David Pakman Interview: Up-Close and Personal with a Popular Political Pundit
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Newsmakers
Image attributed to Dani Fine
Progressive political commentator David Pakman was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1984, and he immigrated to the United States with his family at age five. He grew up in Northampton, Massachusetts, graduated from Northampton High School and attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst where he majored in economics and communications. He also earned an MBA degree from Bentley University.
In 2005, The David Pakman Show started as a community radio show called Midweek Politics in the basement of WXOJ’s studio in Northampton, Massachusetts. Today, it is a daily internationally syndicated politics and news talk show airing on radio, television, the internet and on Free Speech TV via DirecTV and DISH Network. Currently, The David Pakman Show YouTube channel has 1.29 million subscribers.
"The truth is that, right now, my situation is really quite comfortable in that I’m the editor. I decide what stories I do. I decide when I go on vacation. Financially, I’m very satisfied."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: David, how’s it going for you during the pandemic?
David Pakman: I’m not doing too many things on a personal level. But workwise, it has been very, very busy, but mostly just because the last year was the election. Election years tend to be the busiest anyway. There’s just been so much interest in the political space, so it’s been a crazy year really. I’ve been so busy.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Well, I appreciate your time today. You lived in Argentina until age five. Do you have memories of that time?
David Pakman: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I’ve gone back sometimes every year, sometimes every other year, sometimes if things get in the way, every third year or something like that, since I was five. So my memory of it has sort of been consecutive, I guess, uninterrupted. So yeah, I remember my childhood home, I keep in touch with family there and am very much connected to it. I regularly watch news from Argentina and all of that.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you have siblings?
David Pakman: Yes. They live in the United States. My brother lives in Los Angeles, and my half-sister lives in Massachusetts.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What kind of a child were you?
David Pakman: Probably entrepreneurial from an early age would be what I would say, maybe what my parents would say, from a cookie business when I was in sixth grade to starting to build websites while in middle school and high school and selling advertising on them.So, I think, certainly entrepreneurial and inquisitive, reading a lot, not super motivated by the sort of structure of school after elementary school. I think junior high and high school were just sort of, “I did it and it was fine,” but I wasn’t particularly passionate about most of the material that was being offered other than maybe economics, which was ultimately one of the fields I went into in college.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Did you want to be involved in radio or broadcasting at an early age?
David Pakman: No, not at all. I think I had a sense that I wanted to be in business to some degree, but that business really could have been anything. I worked in retail when I was in high school and developed sales experience in that field, and I had a sense that I did not want to be working for a boss with a schedule type of thing. But I stumbled across a media piece, not accidentally but sort of by coincidence when I was in college and got involved in the broadcasting part. Then I realized that maybe it could be a viable business although most shows like mine don’t become viable and don’t ever get to the point that mine has financially.
I continued doing a podcast and radio show as a hobby while I was in graduate school for business. So I think that what I knew all along was I wanted to be something entrepreneurial and be my own boss. It just ended up by coincidence being in the media business.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Were you born with that voice for radio, or have you practiced vocal exercises over the years?
David Pakman: No, I just got on the air one day, to be perfectly frank. The initial iteration of the show was in a community radio station where it was basically “sign up to become a volunteer and you will be assigned a time slot.” I still have the recording of the first show, and it was just me reading news and really having no idea of what I was doing. So it was really a learning experience by doing that sort of thing and then developing the business piece around it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You obviously learned well because it developed into a multi-platform news talk show just a few years later.
David Pakman: Yeah. To some degree, I still feel like, as far as the broadcasting, I still don’t really know what I’m doing in that I’ve never had any kind of formal training. I developed a professional relationship with Alan Colmes, the former Fox radio host who passed away a few years ago. If I ever had questions about broadcasting, he was someone I could ask. Thom Hartmann is another progressive radio host I’ve known for a long time and whom I’ve had to go to for advice here and there. But it’s always felt like I’m just figuring it out as I go.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Have your struggles with platforms like YouTube been primarily about money?
David Pakman: I think there have been struggles with just about every platform we’ve been on over the years. There were at least two incidents with our radio affiliates in more conservative parts of the country where viewers, and I don’t know if they were mine or just ones simply coming across the show trying to damage it by complaining to the radio stations that broadcast the show. But one even got the show pulled off the air. I don’t remember what it was. It was a very evangelical part of the country, and I think they took issue with something I said about secularism, the separation of church and state. I don’t remember the details. So we’ve had trouble with radio stations.
We’ve had some trouble with YouTube as well where in 2017, we essentially lost all of our ad revenue for about a month and a half. We, at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, had a situation where YouTube was not monetizing any reporting related to the pandemic because they deemed it too sensitive of an issue. Eventually, that got resolved when YouTube realized this was going to be around for a while, everybody’s going to be covering it, and it wasn’t coherent that none of the reporting was monetized.
But, yeah, I can’t think of any platform we’ve not had some issues with. We’ve had periods where we were completely demonetized by Facebook. We’ve had copyright issues with Twitch, which is another platform we’re on. So there are many stories there.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: David, you’ve said that you’re not a religious person. Were you religious as a child and then became a non-believer later in life?
David Pakman: No. My family was never religious. In Argentina, my mom was part of a sort of a socialist Jewish organization. It was Jewish in terms of community and culture but not a religious organization in any stretch of the imagination, and I didn’t have a bar mitzvah or anything like that. So my family is all equally non-religious.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: The country may not even be able to begin to heal if Donald Trump returns to the political spotlight. How much impact do you think Trump will have on the Republican Party going forward?
David Pakman: I think it’s really unclear in the sense that a lot of it just depends on what Trump does and what his followers want. I saw a recent poll that 64% of Republicans would leave the party if Trump started his own party, and 89% of Republicans continue to want Trump involved. So if that continues to be the case, there could be a lot more of this.
I think one of the big factors would be, would the members of Congress that were elected simply for being liked by Trump like Marjorie Taylor Green and others get reelected in 2022? If they do get reelected, it will really be a sign that Trump is here to stay in some way. But it just remains to be seen. I think we don’t know yet.
There are so many scenarios. One is that Trump talks a lot but sort of goes away, and the Republican Party goes back to being what it was before Trump. Another is Trump doesn’t go away and continues within the party maybe even getting the nomination in 2024. The most chaotic scenario would be that Trump starts his own party and fractures the Republican Party in a real way.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: The left has been criticized for disrespecting Rush Limbaugh after his death. What are your comments on that?
David Pakman: Well, I am not the type of person that would ever wish illness or death or take pleasure in illness or death even for really bad people who had negative impacts on the world. But I think, at the same time, it’s okay to recognize that not everybody has a positive influence on the world.
So the things that come to mind to me were when Rush Limbaugh mocked Michael J. Fox’s Parkinson’s, when Rush Limbaugh gleefully celebrated the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and when he had a segment in the 90s where he would cheer the deaths of AIDS victims. So this is not someone that deserved any better treatment than he gave to others, but it’s not within my constitution to say some of the things that have been said. It’s not the way that I operate, I guess I would say.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: How do you think Joe Biden is doing so far in battling the coronavirus?
David Pakman: I think it’s going quite well. I think there’s the reality that the case and death reductions that are happening right now aren’t because of Joe Biden, and only soon would his policy changes start to be reflected in the numbers because it takes a few weeks for that to happen. I think Joe Biden is absolutely responsible for the significant increase in the number of vaccine doses that are going out. That number in the week before Biden took over was about 890,000 doses a day being injected, and we’re now basically at double that, and it’s going to continue increasing. So I think Joe Biden definitely deserves some credit for the growth in vaccinations and just generally bringing back having actual medical experts address the nation and not being at odds with them but supporting what they are saying.
If you look at the polling, 69% of the country approves of the job Joe Biden is doing on the virus, and I think he’s doing a lot of things right there. Had Donald Trump simply gotten out of the way, said this was serious, listened to the doctors, had gotten American flag masks and said, “Join me in wearing these,” I think he would’ve easily been reelected, as we’ve seen other world leaders be if they’ve handled the virus really well. So I think it does make a difference. People do notice, and I think Joe Biden is doing pretty well.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: MAGA masks might’ve worked also.
David Pakman: Exactly.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: In your lifetime, do you think there will be a Progressive or even an Atheist (not that the two necessarily go together), as president?
David Pakman: I think it’s likely that there will be at least one of those two. Yeah, I do. Hopefully, I’ll be around to see a bunch more presidential elections. But, yeah. I think that’s quite likely. On issues, the country keeps moving to the left, even though it’s not necessarily reflected in elected officials for a number of different reasons we could talk about, gerrymandering, campaign finance and others.
But social issues keep moving left, and the country is also becoming less and less religious over time. So I think it’s inevitable. It’s more a matter of when rather than if.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Perhaps we’ve already had an atheist president.
David Pakman: Yeah. I actually did a segment where I said I don’t believe Donald Trump is religious. I didn’t support Trump, but it had nothing to do with his religious beliefs. I believe his lack of religiosity is widely documented throughout his entire life. His story about how he became anti-abortion is completely implausible to me. It’s about how he was pro-choice his whole life, then he met a kid he liked, and the kid’s mom said she thought about getting an abortion and didn’t. That’s why Trump said he became pro-life. I mean, this is such a ridiculous story. I don’t believe it. I think that Trump quite likely was or is an atheist.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Is there such a thing as fair and balanced political news in the mainstream media?
David Pakman: There’s such a lack of media literacy in the United States that there’s much confusion between news reporting and opinion programming, and there’s no way to eliminate all bias, but often times by bias, people mean one specific thing. They tend to mean political bias, like they believe that the programming is biased to the political right or left, and sometimes that’s true.
When you talk about opinion programs, it’s less about bias. It’s more just about slant. This is a program that is hosted by someone who might be on the left or who might be on the right or who might be in the middle. So in terms of, are there centrist opinion programs, I don’t know that there are many, but it’s certainly conceivable that there could be a centrist who does a show and that their opinions sometimes line up with the left and sometimes line up with the right.
I think the trickier or more pernicious part is even news reporting outlets can have other types of biases like biased sensationalism or corporate bias or biases based on the advertisers that are funding them and that type of thing. It’s best to be informed about what we mean when we say bias, but I don’t know that it’s possible to eliminate all types of bias. The short answer would be centrist programming can exist. Centrism is also a bias. There’s no rule that says just picking a position that’s in the middle is right or left bias. It’s still a bias.
But I think it’s impossible to really do news reporting without eliminating all bias. I mean, one example is that you can’t report on everything. So every news outlet is biased in that they are choosing to report some things and not others. It’s impossible to eliminate that, and I think it’s important to understand what type of bias one is looking for or talking about.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Has MSNBC, CNN or other media outlets ever approached you and offered you a broadcasting position?
David Pakman: No. I’ve been on CNN and Fox News as a guest. I’ve not been on MSNBC. The truth is that, right now, my situation is really quite comfortable in that I’m the editor. I decide what stories I do. I decide when I go on vacation. Financially, I’m very satisfied. Six or seven years ago, I might’ve thought that the goal would be to try to get somebody like a network to hire me, but for the last several years as my show has grown so dramatically, it’s just been the logical next step for me.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Have you ever wanted to run for political office?
David Pakman: Not to the point where I seriously thought about it, but I wouldn’t rule it out. I think what might keep me from going in that direction is that it’s very nice not to have much oversight into what I’m doing, and the constant fund raising and all kinds of different oversight limitations that elected officials have doesn’t sound very appealing to me, quite frankly. So it’s something I’d really have to think about, but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. But there’s no position that strikes me as, oh, that’s what I’d run for, if I wanted to run for something.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Now that the rover is there, you believe they will find signs of life on Mars, and would you ever want to go there?
David Pakman: The first part is sort of above my pay grade. From what I’ve read, I think the life that we would expect to find on Mars would be microbial. It would be very far from a giraffe. Let’s put it that way. I would not be interested in any one-way trips to Mars nor would I be interested in being one of the very first people. But for me, space exploration has always been absolutely fascinating. I don’t know what would even be a possibility in the future for me, but certainly I am so excited to see what is achieved in that space.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: In other news, Dolly Parton has asked the Tennessee legislature to remove a bill considering erecting a statue of her on the Capitol grounds. I love this part: Dolly said, “Given all that is going on in the world, I don’t think putting me on a pedestal is appropriate at this time.”
David Pakman: I haven’t seen it. I’m not super familiar with her. I know she’s been involved in the pandemic and helping different communities in different ways. But I am very much outside of the entire country music space. She was not someone I was familiar with growing up, and I know very little about her.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What are your musical tastes and other interests?
David Pakman: When there isn’t a pandemic, travel is very, very high on my list, a lot of reading, a lot of bicycling, film, a lot of different interests. In terms of music, basically I’ve always been an everything but country music and heavy metal type of guy. I think my big thing is traveling and seeing different parts of the world as much as possible when circumstances are right for it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Who or what has made the greatest positive impact on your life?
David Pakman: Hmm. That’s interesting. I’m not sure how I would answer that. I mean, in a great sense, moving to the United States is what has. There’s no question that when you see the economy of Argentina and what’s going on and also just the ubiquity of the English language around the world, if I were doing what I’m doing in Argentina instead of the United States, it would be dramatically less successful and visible. So in a sense, I think that is really what started it all, which was starting to learn English at a young enough age where I could speak without an accent and just being in the United States. It’s one of those things that is very much in retrospect, and I recognize that.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: You recently turned 37, so you certainly have your whole life in front of you. What are your long range goals or plans both personally and professionally?
David Pakman: One of the things that I stopped doing a few years ago was thinking too deeply businesswise more than about 18 months ahead because I learned that in my space, things change so quickly in ways that I can’t predict that any planning beyond that was essentially meaningless or move very quickly.
An example of that is the presence we’ve grown on the livestreaming platform Twitch over the last year, which if you had asked me 18 months ago what I thought about having a presence on Twitch, I barely knew what it was and would've said that there’s no way that will be a big part of what I’m doing in 2021. Now it’s a huge part. That’s just one example of how planning too far ahead is not useful because things change so quickly.
For the next 18 months, my priorities are to continue to grow the livestreaming platform which is a totally different type of relationship with the audience. It allows me to do different kinds of programming than my daily podcast and broadcast show. Beyond that, it’s continued audience growth.
At the end of 2020, I did a single season of a Spanish language show on a Spanish language cable network called Estrella. I would be very interested in looking at growing the Spanish language presence for what I’m doing, and that’s specifically US politics but for a Spanish speaking audience, which was the goal of the audience of the Spanish language show. I think that would be an interesting space to explore. On a personal level, I’m very much looking forward to just getting back to more normal life with travel and seeing friends.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you have a special person who enjoys traveling as much as you do?
David Pakman: Yes. I’ve been with my same girlfriend for nine years, and we both enjoy travel and are both looking forward to getting back to it and also looking forward to getting back to Argentina to visit family, which has been too long at this point.
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