Political pundit and radio show host Leslie Marshall talks with Opportunist’s Managing Editor Leslie Stone about her career, what she believes are the most important issues facing America today and what she would ask the presidential candidates.
Leslie Marshall has been a fixture of talk radio for more than a quarter of a century. She has achieved several firsts during her career, including becoming the youngest woman to be syndicated nationally in talk radio and the first woman syndicated to discuss politics. She is a Fox News Contributor seen regularly on “The O’Reilly Factor,” “Hannity,” “The Kelly File,” “America’s Newsroom” and “The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson.” She is also seen on Fox Business Channel on “Varney & Co” and “The Intelligence Report with Trish Regan.” She hosts “The Leslie Marshall Show,” a nationally syndicated radio program, also heard worldwide on iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Progressive Voices, The American Armed Forces Radio Network and via podcasts on Spreaker. She is a blog columnist for The Huffington Post and formerly for U.S. News & World Report. Marshall has been voted one of the Hottest Liberal Political Talkers by The Washington Times and one of the Most Influential Women by The Magazine. She’s a sought after speaker, having spoken at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, as the Teamsters keynote speaker, at Libertyfest and for numerous universities, including Northeastern, her alma mater. Marshall has lent her talents to the big screen as well. She costars in the feature film “The App,” in the role of Becky, a talk host. Originally from Boston, Marshall makes her home in Los Angeles with her husband and two children.
Opportunist: Leslie, did you realize you were breaking new ground when you became the youngest person ever to be nationally syndicated on radio and the first woman to host an issues oriented program?
Leslie Marshall: No, because there were other women on radio. Although, they were typically giving advice and certainly weren’t doing a political talk show.
Opportunist: How did you get into media and what led you to radio?
Leslie Marshall: When I was a kid growing up in Boston, I would watch TV with my parents and I thought it would be cool to host a talk show like Phil Donahue or Sally Jessy Raphael someday. I graduated with degrees in broadcast journalism and speech communication but it was hard to get a job then because everybody wanted to be in that business. The only job you could get in TV was glorified secretary. I learned that radio was less competitive.
I started out back in the late-80s when talk radio was hosted by middle aged white guys and the audience was middle aged white guys. You don’t get hired as a talk show host when you’re a 20-something. I got a job at a talk station in Miami that allowed me to do the news and got a lucky break when the host got sick and they asked me to sit in. They gave me a show on the weekends, which turned into full time. I was doing on radio what I’d seen Phil Donahue, Sally Jessy Raphael and Larry King do on TV. By 1992 I was hired by a man named Michael Castello in New York, who liked me and the fact that I wasn’t a conservative middle aged white guy. [Laughs] When Tom Snyder was going to CNBC TV, I was hired to replace him. I was very lucky because, thanks to him, I had over 100 affiliates when I started out.
Opportunist: Was it ever challenging for you to break into the so-called boy’s club?
Leslie Marshall: Oh God, yes! One time a program director in Norfolk, Va., told me, ‘Little lady, why don’t you just get married and pump out some babies?’ Several years later I was on a competitor’s station that got higher ratings. As they say, success is the best revenge. [Laughs] I’ve also been told, ‘We already have one of those’—as in a woman—and another time I was told ‘You’re like a triple minority. I don’t need to hire a Jew, a liberal and a woman because you’re all three rolled into one.’
I can count on one hand how many females are syndicated in the U.S. right now. I’ve had to be better, try harder and do better. There was definitely a different set of rules. If my ratings held still or didn’t go up as high as they should have, I definitely had more risk of being terminated or reprimanded than many of my male counterparts.
Opportunist: Who is the most inspiring individual you met along the way?
Leslie Marshall: There are so many. I’ve been blessed to have worked with and met many wonderful people. Bill Clinton is one, by far, because he has done so much in his life. I don’t think most people are even aware of everything he is directly or indirectly responsible for in this country. Another would be the late John Ritter. He was set to be interviewed by a host who got sick. So here I was this 20-something getting to talk to this movie star. I called him Mr. Ritter and apologized in advance if the interview sucked. [Laughs] He was so kind, told me to please call him John and said, ‘I’ve done it a million times before; just follow my lead.’ He helped me to not feel nervous.
I met Larry King at a Passover dinner in Miami. He gave me the great advice ‘always be true to yourself.’ Years later, Larry had me on his show on CNN. It’s so nice when people, even though they’re big names, help you when they were at the top or nearing the top and don’t get so full of themselves that they forget the kid they helped. There are also people throughout my life, including congressional members and senators such as Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders, who are just remarkable and don’t act untouchable and believe in what they’re doing as legislators.
Opportunist: What’s it like to be the lone progressive liberal when you appear as a contributor on Fox?
Leslie Marshall: I’m not the only one; however, when I’m on I obviously debate a conservative. It’s my job. It’s not any different than if I were on any other network except in the sense that Roger Ailes is my boss but he cares about me as a person. I don’t know if all networks operate like a family. Just because people disagree on air doesn’t mean they dislike each other. I liken it to a defense attorney and a prosecutor who argue like crazy in court and go out for a beer after. I’ve always been treated with the utmost kindness and respect. In order for Fox to be fair and balanced, they have to present both opinions. That’s why they have political debate panels on the shows. I like the fact that I’m getting to state my opinion and share my ideology.
Opportunist: As someone who is well-versed in politics and current events, what do you believe are the most important issues facing America today?
Leslie Marshall: Economic issues are still important to people. We have not fully recovered from the recession. There is still a huge disparity in wages, and income inequality is a bipartisan issue. Minimum wage is not enough to live on. Unemployment is lower; however, there are still those who don’t have a job back or who aren’t getting the benefits or the salary they need.
Foreign policy is another important issue. There is so much going on. Obviously, we have the fight with terrorism and the issue of the Syrian refugees. There are international relationships that we need to continue to foster and improve upon with regard to those situations. Even if we abolish ISIS tomorrow, we still have issues with Syria and it’s still a fragmented nation.
The environment is another issue. Natural disasters are more prevalent than they have been in the past. I live in California where the drought is so severe they are looking into desalination to make water available for drinking. Another issue, although unspoken, is that America is not going to be able to deal with the amount of violence—whether from an individual suffering from mental illness or someone high on drugs, high on ISIS or high on racism—that we have been experiencing. Whatever spawns an incident, we have an issue with violence and guns and a breakdown in some of the race relations and relationships between inner cities and police. These issues aren’t going away; they need to be addressed.
Opportunist: The Washington Post reported in early December that there had been 355 mass shootings in the United States (more than the number of days in the year so far). The country seems fiercely divided on this issue, with one side calling for stricter gun control and the other citing the right to keep and bear arms. Is there a viable solution?
Leslie Marshall: Part of the problem, and people are going to hate this answer, is that the N.R.A. has so much control over politicians and lobbying. If both sides—those in favor of gun control and those who say ‘let me keep my guns’—were to sit down and discuss the issue, as I have done on my show and off the air, we could move forward. People in favor of gun control aren’t trying to cross out the Second Amendment or take guns away. Rhetoric from lobbying groups like the N.R.A. clouds the facts. Most people don’t own AK-47s to kill Bambi, Thumper and Flower, and they don’t need them to protect their home. If we could say, ‘OK, 90 percent of people agree with universal background checks,’ we could check that box and move forward.
Even if we ban guns, it’s not going to stop mass shootings. We need to look at every area of this multifaceted problem. Mental illness is just one problem. Ideology, whether radicalized or not, is another problem. The church shooter in South Carolina was a white supremacist. The list goes on. Multifaceted problems need a multifaceted approach. Until we stop the sound bites and have real conversations on both sides of this issue, these incidents are going to continue.
Opportunist: What are your thoughts on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign? Has he gone too far?
Leslie Marshall: I feel Donald Trump’s rhetoric is very dangerous. The reason why is because I’m half Jewish and like most Jewish people I had relatives who either perished or escaped the Holocaust. When we hear the mantra never again, we mean never again. It’s unconscionable to me that in 2015 we hear things floating around like ID cards for people of a certain religion or banning people from entering the country based on their religion. Trump supporters like to sugarcoat it and say he said a temporary ban, but whether it’s for one day, one week or one month it’s wrong. People cite Carter for banning Iranians after the Iran hostage crisis, but banning a nation is very different from saying we are going to ban all Muslims. It’s not only different, but dangerous as well.
People don’t understand the harm being done. Here are just a few examples of what has gone on since San Bernardino. A white powdery substance and a hate letter were sent to a Muslim advocacy group in Washington, D.C. Two Muslim women in Tampa were physically attacked. Two mosques in Hawthorne, Calif., and another in the Palm Springs area were vandalized. In Orange County, Calif., a Quran riddled with bullets was found in front of a shop. A severed pig’s head was thrown at the door of a mosque in Philadelphia. In New York City, a 12-year-old girl wearing a hijab was physically beaten, and in a separate incident a store owner was beaten within an inch of his life. In Seattle a young man was believed to have committed suicide, but others are now saying he was thrown off a roof because he was Muslim. It’s Hitleresque. Hitler used fear to rise to power and blamed the economy on the Jews who were less than 1 percent of the population. People might think what harm can one person do? but if Hitler had never been chancellor of Germany over 11 million people wouldn’t have died in the Holocaust.
In order to defeat ISIS, we need the Muslims of the world. You do not degrade an entire religion and then ask Saudi Arabia, for example, ‘When are you going to fight beside us?’ This hate-filled rhetoric is dangerous to us and the current allies we’ve worked very hard to try to build relationships with. This also puts Americans overseas at risk, including our military, even more so than they already are.
Opportunist: If you could ask each presidential candidate a question, what would it be?
Leslie Marshall: I’ve only interviewed Hillary and Bernie but I’m a liberal progressive talk show host. [Laughs] I would ask them very specifically one of the questions you asked me. What are the top concerns you have as an American and, if elected president, what would you do to address those? The follow-up question would be, ‘How does your idea differ from that of the other candidates?’ There isn’t a lot of difference between the Republicans. Even though they came out strongly against Trump, some of their supporters agree with the ban that Trump proposed. They may be Cruz supporters, but they agree with that aspect of Trump. Shame on them.
Opportunist: What can listeners look forward to on ‘The Leslie Marshall Show’ in 2016?
Leslie Marshall: Hopefully, more affiliates. It’s always good to have growth. We are always upping the bar. One of the things I plan to do is continue having high level guests on the air. Rather than playing an audio bite from Donald Trump, let’s have Donald Trump on. I would like to have more of that. We’re constantly improving and talking about the latest, greatest stuff. I’m very critical of myself and my poor crew has to deal with that. We have meetings almost daily where we say, ‘Ok that was good today; how do we do it better tomorrow?’
Opportunist: Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?
Leslie Marshall: Make sure you vote—and read up on the issues before you do. I would love for your readers to listen to my show and become part of our family. For those who are already loyal listeners, I appreciate your support. I couldn’t do what I love to do if it weren’t for all of you wonderful individuals.
Leslie Stone is an award-winning writer, editor and journalist with more than two decades of experience covering business, finance, real estate and lifestyle issues for newspapers, magazines and online publications. Originally from Virginia, she currently resides between Florida and Michigan. Follow Leslie on Twitter: @lescstone.
Follow Leslie Marshall on Twitter: @LeslieMarshall