Darth Vader-esque former Vice President Dick Cheney was given space in the pages of Playboy magazine to vent about President Obama.
“I look at Barack Obama and I see the worst president in my lifetime, without question—and that’s saying something,” Cheney opined. (“Things former Nixon staffers say,” Rep. Mark Takano rebutted.)
Along with its reputation as a naked-lady pictorial that publishes short stories and fiction, Playboy has maintained its streak of political interviews and profiles over the last few decades. Stephen Randall, the Playboy deputy editor who has handled interviews since December 1990, has some trouble picking his favorite.
“It’s sort of like your children: I like them all,” Randall told The Daily Beast. “But the one that’s most recent is the one I like the most. When we did Barney Frank, I liked that one the most.”
As for his ideal interview, Randall lists one name: Pope Francis. “Though I know that my chances are zero,” he says.
“We’re always trying to reach out to various foreign leaders,” Randall continued. For instance, Playboy has reached out to both Netanyahu and Putin, but never got much farther than the press office. “It’s sort of hard for them to put in the time and energy required for a Playboy interview when it doesn’t help them in their home country.”
Here are five of the best political interviews that Playboy has ever conducted. Some of them even affected campaigns, or drove national conversation.
Four of Nicaragua’s socialist revolutionary leaders (including Daniel Ortega) sat down with Playboy to bash President Reagan as a deranged ”sort of Frankenstein's monster” who is out to "kill all the 'bad guys' in Nicaragua."
"I believe he's mad," Culture Minister Ernesto Cardenal said. "What he says about us is worthy of a mad-man, and he may end up in an insane asylum. It all sounds like some wild-West movie he's acting out."
"Within Reagan's mind, I don't think there's any one person but, rather, a mixture of any number of extremists who have dwelt in academic and corporate catacombs," junta member Sergio Ramirez Mercado told Playboy.
A couple of years later, Reagan would quote part of these Playboy interviews in one of his speeches on aid to the Contras.
This interview with presidential candidate Jimmy Carter became famous after he confessed that he had “looked on a lot of women with lust” and had “committed adultery in my heart many times.”
Carter was simply trying to explain his views on faith, culture, and desire. Nevertheless, his campaign went into full damage-control mode. “Do not underestimate what a crisis that interview and the ‘lust in my heart’ caused Carter,” historian Douglas Brinkley said. “It almost derailed the entire Carter campaign. They were in havoc over it.”
Randall looks back at the comments as rather innocent. “It was his Jimmy Carter-ish way of saying he has sexual fantasies, which somehow in that era seemed shocking,” he said. “Well, he won anyway.”
Martin Luther King Jr. (1965)
In January 1965, Playboy published Alex Haley’s interview with Martin Luther King Jr., shortly after the civil-rights leader received the Nobel Peace Prize. It was the longest interview he ever gave a publication.
“A strong man must be militant as well as moderate,” King said. “He must be a realist as well as an idealist. If I am to merit the trust invested in me by some of my race, I must be both of these things. This is why nonviolence is a powerful as well as a just weapon. If you confront a man who has long been cruelly misusing you, and say, ‘Punish me, if you will; I do not deserve it, but I will accept it, so that the world will know I am right and you are wrong,’ then you wield a powerful and a just weapon. This man, your oppressor, is automatically morally defeated, and if he has any conscience, he is ashamed. Wherever this weapon is used in a manner that stirs a community’s, or a nation’s, anguished conscience, then the pressure of public opinion becomes an ally in your just cause.”
Read the interview here.
This was the interview that likely cost Ed Koch the governorship.
In 1982, Koch gave an interview to Playboy in which he called living in rural areas “a joke” and slammed suburban existence as “wasting your life.” He also called life in Albany, New York’s capital, a “fate worse than death.”
“Have you ever lived in the suburbs?” Koch rhetorically asked Playboy. “It’s sterile. It’s nothing. It’s wasting your life, and people do not wish to waste their lives once they’ve seen New York! ... This rural American thing—I’m telling you, it’s a joke.”
Such comments did not sit well with upstate and suburban voters, and Koch went on to lose the Democratic primary to Mario Cuomo.
“This was the only time I can recall that a Playboy interview morphed into a cover of Newsweek,” Randall said, recalling how their Jesse Ventura interview really made the media rounds.
The former pro-wrestler had been sworn in as the 38th Governor of Minnesota earlier that year. In his chat with Playboy, he partly defended the sexual assaulters in the Tailhook scandal, and dissed organized religion.
“Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers,” he said. “It tells people to go out and stick their noses in other people's business.”
And regarding the Navy’s Tailhook scandal, which involved male aviators accused of assaulting and harassing dozens of women at a 1991 Las Vegas conference, Ventura said that men in the military are trained to live on the “razor’s edge and defy death” and are “not going to consider grabbing a woman’s breasts or buttocks a major situation. That’s much ado about nothing.”
Shortly after the publication of that interview, Ventura’s poll numbers plunged 19 points.