This week, Larry King was hospitalized with COVID-19. Back in May, he argued with Dave Rubin about the necessity of lockdowns.
Update 1/5/2021: Larry King has been moved out of the ICU, and is reportedly breathing on his own in an LA hospital.
Larry King is a legend of broadcasting.
For more than six decades he has worked in radio and television, developing his signature interview style. His nightly CNN show Larry King Live ran for 25 years — into his late 70s. But even after it ended in 2010, King was far from ready to retire.
At 87 years old, the Emmy and Peabody winner has continued making great TV, and his straightforward, conversational tone has not diminished. Rather, age has refined his skills.
His aversion to researching the subjects of his interviews — which he has touted as making for a more casual and natural flow — is emblematic of the attitude that makes him so compelling. While many people may claim that they "don't give a ****," Larry King lives that ethos as only an old man can.
He will interrupt his guests, contradict them, talk over them, and just generally say what's on his mind. These tendencies come across as rude, and sometimes his musings make it clear how out of touch he is — after decades of wealth and fame.
Larry, I'm on DuckTales. www.youtube.com
But more often than not, King's approach seems to cut through pretense and formality and produce genuinely interesting conversations. This week, as it was reported that Larry King contracted COVID-19, and was subsequently hospitalized, two conversations in particular have remained on my mind.
Both were conversations between King and BlazeTV's resident "former liberal" Dave Rubin. And in both conversations it becomes clear both that Rubin has a sincere admiration for Larry King, and that the feeling is not mutual.
Rubin has made a name for himself out of his one-time tenure at Cenk Uygur's progressive news outlet The Young turks — before he made the move to Glenn Beck's Blaze Media. Branding himself variously as either a "classical liberal," or a "former lefty," Rubin is noted for his rejection of contemporary "regressive Left" politics, and for his willingness to have open discussions with people whom others might find "unsavory" or "Nazis."
The fact that Rubin is married to a man also gives him cover to platform people who believe that same-sex marriage should be outlawed and that "conversion therapy" should be encouraged. But it's all okay, because they're just "talking about ideas" — hateful, ignorant ideas — and because Dave Rubin is making a lot of money as a result.
Still, despite valid criticisms of Rubin as the passive, presentable entrée into the depths of far-Right ideology, he seems to see himself as part of a venerable tradition of impartial interviewers — with Larry King as one of its progenitors. He has referred to King as a mentor, and whenever they get together, the only thing more obvious than Dave Rubin's fawning reverence is King's lack of respect for Rubin.
The two have conversed on a number of occasions, and there are always hints at this dynamic — as when King seems to think that "Rubin" is Dave's first name — but the moment that truly crystallized their sad relationship dynamic came in Larry King's appearance on The Rubin Report back in February of 2020.
Larry King Ruins A Live Interview By Taking A Call www.youtube.com
While in the middle of a live-streamed discussion about moderate politics, an assistant delivered Larry King's cell phone, ostensibly for King to explain something about Samsung and this flip phone in particular. But almost as soon as the phone is in King's hand, it starts ringing, and he briefly makes a face as though he's embarrassed and uncertain of what to do, before flipping it open and answering the call.
Maybe Larry is so used to taking phone calls during live broadcasts that it just felt natural. But the more likely explanation is that he just doesn't think much of Dave Rubin.
On the other end of the call, the voice of King's college athlete son, Cannon, can be made out enthusing over some recent baseball games. Meanwhile, Rubin silently gawps and gestures, whispers to Larry to remind him of the live audience of thousands who were watching it play out, and looks in disbelief at both Larry and the camera.
At some point King explains to his son that he is "doing a podcast," and says, "while talking to you, the audience is watching me talk to you," and somehow that isn't the end of the phone call. For more than three minutes the show is at a standstill while Larry King and his son discuss batting averages, their plans for the week, and the LA Dodgers latest trades.
When the call finally ends, Larry King doesn't even hint at apologizing. Why would he? What has Dave Rubin done to deserve his respect?
To make that point more clear, we need to skip forward to May, when the first wave of the COVID pandemic in the US was just beginning to subside in New York City and a few other hot spots. Dave Rubin was among the conservative commentators who were already arguing that the spotty, insufficient lockdown had gone on long enough, and that it was time to give governors the leeway to reopen their state economies.
Dave Rubin takes on the progressive movement www.youtube.com
During an appearance on Larry King's show PoliticKING to promote his self-victimizing tome Don't Burn This Book, Rubin acknowledged that King "might be right," that people returning to their lives and congregating in public spaces was bound to cause a lot of new cases of COVID. But then he argued that we had to "decide what level of sickness are we willing to live with."
And how else could Larry King respond to an incredulous Rubin but to say, "David, that sounds ridiculous. 'What level of sickness can we live with,' come on! You've got a worldwide pandemic."
What King might have added if Rubin hadn't then interrupted is that at the time — and to this day — the long term consequences of COVID-19 are little understood. Cognitive impairment and lasting damage to heart and lung tissue have been reported long after more obvious symptoms have subsided. And a small but worrying number of children have developed severe and frightening inflammatory symptoms that are not yet understood.
We may not know for years how the novel coronavirus has affected the tens of millions of Americans who have contracted it so far — with hundreds of thousands of new cases reported every day, and hospitals and morgues overflowing. But even the little bit we knew about the highly contagious virus at the time made it obvious what a bad idea it was to rush reopening before even a basic standard for a lockdown had been met.
Dave Rubin believes that trusting scientists is a silly notion: "Have you ever seen a science fiction movie? There… https://t.co/pMxmG52yZK— Dave Rubin Clips (@Dave Rubin Clips)1609214122.0
And while the threat for people like Dave Rubin, 44, may not have looked so serious, for someone of Larry King's age, the situation couldn't be handled lightly. As King sarcastically put it to Rubin at the time, "At whose risk? … It's okay if you die, right?"
But measures like paying people and businesses for a more serious, enforced interruption — which worked beautifully in a number of countries where economies are recovering rapidly — were not even deemed worth discussing by people like Dave Rubin. Which meant that the only question was how long people could be expected to get by with nothing. And with that narrow consideration, it's hardly surprising that most of the country reopened to one extent or another.
Looking back at the conversation now, you can either view Larry King as a prophetic scion who foresaw the chaos and the death that neoliberal intransigence was about to unleash upon the country — the 350,000 dead Americans and counting. Or you can view Dave Rubin as a callous and willfully ignorant tool of wealthy interests, denying reality for his paycheck.
What if people like Dave Rubin had considered the possibility of helping average Americans through a time of unavoidable crisis — without first helping massive corporations and investors a great deal more. How many hundreds of thousands might have been saved?
If Donald Trump hadn't downplayed the virus, refused a mask mandate, pushed to reopen, and used his unparalleled access to advanced and experimental treatments to say "if I can get better, anyone can get better," back in October, would Larry King be in the hospital today?
Perhaps — unlike more than 100,000 Americans who have died miserable, horrific COVID deaths since our soon-to-be-former president made that absurd statement — Larry King will receive some of the same special treatment, and will quickly pull through. He is, after all, a wealthy celebrity, and he has previously survived a heart attack. Maybe it will be enough to save his life...
In either case, the blame for the current horrific state of affairs lies unequivocally with people like Dave Rubin. So if you ever get the chance to talk to him, please remember to show him all the respect he deserves — or at least take a phone call.