Bill Ayers is the WORST interviewee in recorded history

Jamie Weinstein | Senior Writer

Try getting an answer out of Bill Ayers. I dare you.

Last week, I emailed the former Weather Underground bomber to quibble with an account in his latest book, “Public Enemy.” The chapter in question detailed the dinner Ayers hosted for me, Tucker Carlson, Matt Labash and Andrew Breitbart, among others, in January 2012. Ayers had donated the dinner for a local Chicago-area charity auction and Tucker pulled a fast one and purchased it.

It was a bizarre evening, but my quibble was with how Ayers said I defined conservatism. I don’t recall defining it the way he said I did — it doesn’t quite sound like me — but I joked that his account allowed him to make an overused and silly point in the book that if conservatives love small government so much, they should move to Somalia, or something like that. I imagine he thinks this is a profound and witty slam of some sort.

Predictably, in his reply, Ayers said he stood by his account. He also asked me to review his book. We ultimately agreed to do an email interview instead.

It soon became evident that Ayers was going to play games instead of answer my questions. Asked if he rejects or embraces the label “domestic terrorist,” he demanded I define terrorism and then attacked my definition, before saying he rejects the label. Asked, given his leftwing worldview, whether he considers President Barack Obama a war criminal and, if so, what should happen to him, he demanded I define war criminal.

On and on we went, despite the fact that Ayers has already admitted that he believes Obama should be tried for war crimes. Why he couldn’t reaffirm his position and explain what he thinks should happen to Obama is beyond me.

Throughout the exchange, I kept pointing out that I was conducting an interview, not participating in a debate, but Ayers was simply not cooperative. Frustrated, I emailed him a list of eight questions and told him that if he wants to do the interview, just answer the questions and get them back to me. He replied with eight questions of his own, which I told him I’d answer if he would actually answer my questions.

After nearly four-dozen emails, we didn’t get very far. I finally asked him if he would answer the questions if I defined answering them as a human right.

The exchange was maddening, but also humorous at times. Though Ayers didn’t participate in the interview in good faith, I am living up to the pledge I made during the interview that I would publish the exchange in full, typos and all. Enjoy:

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Mon, Oct 14, 2013 at 7:14 PM

Bill!

Just read an excerpt from your new book.

http://tv.msnbc.com/2013/10/14/an-excerpt-from-bill-ayers-public-enemy/

I enjoyed it, but this is almost certainly not true!

When Jamie complained that none was a bona fi de conservative, I asked him to define “conservative” for me.

“Small government,” he said.

“That’s it?” I asked.

“Yes.”

But it is a fun caricature.

Look forward to reading the whole book — when I learn to read.

Best,
Jamie W

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein
Mon, Oct 14, 2013 at 7:23 PM

I’m confident you will learn to read and soon.
PLUS, I stand by every word!
Seriously, read it, please, and review it for DC.
See Morning Joe this morning, an interview w moi.
xoxo Bill

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Mon, Oct 14, 2013 at 7:34 PM

It just doesn’t sound like me! I’m sure I would have at least dropped some Burke. At least it allowed you to make your silly Somalia point, though I must admit I expected something more original. That is a standard liberal talking point these days.

Are you going to be in DC? We could do a video interview for the site.

Also, Matt Labash isn’t a young Daily Caller writer! He is a super talented and widely respected long-form journalist for The Weekly Standard. You should read his book of essays. You would probably enjoy it.

Best,
Jamie W

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Tue, Oct 15, 2013 at 7:51 AM

DC for sure.
I’m at Busboys and Poets, Poetry and Prose and Red Emma’s in late November (22 23). Come and talk.
Bill

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Tue, Oct 15, 2013 at 9:51 PM

Let’s try to do a video interview when you are in town. In the meantime, would you be up for an email interview? I’ll send you 10 questions to answer and return. Work for you?

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Tue, Oct 15, 2013 at 9:52 PM

Or better yet, we can do it one question at a time, so it is will be more conversational in tone. Let me know if you’re up for it.

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Tue, Oct 15, 2013 at 10:17 PM

Sure. Fine. Maybe you’ll come to your senses.
By the way, one of your elders, Dinesh D, is going to publicly debate me early in the new year.
Be there. Bill

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 11:30 AM

Fantastic. Let’s start here. You are often labeled a “domestic terrorist.” Do you reject the label? Do you embrace it?

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 12:48 PM

In order to be entirely clear, and in order to at least start on the same page, what is your definition of terrorism???

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 1:52 PM

I think the use of force by non-state actors in order to achieve political goals is a pretty good definition. But it doesn’t really matter how I define it. I am wondering what you think of the term and whether you think it is fairly applied to you?

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 2:56 PM

Of course your definition matters.

In fact, let’s stipulate now that whatever dialogue you and I engage in, including the above from today, will be in the published interview in full. Can you agree to that? Oh, and I will do the same: the whole thread or nothing in each of our published versions.

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 2:59 PM

Sure. But I am not looking to engage in a debate. I am interested in conducting an interview. You’re the star here. So let’s start again with my first question. You are often labeled a “domestic terrorist.” Do you reject the label? Do you embrace it?

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein
Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 3:18 PM

No no…You are the star, and a good interview usually goes beyond the boring Q and A into a real exchange.

So I will go forward now, since you agreed that all will be published or none. And I will get to your question directly.

As in your response to the question I asked you at dinner concerning your definition of CONSERVATIVE in which you said, “Small government,” (Yes, you did!) your definition of terrorism—“the use of force by non-state actors in order to achieve political goals” is overly broad, anemic, and simple-minded. By your definition the revolutionaries who carried out the Boston Tea Party were terrorists, as were the Founding Fathers, all the creators of both Israel and the new South Africa, Harriett Tubman, Cesar Chavez, the Freedom Riders, and, yes, Martin Luther King, Jr. who said in several speeches that he was mobilizing the force of the down-trodden to make a revolution.

If you’re sticking to that definition, fine, but it’s fine as well to modify in order to be more precise about what you mean. I’ll get to your question directly.

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 3:21 PM

As you know, I don’t think that is what I said at the dinner. It doesn’t sound like me. But that’s besides the point. I’m asking as a simple question. I’ll ask one more time and then move on because I don’t want to get stuck on it. You are often labeled a “domestic terrorist.” Do you reject the label? Do you embrace it?

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 3:23 PM

I reject it entirely.

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 3:38 PM

What do you say to John Murtagh, who blames the Weather Underground for a bombing that almost took his family’s life when he was a child. Do you accept responsibility for that attack? Will you apologize to Murtagh?

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 3:51 PM

I have no responsibility and can’t apologize for it because I had nothing to do with it.

I know I know, it’s one of your favorite minor tropes—dishonest to the core—and I’m sure you can find many more bubbling in the fever swamps of the Looney Tune Right: Will you apologize for this or that, or this one over here? And like the man in the joke who says, “But I don’t beat my wife,” the response will surely be, “So you’re still not sorry?”

Another word on your preposterous definition of terrorism:

Nicholas Lemann reviewed the current scholarship on terrorism in the April 26, 2010 New Yorker and becomes immediately muddled when he attempts to answer the most basic and straightforward question: What is terrorism, anyway? The expert consensus, according to Lemann, includes a few common traits: terrorists have political or ideological objectives, and they intend to spread fear and panic as they intimidate an audience larger than their immediate victims. Already better than your weak-assed definition. But then he veers off track: terrorists are non-state actors, he claims, just as you do, which exempts Russia’s brutality in Chechnya, Iraq’s crushing of the Kurds, Sherman’s march to the sea, and countless other horrors and atrocities throughout history designed to cause terror for a political goal. Terrorists, he continues, target ordinary citizens, or, when they kill soldiers, their attacks don’t take place on the field of battle. That’s a convenient tautology: if any conventional government decides to pound a village to dust, it’s a field of battle; if a villager kills a soldier in the exact same spot a day before the invasion commences, that’s terrorism. Terrorism, according to Webster’s, is “a mode of governing, or of opposing a government, by intimidation.” That definition has the virtue of consistency and fairness; it focuses on the use of coercive violence, whether committed by a religious cult, a political sect, a group of zealots, or the state itself.

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 4:06 PM

I’m off to read in Milwaukee and then Madison—mobilize the troops!—back late Thursday when we can continue.

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Wed, Oct 16, 2013 at 10:14 PM

We can’t all be level-headed moderates like you, Bill. What is the rightwing loony trope you are referring to? That the Weather Underground bombed buildings? I think that’s called a fact. I don’t think we need to get into a debate on terrorism. But government’s can commit crimes and holocausts that are every bit as bad as what we define as terrorism — or, in many cases, worse. It just might not be classified as “terrorism.” Don’t be simplistic.

But let’s move to President Obama. I imagine you are not a big fan of the president’s foreign policy, particularly his use of drones. Do you believe he is a war criminal who should go to prison for the rest of his life?

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Thu, Oct 17, 2013 at 9:26 PM

Bill!

Just checking in.

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 10:20 AM

Back in Chicago later today.

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 1:30 PM

First, stop the name calling! How offensive: I’m no level-headed moderate!

And the trope I referred to is an old and worn trick: Investigator, “Are you sorry you beat your wife?” Husband, “But I don’t beat my wife!” Investigator, “So you’re still not sorry!”

On “terrorism,” you don’t think we need to get into a debate (or a dialogue?). Sorry, but we’re already in a discussion about it, and the more I reflect on your definition the weirder it seems to me. Any reconsideration? To you, the Syrian opposition is a terrorist outfit, right? And the Chinese workers in Hunan who seized a factory and smashed the machines? And the residents of the Warsaw ghetto? The youth in Tahrir Square, and the generals who took out the Muslim Brotherhood? Oh, and now that Palestine is a recognized state and no longer a “non-state actor” any sanctioned act by that state against a neighboring state may be terrible but it escapes the awful label of terrorism, right?

If you stick to it, I’m sure, as with your definition of “conservative” it makes your life much simpler—none of the messiness of actual thought in a real world. Rather a kind of comfortable connect-the-dots exercise with bits of received wisdom strung together in a strict ideological frame.

On to your question: as I mentioned to you at our dinner, I’m a prison abolitionist and believe that caging our fellow human beings is an atrocity and a stain on society. Further, mass incarceration is as defining a feature of our times as slavery was in 19th Century America.There are hundreds of alternatives to prison, and those of us who believe in a just and humane future work to develop those options.

So, no, the president should not go to jail for the rest of his life.

Now it’s my turn: Do you think Henry Kissinger should be given a pail and a shovel and asked to walk the length and breadth of Viet Nam digging up the remaining unexploded ordnance? Or do you think Bush and Cheney and Rice and Rumsfeld and Powell should be put on a desert island and asked to resolve their differences and come up with their collective accounting of how they marched the US into two costly and catastrophic wars?

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 1:39 PM

Bill, you’re the one with the book out. The public is dying to know your thoughts. You evaded my questions. One more time. 1.) Do you believe President Obama is a war criminal? 2.) If he is, what should happen to him if you don’t believe in prison?

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 1:54 PM

You spoke to the “public” and they are “dying to know?” OMG, I had no idea of the power of YOU!

So, you won’t answer my questions? You defined terrorism earlier, why now the stone wall? Is TC pulling your leash?

We stipulated at the start that we would publish the whole thread or nothing at all, and in spite of your awesomeness, I have questions for you too. In a conversation, all parties speak.

Your turn now, then mine.

And yes, this too is part of the thread.

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 1:58 PM

Everything will be published, even the part about Tucker being my puppet master. But this is an interview. If people think my definition of terrorism is stupid, so be it. But I am genuinely interested in whether you think Barack Obama is a war criminal? For the record, I don’t. But considering your past “activism,” I imagine you might. And if you indeed do think he is a war criminal, what should happen to him and other war criminals since you don’t believe in prison?

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 2:40 PM

Tucker? How did he get into it?

Anyway have you read PUBLIC ENEMY?

And will you answer the questions?

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 2:47 PM

It’s like pulling teeth to get you to answer questions, Bill! You referred to TC pulling my leash. I assumed by TC you meant Tucker. I haven’t ready Public Enemy. My definition of terrorism is on the record, along with your refutation. I would add to my definition the use of force against civilians. But to answer your last question: I don’t think Obama is a war criminal and I don’t think Bush was a war criminal so I don’t think they should be punished for anything. But for the love of all that is holy Bill, let’s answer the damn questions: 1.) Do you believe President Obama is a war criminal? 2.) If he is, what should happen to him if you don’t believe in prison?

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 3:12 PM

You didn’t answer my questions about Kissinger, or the desert island.

And if you read PUBLIC ENEMY—any self-respecting working interviewer would at least read the book that is the putative point of the so-called interview—you would find the answers to most of your questions.

On this question of war criminals, what is your definition or understanding of war crimes? I mean are there actions that are war crimes regardless of the actor, or does it always depend on who does the deed?

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers
Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 3:18 PM

I guess I am not a self-respecting interviewer. I accept all the insults you want to hurl at me. Just please answer the questions! Is President Obama a war criminal, as you define it? And if he is, what should happen to him since you don’t believe in jail? If you don’t want to answer the question, say so, and we can move on.

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 3:32 PM

No no—I write about it…and happy to expand, but search for it first.

And also, answer the questions I asked about war crimes so we can see if we are talking about something similar. Your definitions of “conservative” and “terrorism” were illuminating if a bit sad. How about “war crimes?”

Sheesh! Getting you to answer the simplest thing is like pulling teeth!

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 3:39 PM

This is not a research project, Bill. This is an interview. You asked me to review your book and we agreed instead to do it this way. Should we continue or do you want to back out? If you want to continue, then you are going to have to actually answer questions. Let me know.

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 4:00 PM

You said you’d like to come to the reading in DC and do some video. I said, sure and review it in DC. Come to any book store, bring your camera. I can picture you at Red Emma’s—I’ll introduce you and we can read the dinner bit together.

But it surely fits the stereotype that you will review BEFORE reading. Perfect.

As to the statement that I am going to HAVE to answer questions, what are you talking about? I’m happy to have a back and forth, but I “have to answer questions” and dance to some tin-eared tune of your composition while you pretend to be the conductor, the master and commander? That’s ridiculous.
So let’s keep going: how do you define war crimes? The acts themselves or the perpetrators?

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 4:10 PM

In point of fact, you asked me to review it first, Bill. We have an email chain. That’s pretty easy to discover. Email 2 — your reply to my initial email about the inaccuracy in your excerpt. If you can’t answer my questions, we can’t proceed. You didn’t do this on Morning Joe! Please do let me know if you have answers to my previous questions. 1.) Do you believe President Obama is a war criminal. 2.) If so, what should happen to him if you don’t believe in jail?

I have so much more to get to. It would be sad if we had to end it here. But that’s up to you.

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 4:17 PM

Yes yes. Let’s not end it here.
Just answer my questions and we will bounce along down the yellow brick road hand in hand.

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 4:20 PM

Don’t have definitions for you. The ball is in your court. But I can understand why you wouldn’t want to continue. This won’t be a softball interview like you’ll get from Truthout. I really hope we can proceed. I got some juicy questions down the road.

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 4:23 PM

Oh please. Don’t flatter yourself. You are not a hard fastball journalist for real. And the ball (as long as we’re mixing metaphors) has been hit out of my court, and the puck is on your ice. I love juicy questions by the way.

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Fri, Oct 18, 2013 at 5:34 PM

I admit — I’m no Herbert Mathews or Walter Duranity. But let’s do it this way since we don’t seem to be getting anywhere. Here are a bunch of questions. If you want to answer them for the interview, that would be awesome. If not, I’ll publish what we have. Thanks.

1.) Would you encourage today’s youth to follow your example and start a group similar to the Weather Underground to “protest” American foreign policy abroad? If not, why not?

2.) You said after you were acquitted of your crimes on a legal technicality, “Guilty as sin, free as a bird — what a country, America.” But seriously, aren’t you fortunate to live in a country that takes the rule of law seriously? What do you think would have happened to you if you committed such crimes in Chavez’s Venezuela, which you have praised?

3.) You said recently that you wake up every morning saying that today your are going to end capitalism. How much money have you made from your books? How much do you charge to give a speech?

4.) When is the last time you spoke to President Obama?

5.) Did you, Rashid Khalidi and President Obama ever go out to dinner together when you all lived in Chicago? If so, how often and what were the discussions like?

6.) Is the Barack Obama in the White House different than the man you knew in Chicago? If so, how has he changed?

7.) What three books most influenced your worldview?

8.) Why did you write your new book and what will readers get out of it?

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Sat, Oct 19, 2013 at 8:57 AM

OK, here are my questions for you:

*Was the Lybian bombing of Pan Am 103 an act of terrorism? Was the CIA bombing of Cuban Airlines Flight 455 in 1976 in which 78 people were killed an act of terrorism? What are the differences?

*What is your definition of “socialism?”

*What aspects of socialism do you support?

*Is education a product or a human right?

*What are some reasonable community or collective or government responsibilities; which responsibilities would still be better if privatized?
*If “privatization” uses tax money, is it still private?

*What pending international treaties should the US Senate ratify?

*Should the US join the International Criminal Court?

*What’s great about America?

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Sat, Oct 19, 2013 at 9:09 AM

I pledge to you that if you answer all my my previous questions honestly and forthrightly — including my question about whether you believe President Obama is a war criminal and, if so, what should happen to him since you don’t believe in prison? — I will happily give you answers to these questions.

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Sat, Oct 19, 2013 at 9:26 PM

*What do you estimate was the total cost of your schooling and education?
*How much of that did you earn and pay yourself?

So, let’s agree that we’re talking about the same thing: war crimes include those detailed at Nuremberg after WW II, and later by the International Criminal Court—the crime of aggression, crimes against peace, the wanton destruction of cities or towns or villages, the murder or ill treatment of prisoners, forced deportation, and more. And let’s stipulate, following Nuremberg, that responsibility cannot be dodged because of rank or governmental position, nor can it be avoided simply because someone claimed to be following the orders from a higher ranking person. True?

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Sat, Oct 19, 2013 at 10:18 PM

No more negotiations. You answer the questions I sent you. Then I’ll answer the questions you sent me. You can define war crimes in your answer the way you want. If you don’t want to answer a question or two I sent, fine, just say so and answer the rest. But as long as you answer in good faith, I’ll answer the questions you sent me in good faith. But let’s get on with this.

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Sat, Oct 19, 2013 at 10:39 PM

Negotiations?

What are you talking about?

You can’t dictate the terms of a conversation with me, sorry.

If you can’t even say what it is you mean by war crimes—and in a way I don’t blame you for your hesitation, since your attempts to define “conservative” and “terrorism” were so feeble and anemic, exposing a staggering simple-mindedness—even after I gave you a good place to begin, let’s meet up in DC at one of the book stores and go from there.

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers 
Sat, Oct 19, 2013 at 10:45 PM

This is becoming absurd. I will define what I mean in my answers. Readers can determine if my answers are feeble. You apparently prefer to go round and round in circles. I can’t make you answer anything. But you asked me to review your book and we agreed to do an interview. If you want to proceed, let’s proceed. Answer the questions I asked in good faith and I will answer the questions you asked in good faith. But if you prefer to end it here, we can end it here. It’s up to you.

From: Bill Ayers
To: Jamie Weinstein 
Sat, Oct 19, 2013 at 10:59 PM

Of course you can’t make me answer. And I can’t seem to persuade you to engage in a dialogue.

Fine, back to the beginning. I’ll say it again (lightly): Review Public Enemy; don’t bother to read it first—that would just confuse you.

From: Jamie Weinstein
To: Bill Ayers
Sun, Oct 20, 2013 at 12:18 AM

What if I define answering my questions as a human right? Would you consider answering them then?

I’m sorry this didn’t work out, though it seems clear to me you didn’t want to answer questions. But what a missed opportunity for you! If you wanted to demonstrate how much of an imbecile I am, all you had to do was answer the set of questions I sent you. I would have then done the same for the set you sent me. We could have then left it up to the public to determine what they thought of our respective answers.

Despite you acting in bad faith, I will honor my pledge and publish our entire email exchange as is, typos and all.

Best,
Jamie W

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