fD Interview

Mary lyon, mary lyon politics, liberal political writers

fD Interview: Mary Lyon

July 25, 2008
by Isabel Cowles
FindingDulcinea’s weekly feature offers interviews with intriguing people on the cutting edge of business, the arts, technology and journalism. This week, we talk with Mary Lyon, lifelong political activist and present-day pundit.

From her days as a campaign volunteer in high school to her political radio show in college, Lyon has made a life out of political analysis. After decades in radio, Lyon began expressing herself on the Internet as well, most notably through her contributions to The Huffington Post, the liberal political blog.
fD: When did you start thinking about politics?

ML: The germ of it was when I started noticing that we were jumping rope in first or second grade to things like “Kennedy, Kennedy gets our vote. We’ll throw Nixon overboat,” and vice versa.

fD: What got you passionate about politics?

ML: In high school, my good friend’s father had been the undersecretary of commerce for Kennedy and they were pretty political. They had friends like Scoop Jackson, who I got to be around. Then I went to college and became aware of Vietnam and Nixon and I just kept waking up.

fD: Do you think that the political awareness you have now comes from a lifetime of experience?

ML: You can learn it if you decide you want to make that commitment. You say, “you know, I’d really like to understand this a little more,” and then you start just diving in. For me it was systemic; as it progressed, I became more aware. I went to college the year of the antiwar protests at UC Santa Barbara, where a bank had been burned down. When I got to campus, at one of the student unions, there was still a little scroll up that said, “seize the time.”
fD: When did you know you wanted to make a career out of politics?

ML: I fell head over heels in love with the radio. I’ve never quite climbed out of there. In my junior year, I was old enough to rise to a management position at the station and I made a news department out of it. We did documentaries on Salvador Allende, covered the farm workers, the grape boycott. It was really fun because we were a college station and there was no faculty moderator.

fD: Do you think that was a more exciting time politically than now?

ML: Back then seemed exciting because there was still a pretty voluble liberal current going through the country. When you were liberal or progressive then and you were trying to get something done, you could because there were sympathetic ears around. You didn’t have a conservative or corporate dominance of the media.

fD: How do you think the media has evolved with the emergence of the Internet?

ML: I think the media has devolved. But the Internet is the saving grace. It started really with Howard Dean who was able to harness the Internet. Obama’s campaign has been really smart as well. Clinton’s campaign caught on after a while, but too late. And McCain’s campaign, they don’t even understand it at all.

fD: Do you think that the Internet is helping people have an immediate voice?

ML: Well, it’s given rise to a lot more voices that weren’t heard by major networks that weren’t about to waste time on “nobodies.” And so the nobodies got together and started talking on the Internet and now they’re not nobodies anymore. They’re the people of the Huffington Post. And the Daily Kos. And Talking Points Memo and Politico.com.
fD: Has the Internet changed the news we get?

ML: The amazing thing about the Internet is that people are so free. You don’t have to be working for some news entity that hands down memos every so often about how to report properly or what to report on. With all of these one-man bands acting as their own news reporters, you really don’t have that anymore. My hope is that there’s so much good information out there that people will start paying attention and looking for that.

fD: Do you think the Internet is helping draw young people to politics?

ML: I was up helping my daughter move out of her dorm up in Walla Walla, Washington. I was walking down the hall and I hear this familiar voice coming out of one of the dorm rooms. I peek in and there’s like five boys crowded around one of their laptops, watching one of Keith Olbermann’s comments when he really laid into Bush. And they’re watching with rapt attention, and laughing, and they’re like, “right on!” The Internet makes politics viral.

fD: Are you a Keith Olbermann fan?

ML: Keith Olbermann is now nipping at the heels of Bill O’Reilly over at Fox News. He’s really made it his pet project to hit him hard in the 25–54 demos, which are the key demos. That shows you how powerful the Internet is: that all of a sudden, a clip is everywhere, and everyone is talking about it and everyone is playing it multiple times. It’s rather remarkable.

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