If I ever got the chance to hang out with Philadelphia radio talk-show host and Daily News columnist Michael Smerconish, I have no doubt I'd like the guy. If his book Muzzled is any indication, I'd say I'm on his side around 80% of the time, and even when he takes a position with which I don't agree — on the teaching of "intelligent design" in schools, for example — he's pretty good at making his case.
So I can't say I disliked Muzzled, and yet I find myself thinking I should have liked the book more than I did. What's the problem? Maybe it's that Muzzled goes over such well-trod ground about how political correctness has infinged upon freedom of expression, societal harmony and even national security, and yet its author comes across as a person who thinks he's discovered PC before anyone else did.
Many of the incidents and phenomena described in Muzzled — blinkered bureaucrats stopping a young boy from putting flowers on the graves of veterans, an anti-Osama parade float condemned as "racist," and every participant in childhood T-ball leagues getting trophies just for showing up — certainly belong in any book about politically correct madness.
One chapter I found particularly eye-opening described some Harvard students' attempts to start up a dorm-room cleaning service called "DorMaid," which was not only attacked for its "sexist" name but also because some Harvard students would inevitably not be able to afford the service. ("There is no reason to exacerbate [class] differences further with a room-cleaning service," huffed an editorial in the Harvard Crimson.)
On the other hand, some of the outrages described in Muzzled, like the BBC's stubborn refusal to use the word "terrorism" to describe terrorism, have been reported and debated time and time again, long before Muzzled came out. Others, like the ridiculous "water buffalo" incident at the University of Pennsylvania, were big news on conservative talk radio over a decade ago. (To his credit, Smerconish recounts some details about the case about which I hadn't heard, but God knows it wouldn't have been hard to find some more recent cases.)
In many places, Muzzled reads like a verbatim transcript of Smerconish's dictation, which is perfectly understandable (you sit down and type out a 292-page book while still maintaining a full-time day job), but it could have used a bit more editing before it was released. And I was really annoyed by the Smerconish keeps writing the word "MUZZLED" in all capital letters throughout the book, as though we were unfamiliar with the title.
Still, for the reader unfamiliar with Smerconish or his radio show (like I was), many aspects of Muzzled will come off as pleasantly surprising. Unlike some other talk-show hosts who've taken to the printed page, he actually backs up many of his claims with footnotes. And while he's certainly a conservative, he's not as doctinaire as some readers would expect. (He opposes gay marriage but argues strongly in favor of extending spousal benefits to same-sex couples, for example.)
Many of the people he criticizes in Muzzled and on his show were allowed on the program to make their case, and in a chapter on reparations for slavery (which Smerconish opposes, as do I) he reprints in full a listener's letter which eloquently argues in favour. On the other hand, a "letter to [his] son," dated 2020, reads like the work of a left-winger trying to satirize conservative punditry. ("…the ACLU was successful in getting eight of the [Ten] commandments declared illegal." "…some people like the system of deciding who gets into college based on race, gender and ethnicity alone.")
Muzzled has its moments, but Smerconish's book could have used some work. Still, now that I've read it, I'm curious to see what his show is like. (It's available online, but you have to register.)