PLAYBOY: What do you have against Brigham Young?
O’DONNELL: Brigham Young said God told him that if a white person has sex with a black person, the white person will die on the spot, in the bed, won’t take another breath. The media don’t know that, and they think that because a university is named after Brigham Young and its basketball team has black players there’s nothing else to think or know about it. But if the candidate brought up the faith of his fathers, then you can reasonably ask the candidate questions about the faith of his fathers, including the fact that well into Romney’s adulthood his religion said that black men could not be priests in this church. Then, one day, the president of the Mormon church said, “God just told me he has changed his mind, and black men can now be priests.” The day before God changed his mind, what did Mitt Romney think about black men not being allowed to be priests in the Mormon church?
PLAYBOY: Who would have a harder time running for president in America, a Mormon or an atheist?
O’DONNELL: An atheist would have a bigger problem in America overall but a smaller problem with evangelical Christian voters, because to them an atheist is not a heretic. An atheist is not putting a false god in front of God.
PLAYBOY: Of the current pack of contenders, who’s the most likely Republican nominee?
O’DONNELL: Tim Pawlenty is the only one. It’s a process of elimination. There’s a serious problem with every other Republican running for president. Besides his religion, Romney has the problem of having created Obamacare in Massachusetts before Obamacare went national. In the end Huckabee probably won’t run, but if he does, he won’t have the wider appeal necessary. As I said, Palin’s not going to run. She’s a loser, and America hates losers. Ron Paul will get his solid seven percent of the vote. Pawlenty is the only guy who has no negative.
PLAYBOY: Does he have the optics?
O’DONNELL: He’s got what he’s got. Look, if you had a Pawlenty who was also dynamic, I’d say, “Oh, the dynamic Pawlenty is going to win. He’s going to beat the undynamic Pawlenty.” There isn’t one.
PLAYBOY: How significant a force is Michele Bachmann?
O’DONNELL: She’s another of our media creations. There couldn’t be a Michele Bachmann without a lot of cable news programming chattering about her. In the old-media world, The New York Times would not have spent much time on her. She wouldn’t be getting rewarded in any way for being Michele Bachmann. You didn’t have people talking like that in the early 1990s, to go back to an ancient period, because they would be labeled quacks and ignored by the dominant media, if the dominant media decided to notice them at all. Now that we have all these media outlets and the internet, there’s niche marketing. She’s a niche. Anyone and anything can get on TV now, so it’s possible for all sorts of things to get traction that never would have before. In 1993 a television show about ice-road truckers would have been impossible. Ice Road Truckers is a hit in the world of cable programming now because there are enough people—a million something or whatever it is—who want to watch it, including me. There’s a market for every kind of weird idea in a country of 300 million.
PLAYBOY: You described prime-time cable news, excluding CNN, as op-ed television. Is a danger of op-ed television that viewers may not realize they’re watching commentary from a liberal or conservative point of view? To borrow Fox’s slogan, they may think they’re watching fair and balanced news.
O’DONNELL: Which is more dangerous, getting your news exclusively from cable TV or not getting your news?
PLAYBOY: In some cases, maybe propaganda is worse than no news.
O’DONNELL: Absolutely nothing can be done about it other than to watch something else. You can watch the Discovery Channel.
PLAYBOY: How has the internet changed discourse in America?
O’DONNELL: There are many more public discussions about everything that happens in the world, both for better and worse. The only way you used to be able to get some access to what people were thinking was to listen to call-in talk radio, which I always found fascinating because of exactly that. They were the citizens who were never heard from. Now there are blogs and the internet comment world. The fun thing about it is that people can be much more intemperate and profane than they would ever be calling any radio show other than Howard Stern’s.
PLAYBOY: Let’s tackle a few of the pressing issues. You’ve said we should raise taxes, which is as unpopular a stand as you can take.
O’DONNELL: We’re living in this absurd tax environment where two UCLA professors who are married to each other are taxed at the same tax rate as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. It’s an absurdly primitive notion of income distribution.
PLAYBOY: Yet the Republicans believe we’re overtaxed.
O’DONNELL: Well, they think the government is doing too much. I’m someone who doesn’t think the government is doing too much. My obligation on the liberal side of our politics and our governing policies is to come up with a way to raise revenue to pay for the things I think we should pay for—social services, Social Security, whatever.