The conservative radio personality says an effort to boycott him while guest-conducting an orchestra is akin to campus leftists shutting down speakers they disagree with.
Dennis Prager is used to controversy over his political opinions, given he’s a conservative talk-show host living in California and was a primary voice in support of Proposition 8, which would have mandated that marriage in the state be limited to “between a man and a woman.”
Now though, Prager is claiming the left is lifting a page from college activists and trying to shut him down, not so audiences won’t hear him speak — a la Ann Coulter at UC Berkeley, for example — but so that they won’t see him conduct an orchestra.
Prager is scheduled to guest-conduct Haydn’s Symphony No. 51 on Wednesday at a benefit for the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra at Walt Disney Concert Hall, though a handful of musicians who were to play that night are encouraging a boycott, and the controversy has earned national attention due to a New York Times article that was linked at The Drudge Report this week.
Prager has been fighting back ever since and is claiming bias at the Times, something he has done many times before, although this time he says he’s doing so from the position of an insider, given he is the subject of the news story and was privy to a portion of the news-gathering process.
“I think there are 70 musicians and seven object to me conducting,” Prager tells The Hollywood Reporter. “The media has reported only the one-tenth of the orchestra that objects, while the other 90 percent is quite excited to play for me in Walt Disney Hall. But they’re never quoted. The New York Times didn’t quote one of the 90 percent. It’s a phenomenon. The entire focus is on the disgruntled and the angry, and it’s typical of the Times. There are people from the L.A. Philharmonic who have volunteered to play. Is that reported anywhere?”
Prager says the controversy is being fed by a “lie” in the Times, which reported that he “suggested that same-sex marriage would lead to polygamy and incest.”
The accusation comes from a 2014 column in part about Judge Vaughn Walker, who objected to Prop 8 because it failed “to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license.”
In his column, Prager wrote that Walker displayed a “lack of serious thought” given that there is “no plausible argument for denying polygamous relationships, or brothers and sisters, or parents and adult children the right to marry.”
The distinction between what Prager wrote at the time and what the Times recently reported is not a small matter, says Prager, who fired off a letter to the editor that the newspaper has so far not published.
“I have never said or written that,” reads Prager’s letter to the Times. “That is why there are no quotation marks around the alleged statement, nor a URL to lead people to an article in which such a statement would appear.”
He acknowledges that seven paragraphs later the Times did give a more complete quote from the 3-year-old column in question, but the damage by then is already done.
“Do I really believe that family members will have more sex with one another because of same-sex marriage? It’s an absurdity,” Prager tells THR.
The two musicians who started the ball rolling against Prager are Andrew Apter and Michael Chwe, violinists who are also professors at UCLA, which Prager finds ironic, especially as he’s in the midst of making a movie with comedian Adam Carolla called No Safe Spaces, which is about colleges shutting out conservative voices.
“Universities are the places where you shut down conservatives, so now they’re applying that rule to music, which is mind-boggling since you don’t talk while you conduct,” says Prager. “I’ve never once politicized my conducting appearances. I’ve never said a word about anything except for music.”
Prager, in fact, invited both professors to appear on his radio show, and Apter accepted, then he posted audio of the interview in its entirety on his website. “They called me a hateful bigot, and I invited them on my show,” he says.
The conversation was so cordial, said Prager, that “a listener would think, ‘Well professor, why don’t you just retract what you said?’ It was like an out-of-body experience. His wife was there, they were smiling, they told me it was a pleasure to meet me. Why would it be a pleasure to meet a bigot?”
One of those who signed on to the boycott is violinist and freelance TV producer Zach Zyskowski, who told the Times: “I don’t want to perform with somebody who has written some pretty awful things about gay people, women and minorities.”
But Prager says, “I’ve never said in my life — literally in my whole life — anything awful about gays, women or minorities. I’ve said negative things about individuals, but if I say something negative about Nancy Pelosi, I don’t think that constitutes a negative thing about women.”
Meanwhile, orchestra leader Guido Lamell told the Times he had no intention of disinviting Prager, and Prager praised Lamell and others who are standing by him as “true liberals — I always make a distinction between liberal and left. Liberals are open-minded.”
The Times responded with the following statement emailed to THR: “The article clearly and accurately states the origin of Dennis Prager’s statements in regard to same-sex marriage. Prager did submit a letter to the editor, which was then sent to our news desk to consider issuing a correction. There was no factual error, so there was no reason for a correction.”
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