Before Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, the conservative media outrage machine was led by abrasive talk show host Morton Downey, Jr., whose programs were a combination of Limbaugh politics and Jerry Springer format, where he would have on political guests who would be goaded to attack each other and create shouting matches, with Downey attacking the liberals and liberal views in the harshest terms. The studio audience would be raucous and conservative audiences loved it.
I had forgotten about Downey but they showed a clip of his show on the documentary Merchants of Doubt (that I reviewed here) where he had on professor Stanton Glantz who was one of the people who studied and published research on the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke. Glantz was the recipient of a huge trove of the tobacco industry’s internal documents smuggled out by an anonymous whistleblower that showed that they knew that tobacco was addictive and harmful to health even as they were publicly denying it. His publication of the research infuriated the industry and smokers like Downey.
You can see a different show that Downey had on smoking and even just the first few minutes gives you a pretty good idea of his show and views.
In the clip in the film, on his show Downey sneered at Glantz and told the audience to compare his looks with Glantz’s and boasted to the cheering audience that he smoked four packs of cigarettes a day and yet looked twenty years younger that him.
What the film did not mention was that in 1996 Downey was diagnosed with lung cancer and had to have one lung removed. The recognition of his disease caused Downey to completely reverse his position and he became a staunch opponent of smoking, accusing the tobacco companies of lying about its product, until his death from lung cancer in 2001 at the age of 68.