American Life in the Columns
“Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: American Life in Columns” Michael Smerconish: American Life in Columns
“Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: American Life in Columns” is the title of Michael Smerconish’s latest speech and was inspired by his book of the same name.
The SiriusXM radio host, CNN television host, and Sunday Inquirer columnist recently published his seventh manuscript. Clowns is a compilation of 100 of Smerconish’s more memorable newspaper columns, each with a new afterword, drawn from the 1,047 he published between 2001 and 2016. As characterized by Foreward Reviews: "Michael Smerconish’s collection is compelling and entertaining—not as a filtering of daily news through a predictable ideological lens, but as a group of insightful entries into conversations about current events and issues….This sampling of Smerconish’s columns exemplifies the kind of discourse, based on reason and evidence, that makes a newspaper, in print or online, indispensable to citizens of democracy."
Readers, listeners, and viewers have come to expect no less from the Independent pundit whose common sense often sets him apart from today’s media provocateurs. His optimistic outlook, derived from his political research and unique experiences, is a message for our times: that the American political divide has been greatly exaggerated by those with a motivation to perpetuate polarization.
At ease in front of live audiences, he’s a master at telling political stories which include: his meeting President Ronald Reagan as a newly minted 18-year old voter; his appointment at age 29 to a sub-cabinet level position in the administration of President George H.W. Bush; the seven-hour dinner he had with Fidel Castro in Havana; conducting President Barack Obama’s first live radio interview from the White House; and his taking a front row seat as a CNN analyst for the totality of the improbable 2016 presidential campaign.
But Smerconish’s interests extend far beyond the political realm. He can be equally passionate when discussing such disparate subjects as family pets, lessons learned from yard sales, why he disfavors the tortuous SAT exam, and why he wants to end manufacture of the copper penny. Give him a cigar and a brandy and he might tell you about: the night he hosted Rock and Rock Hall of Fame inductees YES in his back yard for a barbecue; why he once heckled Roger Waters from the front row at Madison Square Garden but later enjoyed drinks with the Pink Floyd co-founder; the night he spent in the company of both Pete Rose and Ted Nugent; how he came to drink champagne from the Stanley Cup; spending an uncomfortable train ride with David Duke; the day he brought the “living legend” Bruno Sammartino to his law office; or the back story of his pre-trial interview with Bill Cosby.
All author proceeds from sale of the Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: American Life in Columns book benefit the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center, a Philadelphia non- profit that provides social services to children who are the victims of trauma.
Michael A. Smerconish (born March 15, 1962) is an American radio host and television presenter, newspaper columnist, author, and lawyer. He broadcasts The Michael Smerconish Program weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to noon EST on SiriusXM’s POTUS Channel (124) and hosts the CNN and CNN International program Smerconish at 9:00 a.m. EST on Saturdays. He is also a Sunday newspaper columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Smerconish has authored seven books, including six non-fiction works and one novel. He is also of counsel to the Philadelphia law firm of Kline & Specter.
Smerconish was born in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, the son of Florence (Grovich) and Walter Smerconish. In 1980, he graduated from Central Bucks High School West, a public high school in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. In 1984, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa and received his B.A. from Lehigh University; in 1987, he received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Smerconish has been awarded two honorary doctorates for Humane Letters; the first while delivering the commencement address at Widener University on May 26, 2016, and the second while delivering the commencement address at Delaware Valley University on May 19, 2018.
While in his early teens, despite being raised in a Republican household, Smerconish began to correspond with the then–Democratic Mayor of Philadelphia, Frank L. Rizzo. Eventually, the two would meet and establish a close relationship. But Smerconish’s formal start in politics came in the spring of 1980 when his father competed unsuccessfully in a Republican primary for the Pennsylvania state legislature. Smerconish worked tirelessly in his father’s campaign during his own senior year in high school, during which he registered to vote for the first time. Despite his father’s election loss, Smerconish was smitten with GOP politics, having met both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush during the build-up to the Pennsylvania Primary.
In 1980, Smerconish founded the organization Lehigh University Youth for Reagan/Bush, and after a campaign visit by Ambassador George H.W. Bush to the Bethlehem Steel plant, he was recruited to be an advance man for the future Vice President. While a full-time student at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Smerconish ran for the Pennsylvania state legislature, losing the Republican Primary by 419 votes. He continued at Penn Law while working nearly full-time running political campaigns.
In 1986, he was responsible for managing the City of Philadelphia arm of Senator Arlen Specter’s re-election campaign, and in 1987, Smerconish served as Frank Rizzo’s Political Director in the former mayor’s losing bid to retake City Hall as a Republican. After graduating from Penn Law, Smerconish opened up a title insurance agency with his brother Wally before being appointed, at age 29, by the administration of President George H.W. Bush to serve as the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Regional Administrator for Philadelphia Region III (consisting of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia) under Secretary Jack Kemp.
Smerconish’s tenure at HUD came to a close after George H.W. Bush was defeated by Bill Clinton in the 1992 election. In 1993, Smerconish began what would become a decade practicing law with legendary trial attorney James E. Beasley, who would become the benefactor and namesake of the Temple University Beasley School of Law. Smerconish became acquainted with Beasley while at HUD when he sought the latter’s legal opinion for a possible defamation action against Steve Lopez, then a columnist with The Philadelphia Inquirer. Beasley was noted for his record-breaking defamation wins against the newspaper. (No lawsuit was filed by Smerconish against Lopez.) Working closely with Beasley for a decade, Smerconish specialized in complex tort litigation. At a 2015 legal seminar sponsored by the Pennsylvania Bar Institute, Smerconish wrote an essay summarizing some of his lessons learned having worked for Beasley.
Smerconish’s legal work spanned various subject areas, including contracts, medical malpractice, and products liability. His clients included: the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police (in an action against a music group responsible for publishing an FOP photograph on an album cover that advocated the murder of police); the City of Rome, Italy (in a contract dispute against the Barnes Foundation); and Orlin Norris, a professional boxer who through Smerconish sued promoter Don King for a shot at the heavyweight title.
In a medical malpractice action, years before the “House of Horrors” came to light, Smerconish successfully sued abortionist Kermit Gosnell. While in active practice, Smerconish served one term as a member of the Board of Directors of The Philadelphia Trial Lawyer’s Association. Today, Smerconish’s law license hangs in the office of two of the most successful trial attorneys in America: Tom Kline and Shanin Specter of the Philadelphia law firm Kline & Specter.
Smerconish’s work in the media grew out of his unique political experiences at an early age (working for Vice President Bush, running unsuccessfully for the state legislature, running campaigns for Specter and Rizzo and ultimately being appointed to a sub-cabinet-level position by President George H.W. Bush). In the spring of 1990, Smerconish made his first radio appearance as a guest of Brian Tierney, who was then a substitute host on Philadelphia talk station 96.5 FM WWDB.
During the 1991 Philadelphia mayoral election, Smerconish worked at WWDB as a political analyst. He then transitioned from a guest to a guest-host. By 1993, he had his own program Sunday nights from 8 p.m. until midnight, during which time his day job was the practice of law. In 1996, after the death of longtime broadcaster Dominic Quinn, Smerconish moved to Saturday and Sunday mornings, the latter of which allowed him to be the lead-in of Sid Mark’s legendary Sunday with Sinatra.
WWDB was then sold by broadcast entrepreneurs Chuck and Susan Schwartz and a new owner began selling informercials masked as programming which Smerconish refused to honor. That led to his 1997 move to CBS affiliate WPHT (formerly known as WCAU AM). By the following year, he was moved to afternoon drive, all the while maintaining his practice of law. Only in September of 2003, when he replaced Don Imus in the coveted morning drive-time slot, did Smerconish become a full-time talk show host who was a lawyer instead of a lawyer who was a talk show host on the side.
Smerconish has received many accolades for his work as a broadcaster, including Talkers Magazine consistently naming him one of America’s most important talk show hosts and Radio & Records naming him the nation’s 2006 Local Personality of the Year. In 2003, he was named to “The Pennsylvania Report Power 75 List” of influential figures in Pennsylvania politics. The National Association of Broadcasters selected him as a 2011 Marconi Award finalist in the category of Best Network/Syndicated Host.
He has often been the recipient of several Philadelphia Achievement in Radio awards, including Best Talk Show Host and Best Evening Program. He has often been the recipient of several Philadelphia Achievement in Radio awards, including Best Talk Show Host and Best Evening Program. Philadelphia Magazine named him the City’s best talk show host in 2004 and 2017, as well as one of its “most influential citizens” in 2017.
In February 2009, Smerconish’s program was placed into national syndication by Dial Global. On August 20, 2009, he became the first talk radio host to interview President Barack Obama live from the White House, one of seven radio conversations he’s had with the former president. The interview was held in the Diplomatic Reception Room, where President Franklin D. Roosevelt conducted his famous fireside chats. President Obama took questions from Smerconish and his listeners on a variety of subjects, including the recent debates on the then-pending Affordable Care Act. The 30-minute interview was carried live on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News.
President Barack Obama participates in a radio interview with Michael Smerconish, Host of the ÒMichael Smerconsish Show,Ó in the Oval Office, Oct. 26, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.
Smerconish has also interviewed Presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, as well as Vice Presidents Al Gore, Dick Cheney and Joe Biden. He has often said that he has hosted as a guest everyone who interested him with the exception of Larry David, the elusive creator of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
As a result of his increasing radio prominence, Smerconish was increasingly invited to appear on television, first locally, and then nationally. In Philadelphia, he was first asked to appear by his friend and eventual mentor, Larry Kane, on WCAU Channel 10 providing election night analysis. He then became a regular on the local ABC affiliate (WPVI) program Inside Story, hosted by Marc Howard. Smerconish also often appeared as the guest of Lynn Doyle, host of Comcast’s It’s Your Call on CN8. CNN soon tapped Smerconish as a guest (and guest host) of Arthel Neville on the program TalkBack Live. The network engaged Smerconish as a legal analyst and also utilized him as the substitute for Glenn Beck on Headline News. CNN also briefly aired a program called Attorneys at Law featuring Smerconish, Jeffrey Toobin, and Lisa Bloom.
When CNN switched to wall-to-wall coverage of the Iraq Invasion, the program was interrupted and never returned. Smerconish then moved to MSNBC as a contributor at the invitation of Phil Griffin, the future head of MSNBC, where he began guest hosting Scarborough Country during absences of former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough. When in 2007, MSNBC fired Don Imus for a racial slur, it was Smerconish who was invited by the network to guest host Imus’ time slot during the week of April 23–27 as a replacement on a trial basis. In-studio guests included Jon Anderson of Yes and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
MSNBC eventually hired Scarborough for the slot formerly held by Imus and re-branded the program as Morning Joe (where Smerconish has never been a guest). At MSNBC, Smerconish’s role then became one of appearing daily with Tamron Hall, host of News Nation, and as a guest host of Hardball in the absence of Chris Matthews, a position he filled for five years. At the same time—despite the polarized media climate and differences between MSNBC and Fox News—he guest hosted the nationally syndicated The Radio Factor for Bill O’Reilly.
After exclusively supporting Republican presidential candidates for three decades, Smerconish publicly broke with the GOP and endorsed Barack Obama for president on October 19, 2008. In a 2,000-word essay for Salon titled “Why this lifelong Republican may vote for Obama,” citing the Republican Party’s failure to capture Osama bin Laden after seven years of war, he wrote, “All of this drives me bat-shit, and it just might drive me into the Obama camp. That’d be quite a departure.”
Smerconish has also urged the Republican Party to pursue “moderation on social issues in order to advance a suburban agenda for the GOP.” Writing a 2010 op-ed for The Washington Post titled “On cable TV and talk radio, a push toward polarization,” he said, “Buying gas or groceries or attending back-to-school nights, I speak to people for whom the issues are a mixed bag; they are liberal on some, conservative on others, middle of the road on the rest. But politicians don’t take their cues from those people. No, politicians emulate the world of punditry.”
On February 21, 2010, Smerconish announced in a newspaper column that he had left the Republican Party. Discussing Smerconish’s move to the middle, Manuel Roig-Franzia of The Washington Post wrote, “It may be conventional wisdom that the only way to truly succeed in the world of talk is to occupy one of the poles. But Smerconish is betting his career that there’s a great untapped center.”
In 2013, Smerconish decided to give up his terrestrial radio platform, then consisting of 80 radio stations across the country, to move to the POTUS Channel 124 on SiriusXM Radio. He said at the time that this reflected his desire to be “non-partisan” in discussing issues, adding that satellite radio would give him more freedom to talk politics without a party label.
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 12: (L-R) Vice Presidential Candidate Governor William Weld, Presidential Candidate Governor Gary Johnson and Michael Smerconish attend the SiriusXM Libertarian Presidential Forum at the National Constitution Center September 12, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bill McCay/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
Then, in early 2014, Smerconish left MSNBC after Jeff Zucker, president of CNN, invited him to host his own program there. Said Smerconish at the time, “The type of program I do on radio is far more in keeping with what CNN does on TV than it is with FOX or MSNBC.” Smerconish broadcasts on CNN Saturdays at 9:00 am EST. The program is also broadcast around the world by CNN International.
Smerconish has appeared on virtually every television program where politics is a staple, from Larry King Live to The View, from Real Time with Bill Maher to The Today Show, and from The Colbert Report to The O’Reilly Factor.
He also writes a Sunday column in The Philadelphia Inquirer, and his work has been reprinted in newspapers across the country, including The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News, The Denver Post, Miami Herald, Boston Herald, Sacramento Bee, and Detroit News.
Smerconish’s work as a radio broadcaster was consumed with the events of 9/11 for years following 2001. While paying close attention to the hearings of the 9/11 Commission, Smerconish picked up on a question put to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by Commissioner John Lehman which suggested that political correctness played a role in airport security before and after 9/11. Smerconish subsequently interviewed Lehman, whereupon Lehman shared the fact that testimony in front of the Commission suggested there was a limit on the number of Arab males who could be pulled out of line at any one time for secondary screening. Smerconish wrote about Lehman’s account for his (then) column in the Philadelphia Daily News and stayed on the subject, eventually testifying before a Senate subcommittee at the invitation of Senator Arlen Specter.
Ultimately, Smerconish wrote his first book, Flying Blind: How Political Correctness Continues to Compromise Airline Safety Post 9/11 (2004), about his investigation, and donated all proceeds to the Garden of Reflection, a 9/11 tribute garden in his native Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Smerconish’s second book, a New York Times best-seller titled Muzzled: From T-Ball to Terrorism – True Stories That Should Be Fiction (2007), sought to link the restraint of fighting the war on terror to domestic political correctness.
His third book, another New York Times best-seller, Murdered by Mumia: A Life Sentence of Loss, Pain, and Injustice (2007) (co-written by Maureen Faulkner) told the story of slain Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner, in what was arguably the highest profile death penalty case in the world. Despite being convicted and sentenced to death by a Philadelphia jury for the murder of Faulkner, Mumia Abu-Jamal became a cause celebre for death penalty opponents around the world. In print, Smerconish told Faulkner’s story, and donated the $200,000 he was paid to write the book to a charitable fund established in the slain officer’s name.
Smerconish’s fourth book, Morning Drive: Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Talking (2009) detailed his evolving political positions against the backdrop of his talk radio career. Morning Drive’s chapters were evenly split between issue-oriented essays and back-of-the-house media tales.
He then returned to the subject of 9/11 for his fifth book, Instinct: The Man Who Stopped the 20th Hijacker (2009), which tells the true story of Jose Melendez-Perez, a Customs and Border Protection Inspector at Orlando International Airport who thwarted the entry of Mohammed al Qahtani, the 20th hijacker, one month before 9/11. Once again, Smerconish gave all author profits to charity, this time, the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Smerconish subsequently sought to credit Melendez-Perez with playing a role in the killing of Osama bin Laden because he denied al Qahtani’s entry and Qahtani, as a prisoner of war in Guantanamo Bay, was one of the detainees who identified bin Laden’s courier, leading to the successful raid of SEAL Team Six.
Talk: A Novel (2014) is Smerconish’s sixth book and first fictional work about the life of conservative talk show host Stan Powers. Powers, a former slacker and stoner with no political knowledge, is nevertheless able to quickly ascend the talk radio world by his entertainment skills and recitation of red-meat talking points (which conflict with his own opinions). The more Stan Powers says on fictionalized radio station WRGT with which he personally disagrees, the higher he sees his star rising. With a Republican convention coming to his hometown of Tampa, Florida, will Powers continue to spout the lines that pay for his beachfront condominium, or will he take the professional risk of being true to himself? Warner Horizon Television optioned the rights to the novel.
Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right: American Life in Columns (2018) is Smerconish’s seventh book, a collection of 100 columns written for the Philadelphia Daily News and Philadelphia Inquirer. Each column is followed by an afterword in which Smerconish offers updates and new insights to his previous work. Smerconish recorded the entire book in his own voice for Audible, an online platform for spoken audio entertainment. All author proceeds were donated to the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center of Philadelphia, which provides social services to children who are the victims of trauma.
This information is current as of August 22nd, 2018.