Opinion: ‘We had a conversation about it.”


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Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa revealed that he and Hillary Clinton talked about the affair that helped break up his marriage, and she said ... what? We don’t know, because Michael Eisner, who used to interview Mickey Mouse at the start of Disney programs on ABC but now interviews movers and shakers on his CNBC talk show, barely let Villaraigosa get in a word edgewise.

Eisner spoke with, or rather to, Villaraigosa on a program that aired last night. The segment was sandwiched between two parts of an interview with Kiss rock star Gene Simmons, who took the opportunity to hold forth on the sanctity of marriage.


You can watch part of the Villaraigosa segment, although not all of it, here.

About Hillary Clinton:

Eisner: She’s never -- because you were very close to her before it came out that you were having martial problems, let’s say. She’s not annoyed at you like she was annoyed at her husband? Villaraigosa: We actually had a very good conversation about that and I am without question someone who intends to work really hard on behalf -- Eisner: She asked you about that, though? Villaraigosa: We had a conversation about it. Eisner: That’s impressive. What are the big things you have to accomplish in the next two years?

The program bills itself as recreating ‘the experience of being at a power lunch with the giants of their industries.’

At some point, and it may as well be sooner rather than later, interviewers will move on from the mayor’s extra-marital affair with former Telemundo anchor Mirthala Salinas. Eisner did allow Villaraigosa to briefly hit talking points on education and public safety, and he did permit -- no, he required -- the mayor to repeat his narrative. Los Angeles knows the story well: alcoholic father, loving mother, tough life on the street, caring teacher. Here, though, Villaraigosa was speaking to a national audience, and although his answers seemed rote he handled them well. He was soft-spoken and low-key. He changed the subject, skillfully, when asked questions he didn’t like.

For example, Eisner asked Villaraigosa if his achievements impressed his father. The mayor began to say he didn’t know. ‘You should ask him,’ Eisner interrupted. ‘He should be.’

But Eisner always returned to the affair, with video of Salinas announcing the breakup of Villaraigosa’s marriage on TV, and with questions that started to go there, but then retreated.


He started by comparing Villaraigosa to Bill Clinton, but didn’t bring up the comparison that apparently was foremost on his mind.

Eisner: A lot of people talk about you as the Hispanic Clinton. You’ve got the intelligence. You come from a tough background. You’ve made yourself get educated. So there is a governor’s race in 2010, and that would be Clintonesque to -- are you moving toward that, are you interested in that, are you not saying, or would you avoid the question, or what will you do? Villaraigosa: At some point I’ll have to make decisions about my future, but I think the best way to ensure your future is to do a good job in the job you have now.

Then he asked about Salinas. The mayor’s response:

‘I’ll just say this. In life we sometimes make mistakes. There’s no question that we have to accept responsibility for those mistakes. I have.’

He said he had to focus on his children, and on his job.

‘Because I have created a distraction and because I’ve got to be responsible for the fact that it has, you know, been, I think, more than just a blip, if you will, on the conscience and on the, you know, of the public at this point. So I think we’re in a situation where people expect you to do your job. The jury’s out, if you will.’

When Eisner finally got around to what Hillary thought, he didn’t wait for the answer. Who brought it up? What did she say? Was she angry? Understanding? Is she distancing her presidential campaign from Villaraigosa because he now reminds voters that Bill cheated on her in the White House? Ask or leave it alone. But if you’re going to ask, wait for an answer.

Eisner might have been worried that Villaraigosa would would respond the same way Dianne Feinstein did earlier this year when KNX reporter Dick Helton asked her -- and Clinton -- about whether Villaraigosa’s marital problems were a troubling parallel to Clinton’s marriage.


‘Hillary’s running for president,’ Feinstein snapped. ‘She doesn’t need to get into this!’

Eisner, though, is a friendlier face -- he’s a Villaraigosa donor and supporter. His program comes under the corporate umbrella of NBC, as does Telemundo, Salinas’ employer.

It may have been unintentional, but after a commercial break, when Villaraigosa was gone and Eisner was back with Simmons, and Eisner again asked about marriage, the unmarried former rock star with two children, an ex-Playboy Playmate as his girlfriend, and a reality TV show about his family, sounded like he was delivering a morality lecture to a certain mayor.

Simmons: I believe in love. I do. But I also believe in full honesty and I believe in words. And ... I believe that a contract is binding. And I believe in the Catholic notion, although I’m not a Catholic: if you say those words, you should be embedded until you die in her arms because that’s what you said. If you’re going to take the oath, you should be liable for the rest of your life, and I refuse to take that oath. Everybody else out there says, ‘Get married, get married.’ But you’re lying. Because you keep breaking that oath, and statistically, you will continue to break that oath.