Gahr: How do you feel about Norm Coleman possibly challenging you for re-election as GOP chairman, as Politico reported?

Michael Steele: "Norm is an old friend. Norm is not going to challenge me for RNC chairman. If he does I’ll put my record up against anyone who comes after to me. I feel confident we’ll get re-elected. I’m not worried about that part of it."

This is actually newsworthy. It’s the first indication from Steele that he intends to seek re-election when his term expires next year. And it’s his sole comment on the Politico story about Coleman.

Back to his unintentional interview.

Evan Gahr: Chris Matthews and Frank Rich said you weren’t fired because you’re black.

Michael Steele: [Laughs.] I didn’t hear that. Everybody’s got a reason why I haven’t got fired. I haven’t been fired because I’ve been doing my job. My won loss record is better than any chairman in the last 10 years.

Evan Gahr: The RNC says you need private jets [when no commercial flights are available--

Michael Steele: I don’t take private jets.

Evan Gahr: You’ve taken them in the past. Where did you go that no commercial flights were available?

Michael Steele: On election day I flew from BWI to [Trenton]New Jersey to spend part of the day with Chris Christie. Then flew to down to Richmond Virginia to watch the election results with the governor. You tell me the commerical flight that will get me to New Jersey and then to Virginia and then back to New Jersey at 10 pm.

Evan Gahr: Where else did you go that there were no commerciall flights?

Michael Steele: I don’t know. Check with the staff. Certain parts of the Dakotas are tough to get to for two for three events in one day.[Or] you go from Florida and Wisconsin to Michigan in one day.

Evan Gahr: In terms of making the GOP a hip hop party have you thought of going around with baggy jeans?

Michael Steele: No. That’s not the point of that. The idea was to take the party into communities that don’t sound like typical Republicans.

Evan Gahr: Now, there’s been a lot of people fired--

Michael Steele: I don’t mean to cut you off but I’m in the middle of something.

Evan Gahr: There have been a lot of people fired. Are you responsible for what your subordinates do?

Michael Steele: Ultimately at the end of the day. I’m making sure the organization does what it’s supposed to do.

Evan Gahr: You said you have a lower margin of error because you’re black. Can you name one head of a white organization who brought nationwide embarassment on the group but was not forced to resign?

Michael Steele: Well, I don’t know. Howard Dean went through a lot. People thought he said some shit and done [sic] some embarassing things.

Evan Gahr: I’m really a reporter. Why are you avoiding interviews? What are you scared of?

Michael Steele: Who are you with?

Evan Gahr: The Washington Gadfly, a new iconoclastic website.

Evan Gahr: Has anybody had enough chutzpah to call you at home.

Michael Steele: [Many] people do. Next time you should identify yourself as a reporter. That’s the ethical thing.

Evan Gahr: If I did you wouldn't have talked to me.

Michael Steele: That’s probably true because I’m not doing any interviews. Activists call all the time. They don’t try to sneak an interview. That is not kosher.

Evan Gahr: Reporters go undercover all the time. The New York Post just went undercover to expose Medicaid fraud.

Michael Steele: Well, ok. There's no fraud here.

Michael Steele: Ok.I’ll talk to you buddy.

Evan Gahr: Bye.

Thanks for the interview, buddy.

Especially because Steele continues to be elusive.

Four days after I called Steele abruptly cancelled an appearance at the National Association of Black Journalists convention in San Diego, where he was expected to be grilled about past statements and and his scheduled appearance at a GOP fundraiser (since cancelled) with conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart.

Steele’s aide claimed he cancelled the NABJ appearance due to food poisoning.

Did he get that from sticking his foot in his mouth one too many times?