ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
But there is some political speech that is apparently beyond the pale. Yesterday, Senator McCain was forced to repudiate a speaker at one of his campaign rallies in Ohio. The speaker was Bill Cunningham. He hosts the "Big Show with Bill Cunningham," a conservative talk show that's taped in Cincinnati and syndicated nationally.
Warming up the crowd before McCain arrived at the event, Cunningham referred three times to Barack Obama using his middle name, calling him Barack Hussein Obama.
Mr. BILL CUNNINGHAM (Host, "Big Show with Bill Cunningham"): At some point, the media will quit taking sides in this thing and maybe start covering Barack Hussein Obama the same way they cover Bush, the same way they cover Cheney and the same way they cover every Republican.
SIEGEL: Bill Cunningham joins us now from Cincinnati. Welcome to the program.
Mr. CUNNINGHAM: Thank you, Mr. Siegel. Thank you.
SIEGEL: And first, why did you call Senator Obama, Barack Hussein Obama a few times in your remarks yesterday?
Mr. CUNNINGHAM: Well, number one, Robert, it's his name, the name given to him by his mother and by his father. And going back into American history - I'm a bit of an historian - you might recall Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Dwight David Eisenhower and John Fitzgerald Kennedy, William Jefferson Clinton. A man who would be president, normally, the middle name is employed in order to give the man more dignity and more respect. And my goal was simply to state the fellow's name much like I often say John Sydney McCain III.
SIEGEL: But to many ears, what you're doing is emphasizing, this man's middle name bespeaks foreignness and implies Islam, something which the Obama campaign and others have been at pains to point out is simply not true, that he is not a Muslim. Nothing…
Mr. CUNNINGHAM: No…
SIEGEL: …like that at all?
Mr. CUNNINGHAM: Nothing at all. For those who hear that that way, I think they have a problem, because if you assume the mere expression of a man's legal name is bigoted, then you must have difficulty with the name Hussein. And I do not. And actually, Barack and Obama are somewhat ethnic in themselves, which I think would be a great thing if an African-American was able to be elected president. I think it would break down certain walls in this nation, and that would be a good thing. I think this is the wrong African-American. I would like to have seen a Condoleezza Rice, for example, or a Thomas Sowell or a Walter Williams, but nonetheless, if he gets elected, Robert, I would say he's my president. I wish him well, I'll say a prayer for him, and I want him to succeed.
SIEGEL: But you acknowledged on Hannity & Colmes yesterday, on their show, that you've also, on occasion or at least once, referred to him on your program as Barack Hussein Mohammed Obama. That's not consistent with the same things that you're saying right now.
Mr. CUNNINGHAM: Well, Robert, I would say this on that point. I'm right about 98.6 percent of the time. I made a mistake in reading somewhere that his name was Barack Mohammed Hussein Obama, and I quickly corrected that because Mohammed is, again, is the great prophet, and Hussein is a great name in Islam. I meant no offense by that. And when I found out that the Internet site that I had gleaned that information from was incorrect, I quickly corrected it. And he's proud of his name, and I'm proud of his name. And if someone does not want his name being used, I would talk to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John Fitzgerald Kennedy. That's his name.
SIEGEL: Well, what do you make then of Senator McCain saying yesterday that -well, it seems like you're unwelcome. You've said that you were asked by his campaign to make remarks like these, or what were you asked to do?
Mr. CUNNINGHAM: Well, Robert, I met with Senator Mike DeWine, who I think is his campaign chairman in the state of Ohio, and Joe Deters, who is a local county prosecutor about a week before the event in order to appear to throw some red meat to the assembled conservatives.
You know, we conservatives are not too happy with John Sydney McCain III. We think he's a awfully liberal guy. I'm thinking about McCain-Feingold, McCain-Lieberman, McCain-Kennedy. But after the New York Times attacked him so viciously and so wrongly, I softened up a little bit and I said I would lend the weight of my presence to John McCain to kind of kick-start his campaign in Ohio. And they said, great. Get the crowd on their feet. Get them applauding. Get them laughing, create energy in that room. That's what we want.
SIEGEL: Well, who used the phrase red meat, give them some raw meat or whatever it was? Your - is that your characterization, or did Mike DeWine said it?
Mr. CUNNINGHAM: No, that's Senator Mike DeWine. But you see this at political rallies, which I don't do a lot anymore. But you want to get the crowd fired up, and so all I did was speak about his background in Chicago, but the media treats Obama - this is my problem, Robert. The media treats Obama a lot like he was a deity. Let's just put him in the presidency. Let's coronate him. Let's not have a bare-knuckled election. And it's a sad commentary on the media today that you can't cover Obama the way you cover Clinton or the way you cover Kerry or Bush or anyone.
SIEGEL: But in fairness here, your problem today isn't with the media. It's with Senator McCain. I mean, he's the one who…
Mr. CUNNINGHAM: Well, that's true. That's true.
SIEGEL: …objected to what you said. What do you make of Senator McCain now?
Mr. CUNNINGHAM: Sad. It is very sad for a gentleman who did not hear what I said, who has met me several times but has forgotten about it. He might have Alzheimer's. The guy is getting a bit old. It is sad when he forgets meeting me. And then having not heard me, he criticizes words that I didn't say, that he didn't hear, and then throws me under the straight talk express. That was kind of embarrassing.
SIEGEL: You're no longer a McCain supporter.
Mr. CUNNINGHAM: Well, I was lukewarm before. I was a Huckabee man, a Romney man. I like Thompson. But now, after John McCain has shown his true colors, he's come after me on false information. I smeared nobody. I said nothing that was false.
SIEGEL: Are you going to support Hillary Clinton now?
Mr. CUNNINGHAM: Well, you know, I got an inquiry about an hour or so ago from a Hillary Clinton supporter. And she has indicated that she'd like to come on my radio talk show later this week or the first of next week before the Ohio primary. And I think Hillary Clinton has got a better shot at defending the nation's borders and being an institutionalist in the White House than either McCain or Obama, who's to the left of Senator Bernie Sanders. So I would go to sleep every night as an American feeling better with Hillary Clinton in the White House and Bubba upstairs. So, yes, I may endorse soon Hillary Clinton.
SIEGEL: Well, Bill Cunningham, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. CUNNINGHAM: Robert, you're a great American.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: That's Cincinnati radio talk show host Bill Cunningham, speaking to us from the studios of WLW in Cincinnati.