I just watched the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “Mike and the Mad Dog.”
Forty minutes (commercial free) into the show, Robert Thompson, media expert, says: “There are a couple of stories in the Mike and the Mad Dog story that are uncomfortable.”
Nick Paumgarten of The New Yorker: “On September 12, the show after 9/11, they were talking about the relationship between the terrorist attack and the United States relationship with Israel.”
Mike: “We got a call the day after 9/11. It was about whether or not people should be supportive of their own country whether or not they have roots to other countries.”
Ellie in Brooklyn: “If you would ask the Jews, 90% of the Jews would go support Israel.”
Mike: “Now wait a second. Are you American or not?”
Ellie: “I’m American but it has nothing to do with that.”
Mike: “Which country would you protect first?”
Ellie: “Israel. Without a question.”
Mike: “Israel over the United States?”
Ellie: “That’s correct.”
Mike: “I have a problem with that.”
So then there were headlines like “Controversy Over Loyalty Oath For Jews.”
Nick Paumgarten: “According to a columnist for the New York Post, they suggested that American Jews should recite an oath of allegiance to the United States.”
Russo: “There was a firestorm. Because of the headlines, everyone thought we said that Jewish people in America were more loyal to Israel than to America.”
Many American Jews are more loyal to the Jewish people and the Jewish state than they are to America and many American Jews are more loyal to America than to Israel. I’d say 50/50 sounds about right to me. Many Mexican-Americans are more loyal to Mexico than to America and many Christians are more loyal to Christianity than to America.
I suspect there was only an hysterical reaction to the show’s reasonable comments because they touched on something painfully true and inconvenient — that different groups have different interests.
That broadcast, and the broadcasts on the days that followed, entered into a shadowy sports-radio infamy because of what was supposedly said. The Anti-Defamation League wrote a letter to WFAN program director Mark Chernoff denouncing how Francesa and Russo spoke about Jews and Israel, New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick wrote a number of critical columns about the duo’s 9/11 takes, and Francesa and Russo even addressed it for an upcoming 30 for 30 documentary.
>The tapes are alternately revealing, intriguing (in a historical sense), and insulting, but ultimately, the show, which ran commercial-free from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., was not quite the Jew-bashing trainwreck that New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick described when he penned “Mike & Mad Dog Exposed As Frauds”:
“I’m sitting there, a third-generation American, my late father a Naval lieutenant who served in two theaters during WW II, four people I know, including a fireman, are missing and presumed dead, and Francesa and Russo are inviting me to take a loyalty test designed for American Jews to prove their virtue to two sports-talk knowit-alls.”
Having listened to the afternoon’s full slate, we can say definitively that at no time during the broadcast did either Francesa or Russo discuss loyalty tests. (To be clear, we were only able to listen to one afternoon’s show, while both the ADL and Mushnick took issue with several Mike and the Mad Dog broadcasts, not just the Sept. 12 edition.) The pair did, though, frequently approach the line where nationalism turns into something much darker.
hey first approached said line around 3 p.m., a couple hours into their shift. Francesa and Russo were detailing their shock at how the United States national defense system could not proactively catch and prevent such an attack, a common theme throughout the day’s show. In an incredible back-and-forth that can only be described as unintentional self-parody (a real-life version of that Stephen A. Smith Holocaust tweet) the pair discuss how the freedom of American citizens is the real culprit:
Mike Francesa: Here’s the problem, Dog, and there’s not much you can do about it: We live in a free society. We let anybody come into this country, and we let in people who are obviously supporters. And they house them and they help them.
“Mad Dog” Chris Russo: Democracy gets you in trouble there.
Francesa: There’s nothing we can do because we let anybody in and you don’t know if the guy who’s running a business next door, or a local business in your town, if he happens to be a Bin Laden supporter, how would you know the difference. You don’t know the difference between a guy who’s a hard-working person from the Middle East and the guy who came here to cause destruction. How do you differentiate in a country where we believe in everybody being free?
Russo followed this by expressing a flash of empathy for the Arab-American population unrelated to the attacks—the 99.99 percent, he said—which is when Francesa regaled the audience with his tale of comforting a gas station worker.
It was the first of two times on the broadcast they explicitly questioned the loyalties of American citizens. The second came during one of the few caller segments. (The phone lines were opened only toward the end of the show’s six hours.) While it’s still a mystery as to why listeners chose to tune in to WFAN the day after the most devastating terrorist attack in American history, it was thanks to Brian in Yonkers, who called in around 5:45 p.m., that Francesa and Russo veered onto the topic of Israel.
Russo: Let’s go to Brian in Yonkers.
Brian: I lived in Israel for three years, so you mention that Israelis have very good defense, but they’d be left holding the bag. America made Israel stop when they had an opportunity in Lebanon to stop the PLO and their whole military capabilities. And America stopped Israel from being able to take care of a situation. And at the same time, America stopped itself from attacking in Iraq and finishing the job.
Russo: Oh we’ve said that already. America always wants peace there, but it’s not possible to have peace on that West Bank.
Francesa: America has spent 50 years—more than 50 years—
Russo: 1948, right?
Francesa: Late ‘40s. Trying to figure out how to cause anything positive in that area.
Russo: And it never works!
Francesa: History can be a great guide. There’s never going to peace the way that place is set up.
Russo: They both feel they have the right to the land.
Francesa: There’s never going to peace in that region. It’s never going to happen. You can take it to the bank. It hasn’t happened in 50-plus years.
Neither Francesa nor Russo ever asserted that American Jews should be subjected to loyalty tests. They did, however, intensely question the following caller, Ellie in Brooklyn, and his decision to rank his religion above his country when suggesting that he and other Jewish Americans would be partial to Israel should they ever have to choose between defending the United States or Israel.
Russo: All right, we’ve got Ellie in Brooklyn.
Caller (Ellie in Brooklyn): I think the majority of the problem has to do with the immigration process. Seven percent, I don’t want to be frank, seven percent of the immigrants are Muslims. It has to do about belief. Just as if you were to ask the Jews, say in New York City to choose between Israel and the US—it’s at a point where it’s just not safe to live anywhere anymore. Ninety percent of the Jews would go support Israel.
Francesa: Now wait a second. Are you American, or not?
Caller: I’m American, but it has nothing to do with that.
Francesa: Why not? Do you protect one country? Which country would you protect first?
Caller: Israel, without a question.
Francesa: Israel over the United States?
Caller: That’s correct.
Francesa: I have a problem with that. I mean, do you live in the United States?
Francesa: Are you a United States citizen?
Francesa: Are you an Israeli citizen?
Francesa: Then how can you tell me you’d protect Israel rather than the United States?
Caller: The basis of our lives is our beliefs.
Francesa: Then you know what, you shouldn’t live in the United States.
Russo: Go live in Israel, Ellie.
Francesa: How come you don’t live in Israel?
Caller: That’s a practical question, but—
Russo: Well, it’s not fair. You, you gonna live in a country you don’t—
Caller: People don’t live their lives on an ideological wavelength.
Francesa: You can live it on any level you want—religious, ideological, anyway you want, I would not tell you how to live—but I would think you have to protect the country that you live in. They have to come first, the country that you live and you’re a citizen of and you were born in. It would seem to me that’s the country you have to protect.
Caller: Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be interested at all about protecting the United States—
Francesa: But not at all costs?
Caller: Right, but—
Francesa: If it came down to sacrificing the United States or Israel, you’d sacrifice the United States?
Caller: Right, but thank God it’s not at that level.
Francesa: Well, you know what, sometime, hopefully it never comes to that, but to me, I understand your religion, but if you’re an American, you’re an American. I understand if you’re gonna say, “I’m a Jew before I’m an American,” I understand that. But now you’re dividing the line between religion—okay, that’s like me saying I’m going to protect the Vatican before I protect New York. Sorry, not happening. Maybe I’m a bad Catholic, but I’m gonna protect my homeland before I protect the Vatican.
Russo: Totally agree. You shouldn’t do that. Here’s Eddie in Washington Heights.
During the rest of the show, Francesa and Russo conversed about a variety of subjects, ranging from what they perceived as lax airport security (“Do what the Israelis do—put federal marshals on every plane!”), the forthcoming search for Osama Bin Laden (“They can get all the side guys they want. Get the quarterback!”), and the SEC’s decision to play football that coming weekend (“The SEC should not be playing football this weekend, Mike!”).