Q & A with David Pakman
Radio host becomes host of midweek politics
By Judy Polan
University of Massachusetts graduate David Pakman – youthful host and co-producer of the Northampton-based radio/TV/internet program “Midweek Politics With David Pakman” – is rapidly becoming a force in the American communications industry. His talk show focuses on politics and news of the week, with listener call-ins and interviews of liberal, conservative, and non-political guests ranging from Victor Ostrovsky, former Mossad case officer and Lieutenant Commander of the Israeli Navy, to gossip columnist Perez Hilton.
Since the show first aired on Valley Free Radio in 2005 – when Pakman was 21 – it has garnered rapid recognition and growth. Approximately 5.5 million people currently tune in to Midweek Politics on 33 radio stations and 26 television stations nationwide, as well as via YouTube and the Web.
Pakman was born in Buenos Aires; one side of his family had emigrated from the Ukraine to Argentina before World War I, and the other from Poland just before World War II. His family moved to Western Massachusetts when he was 5 when his father received a job offer here. After graduating from Northampton High School, Pakman did his undergraduate work at UMass/Amherst in Economics and Communication, and subsequently received an MBA at Bentley University in Waltham.
Pakman is bilingual and speaks Spanish at home and with his family in Argentina.
(His mother teaches Spanish, Spanish Literature, and Judaic Studies at Smith College.)
He says that he received “a relatively secular Jewish upbringing, but I’ve always been highly involved with my Jewish background, socially and culturally; I’m part of a local Jewish group and I attend their events. It’s just generally how I identify.”
Pakman recently spoke with the Jewish Ledger about his life and profession.
Q: You’ve had a lot of success in your field at an early age. Did you see broadcasting as your future career from the time you were very young, or did this happen serendipitously?
A: I was interested in the idea of hosting/moderating/interviewing from an early age, and am a huge fan of many whom I consider to be top interviewers, including Howard Stern (yes) and Charlie Rose. I was always interested in learning that skill myself. But to be honest, I don’t see broadcasting as my career quite yet! There is a long way to go to get to the point where it could be a career; I’m primarily directing my efforts now toward creating enough value to sponsors to support my production team, (including myself) at the full time level.
Q: What are the qualities that make a good talk show host?
A: Controlling the flow of the program, maintaining focus during segments and interview, pithiness (I hate to use Bill O’Reilly’s word, but it fits here in terms of story-telling), and voicing a clear opinion. On the latter, this is something I struggle with daily, as I’m generally very moderate by temperament – I tend to see both sides of an issue. However, I quickly learned that this doesn’t make for interesting radio, and now I almost force myself to think in advance of what my position is, and how to present it in the most direct way possible.
Q: What interviews have you done that stand out in your memory, for good or for bad?
A: In terms of “big names” on the show, interviewing John Kerry twice stands out; he’s a 100% professional politician, unphased and prepared for any and all topics. I did a brief in-person interview with Barney Frank recently – he sat down before we were even ready to start the interview just to “hang out,” which was a very different way to see someone like that. I enjoyed speaking with Ralph Nader on two occasions as well.
Three interviews stand out for me in terms of being outrageous, because of their inflammatory nature: Shirley Phelps-Roper of the Westboro Baptist Church (the “God Hates Fags” people), Orly Taitz, the head of the Obama birth certificate fiasco, and Paul Cameron, notoriously anti-gay and discredited “sex researcher.” These are people whose opinions are extreme and often racist, xenophobic, or downright illogical.
Q: Pacifica Radio has been criticized by many Jewish groups for its perceived anti-Israel bias. What do you think about the way the Israel-Palestine situation is generally treated in the American media?
A: First, I want to note that of the 60 radio and TV stations currently airing our show, Pacifica stations only represent about 16-20 of those. Many times, mostly when our show is called “straight liberal talk,” I have made the point that on many issues, particularly Israel-Palestine, our program is not in line with most Pacifica affiliates nor with progressive/public radio in general. I think the American media is very split in terms of coverage on Israel, with the tendency that mainstream media tends to report from a more Israeli point of view, while alternative, grassroots, and independent media tend to come from the Palestinian, or generally the “victim” point of view – a framing I don’t personally agree with.
Q: One of your listeners wrote a comment to your website saying “I particularly enjoy your exploration of the political ‘fringes’. More crackpots I say – bring ‘em on!” How do you respond to that?
A: I agree! The most noteworthy interviews I’ve done, in retrospect – and the ones that have brought the most publicity – have been with people with whom I don’t agree, those who have a very extreme point of view. Generally, with the exception of the big-name guests I’ve mentioned, it’s just not that interesting for the audience to listen in when the interviewer and subject share the same opinion.
“Midweek Politics” airs Wednesdays 7-8pm on Northampton’s Valley Free Radio (WXOJ/103.3 FM ) and is syndicated nationally on more than 55 radio and TV stations. Visit www.midweekpolitics.com to listen on the web.
Award-winning writer Judy Polan is a frequent contributor to the Jewish Ledger.