Remembering Charlton Heston, who died Saturday night in his Beverly Hills home at age 84, the ABC and CBS anchors on Sunday night tarnished the actor's political activity on behalf of conservative causes, particularly his leadership of the NRA, as “controversial” and “polarizing.” Dan Harris, anchor of ABC's World News, asserted: “As President of the National Rifle Association, he became one of the most-polarizing figures in American politics.” CBS Evening News anchor Russ Mitchell declared: “Once the quintessential big screen hero, in his later years he drew as much attention for his controversial politics.”
Those pro-gun rights views were certainly “controversial” to network journalists who disagreed with him and so hit him repeatedly from the left on the issue in 1998 and 2001 morning show interviews, especially Katie Couric.
For instance, check out how Couric pressed him on the June 8, 1998 Today show:
COURIC: Speaking of gun safety and children, Mr. Heston, as you well know, and in fact as everyone in this country knows, there has been a spate of school shootings recently that have been quite disturbing to all Americans. Given the fact that these seem to be happening with greater frequency has it caused you to rethink your philosophy about children and guns and the accessibility of guns for children?...
COURIC: Getting back to kids and guns, if you will indulge me for a moment. You cannot think of any other position the NRA could take in terms of trying to decrease the number of school shootings? You feel like this is not your bailiwick, this is not your problem?
HESTON: Not at all. As I told you the NRA spends more money, more time-
COURIC, cutting him off: Other than education.
HESTON: Well, what would you suppose? What would you suggest?
COURIC: I don’t know, perhaps greater restrictions.
Those quotes, with a video/audio clip (Windows Media video, Real video or MP3 audio), are in the MRC's 2006 “Meet the Real Katie Couric: CBS's New Star Adores Liberals, Scolds Conservatives — And Thinks America Should Be More Like France.”
For more from Heston's interviews that morning, check the MRC's June 9, 1998 CyberAlert:
Congratulations, Mr. Heston, on your election as President of the NRA. Now, embrace liberal gun control laws and we’ll praise you. If you don’t, we’ll disparage you. So, it seemed, the networks decided. Monday morning Heston made the rounds of the three morning shows and on each was hit from the left on the irrationality of his opposition to gun control....
Three years later Heston returned to the Today show and tried to promote the DVD release of Bur Hur, but Couric was a lot more interested in pushing further gun control, as recounted in the Wednesday, March 14, 2001 CyberAlert:
Charlton Heston agreed to an appearance on NBC’s Today to plug the release on DVD of Ben Hur, but after just a little bit of time on that Katie Couric pounded away at the NRA President on gun control, pressing him with stats and arguments from Handgun Control, Inc.
MRC analyst Geoffrey Dickens took down her arguments in the form of questions on the March 13 show:
-- "Obviously because of your role in the National Rifle Association I want to get a couple of quick comments if I could Mr. Heston from you on this recent shooting. Particularly at, in Santana High School outside of San Diego. When you heard about that, I mean what was your reaction?"
-- "Some people, some people though feel it, it may be about maladjusted kids. But it is about guns as well and, and how easy it is to get guns in this country. Do you think-"
-- "Well, you know, this, this boy Andy Williams' father did have guns in the home. What do you think about some kind of smart technology that would make it more difficult for children to use guns?"
-- "Well, what, I mean is that something you could support as an advocate of the National Rifle Association?"
-- "And do you think gun manufacturers will be more receptive than they have been already? Some are making a move in that direction?"
-- "Handgun Control cites a statistic that our firearms deaths of children under the age of 15 is twelve times that of 25 other industrial nations combined. Is it all about maladjusted kids, if, if those, those numbers are so stunning are there that many more maladjusted kids in this country than there are in 25 industrial nations combined?"
-- "Do you think that, that, that guns are to blame at all in any way shape or form for the increase in violence in this country?"
-- "Do you find that you have, that you have a more receptive audience for that philosophy with, with the Bush administration?"
-- "This is gonna be my last question. Do you, do you feel more comfortable with George W. Bush in the White House? Do you think you have a more receptive administration?"
-- "Alright Charlton Heston. Again, congratulations on the DVD release of Ben Hur."
A portion of the obituary story on the April 6 World News on ABC:
DAN HARRIS: As President of the National Rifle Association, he became one of the most-polarizing figures in American politics.
PETER JENNINGS, IN 2002 INTERVIEW: When stand up at the NRA convention and you hold the rifle in your hand and you make that extraordinary gesture. It's not wholly dissimilar from the gesture you made in The Ten Commandments.
HESTON TO JENNINGS: That's true. They call it acting. I know when I stand and I say “from my cold, dead hands,” I know that I'm not really doing that. I'm acting.
HARRIS: His acting career started on the stage, just after World War II, struggling to build a career in plays, on televison and in B-movies. When he finally hit the big time, he used his acting to fuel his activism. At first, for the Left campaigning for civil rights, even marching with Martin Luther King. By the 90s, his politics had become decidedly conservative.
HESTON, ARCHIVE VIDEO: Mr. Clinton, sir. America doesn't trust you with our 21-year-old daughters and we sure Lord don't trust you with our guns.