In the news this week are several reports of an exchange between syndicated talk-show host Mike Gallagher and actor-turned-leftist-poster-child Edward Asner.

The account goes like this: Mike Gallagher approached Asner at a recent cocktail party promoting the new film “Elf” in which Asner stars as Santa Claus. As Gallagher introduced himself, Asner asked his profession. When Gallagher replied “radio talk-show host,” Asner replied, “I love going toe-to-toe with you guys.”

”I know,” Gallagher replied. ”I’ve heard you on Sean Hannity’s show.”

”Hannity’s next, you know,” Asner responded.

”Huh?” said Gallagher.

”Hannity’s next,” said Asner. ”We’re going after him just like we went after Limbaugh. And you saw what happened to Rush this week, right?”

I can attest to these news reports because I was there. Standing not more than 10 feet from where the conversation was happening. Shortly afterward, as Mike and I were exiting the party, we were chatting on the elevator of the Empire State building.

“Kevin, did you hear what he said?” Mike exclaimed, “That was a truly strange experience.” And he then proceeded to relate the story to the rest of the folks riding with us in the elevator.

The following day, as a part of the same film junket, I found myself sitting in a room with Mike and several others waiting for Mr. Asner to field his questions from us regarding the release of “Elf” – a movie that I believe will be huge at the box office this holiday season.

As Mr. Asner walked in, he saw both Mike and me sitting at the end of the table closest to him and quickly quipped, “What is this? The Salem witch trials?” This, of course, being a play on words alluding to Mike being a syndicated talk-show host for Salem Radio Network (and heard on better than 200 stations), and that I had just taken over as the host on the legendary New York’s WMCA 570 “Home of the Good Guys,” also a Salem property.

Upon seating himself at the end of the table and making small talk about cookies and cupcakes – he did seem to be in a particularly jovial mood – he asked point blank: “Does anyone at this table hate me? Hate my work as an activist or in any other way?”

It was such an odd question that the room fell dead silent for a moment before breaking into the short amount of time he had for questions about the film.

As he answered questions about the film, he often broke into stories about his days gone by, and even his reasons for getting involved in left-wing politics. He even talked somewhat reflectively about one of his first acting gigs, playing Santa for the downtown Chicago Marshall Field’s store.

“It was the worst job I ever had,” said Asner. “All I could do was put these poor – extremely poor – kids on my lap and say to them, ‘Well Johnny, well Susie, Santa’s gonna see what he can do about getting that for you. Knowing full well that these kids’ parents were so poor that more than half these kids had no chance of ever seeing the gifts they asked for. It was just awful.'”

By the end of his time with us, I had not asked him a specific question yet, and in my mind I could not get away from the scene from the party of the night previous.

“Mr. Asner, I do have a question – unrelated to the film,” I said. “In your long and distinguished acting career, going back to your earliest days in Chicago all the way up to present days working with Will Farrell on ‘Elf’, you have had the chance to do almost anything you could ever wish to do. But if you had the chance to play the biographical story of a historical figure you respected most over your lifetime, who would it be?”

Remembering the sad story he had told about the poor kids in Chicago, I half expected him to come out with a political name of some sort.

“I think Joe Stalin was a guy that was hugely misunderstood,” said Asner. “And to this day, I don’t think I have ever seen an adequate job done of telling the story of Joe Stalin, so I guess my answer would have to be Joe Stalin.”

Suddenly the time had run out, and for the third time in less than 18 hours, Ed Asner had puzzled the room he was in, into a stunned and disbelieving silence.

Mr. Hannity … I don’t think you have anything to worry about.

Writer’s note: Partial retraction on my above commentary about Ed Asner:

In my WorldNetDaily column, I incorrectly quoted both myself and actor Edward Asner near the end of the column. The lack of accuracy occurred because I did not wait to review the audio of the media session in which Mr. Asner and I interacted. To date, I still have not personally reviewed the audio, but have made multiple good faith efforts to obtain it. I will not only review it upon receipt but also play the actual audio on my radio show so as to communicate the quote correctly in all formats.

Upon reflection, I should have waited for the original audio so as to quote the parties involved as accurately as possible. Fairness and truth are what I am in constant search of and, therefore, when I am wrong I should be the first to admit such shortcomings. I do apologize to Mr. Asner for use of the inaccurate quotes regarding Joseph Stalin.

What follows is what I have been told are the actual quotes on the audio recording:

McCullough: “If you could portray an historical biography and you had an unlimited budget, unlimited support cast and everything you could ask for, who would it be?”

Asner: “Well, you know something, they’ve played Hitler, nobody has ever really touched Stalin, it just occurred to me. It’s not because I am a liberal or anything like that. Stalin is one big damn mystery, I wonder why nobody has tried it? Many people, you know, speak of the fact that he killed more people than Hitler – why does nobody touch him? It’s strange. So, and he was about my size, my height – with a wig I probably could do it.”

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