The Gang’s All Here

Someone—Mark Twain, maybe—once said: “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.” A modern corollary

Someone—Mark Twain, maybe—once said: “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel.” A modern corollary to the saying might be: “Never taunt a man who owns his own talk radio network.” But Ed Koch and Al D'Amato seem none too intimidated by the return of Mark Green, the new president of Air America Radio, to New York 1’s weekly “Wise Guys” roundtable segment. "I've been looking forward to this. I've been dreaming of this," Koch told me when I hung out with all three at the news network’s studios before yesterday's edition of the show. "We need a little irritant,” D’Amato added. “So, Mark provides the irritant, and that provides the zip."

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“Wise Guys,” for those who are uninitiated, is a kind of cross between “Meet the Press” and a Friar’s Club roast. D’Amato, the Republican senator-turned-wily superfixer, weighs in from the right. Koch, the mayor-turned-movie-reviewer, brings perspective from Planet Koch. But the show has been missing a reliable voice from the left for the last year or so, ever since Green left his slot to run for attorney general. (Unsuccessfully.) The show’s producers replaced Green with a rotating series of guests: Carl McCall, Roberto Ramirez, Judith Hope, Bill Cunningham and Bob Kerrey. But none of them had Green’s game. So now he’s back, rested, ready and, yes indeed, tan.

"What I love about ‘Wise Guys’ is that it's an exchange of opinions, rather than a monologue of insults,” Green said. As a counterexample, he cited the New York Post editorial page—which had its share of fun with Green back in 2001, when he was running for mayor. (Unsuccessfully.) “Bob McManus doesn't want the other side. He can lecture to the flock and feel like he's convincing, without having to expose himself to someone saying 'on the other hand.'"

"Well, to be fair," D'Amato interjected, in typical “Wise Guys” fashion. "You can say the same thing about the New York Times, which runs ultra-liberal philosophy that appeals to that base." He went on to say, "most of the time, they're beating little Pinch’s drum to make up for the fact that he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth." (If you don’t know who Bob McManus and “Pinch” are, this may not be your kind of show.)

Despite what one might think, D’Amato is not Green’s primary antagonist. “I only pile on slightly,” the former senator said. “I become the referee because Edward and Mark go at it.”

Will the dynamic change now, I asked, now that Green has returned as the president of his own media outlet? "You mean we have a dispute, he takes his marbles and goes to his station and let's us have it?” Koch asked. He laughed heartily.

Green, shifting into his earnest mode, leaned forward, and assured me that he would not be ordering the likes of Thom Hartmann and Randi Rhodes Steve Earle to pursue his political adversaries. "The talent at Air America radio would kill me if I tried something like that,” he said.

Green paused for a moment.

Now," he added, "I do have a show on Air America Radio on the weekends…"

The Gang’s All Here