British cab-driver’s son turns focus from print to radio and television. His fresh outlook is music to the ears of Canadian talk-radio junkies.
In a mainstream media culture dominated by liberal and pro-abortion voices, Michael Coren stands as a notable exception.
The 36-year-old native of London, England is an anomaly because he has held to conservative and pro-life views throughout a prolific journalistic career in his homeland and, for the past eight years, in Canada. He is enjoying greater prominence then ever these days thanks to The Michael Coren Show, a talk program he hosts every weeknight between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Canada’s most listened to radio station, CFRB-AM 1010 in Toronto. (The station can be heard outside the Toronto area on shortwave radio frequency 6070 megahertz.)
“I’ve really been enjoying it,” says the affable Coren about the radio work he began doing just several months ago. “They (CFRB) have been wonderfully supportive. They don’t always agree with me, but they’re very supportive. They really back you-they will not be kicked around by anyone. It’s a very good experience.”
Coren is sparking interest because many conservatives and pro-lifers in Canada feel he is the sort of mainstream media figure that has been lacking for too long.
On this day, Coren is relaxing for a few moments in the den of his cozy Toronto home, sipping on a cup of chicken soup as he tries to ward off a bout with the flu. He makes the visitor feel as welcome as, in the next room, his three young children recover from illnesses of their own under the watchful eye of his wife, Bernadette.
Scattered about the den, which doubles as a work area, are numerous artifacts Coren has picked up in his travels about England and Canada over the years.
Coren came from a working class home in which his father was a taxi-cab driver. He began his journalistic career after university, working as a freelancer for such media outlets as the British Broadcasting Corporation, the New Statesman magazine and The Tablet newspaper. He was nominated for the Young Journalist of the year award in England in 1983.
England’s loss became Canada’s gain after Coren came to give a lecture at the University of Toronto. It was during that event that he met his bride-to-be and followed up by making the move overseas to be with her in 1987. For the last eight years, he has enjoyed a veritable “Coren-ucopia” of journalistic assignments, including stints with the Globe and Mail, the Financial Post, the Sun newspaper chain, the Toronto Star, Reader’s Digest, Frank magazine and TV Ontario (where he appears as a regular debater on the Studio 2 program).
“Journalism is the only job I’ve ever done, more or less,” he observes.
He has also authored seven books, including works on G.K. Chesterton, H.G. Wells, C.S. Lewis and Conan Doyle. A collection of his newspaper and magazine columns is due out in book form this coming March.
Despite his wide learning, Coren says he doesn’t regard himself as intellectual. “I’m not an academic…I bring a little show biz to my journalism. It’s no good doing radio being a dry academic. You have to bring show biz to it…You can’t keep hitting (listeners) with ideas all the time. It just doesn’t work.”
He says the job with CFRB came about on the station’s initiative. ‘They were looking for conservative voices and realized there weren’t many out there. They said. ‘We have half the province voting for the (provincial) Conservative party and we need to represent that point of view.’’’
He began by doing short, weekly commentaries and on-air-debates before acting as a substitute for regular talk show hosts when they were away. “That seemed to go down very well. I think a lot of people liked it.”
His big break came when full-time talk show host Andy Barry left CFRB for the CBC, creating a gap which Coren was only too happy to fill. “With an opportunity like that offered to me, I wouldn’t think of turning it down…I’m working with a group of young people I really like. They back you up and are there for you.”
In the few months he has been on the air, Coren has already enjoyed several coups, including exclusive appearances from the likes of Ontario Premier Mike Harris, Mordecai Richler and controversial Northern Irish Prime minister Ian Paisley.
Coren has high praise for his bosses, who he believes have a genuine desire for a diversity of voices on their station’s programs, unlike many other media outlets. “They’re far more representative of real Canada…They’re always on the lookout for new people to represent other ideas. They want to represent the country.”
But Coten’s conservative orientation has also made him an obvious target for the left wing in Canada. A recent attempt a recent at giving a lecture to a group of conservatives at the University of Toronto was disrupted by a group of radical leftists who poured into the hall.
He has also had charges of racism, gay-bashing and anti-Semitism levelled against him as a result of his radio program. Activist and author Marlene Nourbese Philip filed a complaint with the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission after he described her during a September broadcast as a woman “with something like a dirty tea towel wrapped around her head” who has “done nothing but defecate upon this country.”
And the homosexual-bisexual media watchdog group OutSpoken also filed a complaint with the CRTC and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council after Scott Lively, author of the book The Pink Swastika, said on Coren’s program in October that the German gay rights movement helped bolster support for the Nazi party.
While Coren says he can’t comment on Philip’s complaint, he dismisses OutSpoken’s charge as ludicrous, “I’m losing seconds of sleep over it,” he observes sarcastically. “That’s not serious and no one will take it as such.”
He adds that Lively’s book was “a very sophisticated piece of work” and he’s miffed by the fact that none of the complainers bothered to call in while the program was on, despite phone lines which were wide open. In addition, the homosexual community avoided Coren’s numerous attempts to get one of its representatives on the program to provide an opposing point of view.
Despite the criticisms, Coren is heartened by the outpouring of support he was received in the wake of the charges. “A lot of great people wrote, called and faxed in,” he says.
One of the reasons Coren is unfazed by the attacks is his belief that he presents the prevailing attitudes in Canada. “I like to think I’m speaking for the majority, if not the vast majority, of people in the majority, if not the vast majority, of people in this country. I really think I am. The left has it for its own way for a very long time.’’
As well the points the fact that there has been a lot of positive feedback about his program, including the fact that advertising during his timeslot has gone up. “Even people who hate (the show) are listening. There’s a real buzz about it. I know people are pleased with it… They (the left) have to understand that the cards of history are being reshuffled. They’re not all in their pack anymore. Open discussion of issues has to be allowed.”
Coren recalls that he came about his conservative views through a mixture of life experience and reading. “I didn’t start off as one (a conservative). Growing up in the family that I did, I flirted with the left as a kid.”
He says his political views are very much bound up with his religious beliefs; witch is why he bristles when he is labelled neoconservative. “I’m not a neo -conservative,” he stresses. “At its extreme, that seems to be low taxes, low morals. That’s not what I believe. I don’t particularly in the free market, but I think the free market guarantees a certain degree of liberty, witch is probably the best bet… but I’m not tied to that. A lot of conservatives are pro-abortion and don’t believe religion has a place in the politics of the state. I don’t agree with that.”
Coren says he regards abortion as being “very important,” but adds that the exigencies of talk radio limit the degree to which he can devote attention to it. “As a journalist and performer, I’m not going to do that issue over and over again… (But) every time it’s in the news, I will cover it, though there has to be a reason for it.”
One of those occasions was after a Hamilton abortionist was shot by an unknown assailant in November. Coren had two pro-life guests on a CFRB program for which he was acting as a substitute host. The program examined the question of violence and the pro-life movement.
Coren says he believes mainstream media coverage of the abortion issue is improving by becoming fairer to the pro-life point of view. He recalls a column he wrote on abortion two years ago which prompted a “hysterical” response from his colleagues at the Globe and Mail. Now he says, “More and are pro-life or are open to discussing it.”
Looking to the future, Coren has no plans. “I never plan ahead. I’ve got a lot of books I have to finish. I want the show to go well. I’m enjoying my column. Whatever will be will be.”
But, he notes, “I’d like to think that in a few years time, I’ll still be doing the radio show.”
That’s a hope shared by many of his listeners.
The coming of the Magi
The Feast of the Epiphany or the Coming of the Wise Men to visit Jesus is one of the most beautiful and meaningful feasts in the calendar of the church. The word “Epiphany” means “manifestation” or “showing forth.” The reason is that this was the “showing forth” of Christ to the Gentiles. The story is found in Gospel of St. Matthew, chapter two.
Who were the Wise Men? They were almost certainly not kings as they are often portrayed. They were more likely priests of the Persian people. Not all priests are wise men—but these were!
They were probably men skilled in philosophy, medicine and especially astrology—the science of the stars. In those ancient days, people believed that their destiny was very much influenced by the stars—as some people still do. But the Magi would appear to have been godly men, not much immersed in the things of the world. They had probably heard of a Messiah, who was to come because Daniel, the prophet, had been a prisoner in their part of the world. Also the Jews had been exiles somewhere in that region and their belief in the coming of a Saviour would have spread. So the Magi, or Wise Men, were always studying the stars and trying to interpret their movements.
Then, one night they noticed a particularly brilliant star, which they had never seen before. They concluded that this star was a sign that the Messiah had come and they decided that it was their duty to go and pay Him homage. They set out on a long, long journey and—as far as we can judge—the star moved before them and led them to the City of Jerusalem. It then disappeared and they were lost. So thay did the sensible thing. They asked where the City Hall was and who the King was. They felt sure he would know all about the new king and would assist them. The fact that they did not know the kind of man Herod was indicates that they must have come from a long way off.
Herod the Great
Who was Herod the Great? He was born in 73 B.C., The son of Idumean named Antipater and an Arab princess. He had ten wives and seven sons. He was useful to the Romans, who were ruling Palestine and he was appointed king of Judea, a position which he held at the Birth of Christ.
He was not fully Jewish and would not have been accepted by the Jews. He was a very able man but a very cruel one. Anyone who stood up to him was eliminated. His worst trait was his jealous and suspicious nature. He suspected anyone who posed a threat to his rule.
Herod had one of his wives, Miriam, murdered because he thought she was plotting against him. He also had three of his sons killed. So, when these three—though we are not certain how many—important looking people arrived with the news that a new king had been born, Herod was immediately worried. He knew the Jewish belief that a new king would come, so he sent for the Jewish religious leaders and asked them where the new King was to be born.
They quoted for him the prophecy of Micah that the Saviour would be born in the city of Bethlehem. So, Herod called the Magi again and expressed interest and pleasure at the birth of the new King. He told them to go to Bethlehem and find the King and then return to him with news, so that he could go and pay homage also. The Wise Men seem to have believed him and did not suspect his real motives. The star appeared again and led them to Bethlehem—only six miles from Jerusalem. By this time the Holy Family, had probably moved to a house. The gospel says, “It stopped where the child was.” They entered and “found the Child with Mary his Mother.” The Gospel tells us that “falling down they adored Him.” There is a great lesson for us in this. They would naturally have expected to find the new King in a palace, surrounded by servants and wealth. But they find a poor little Babe with a humble Mother.
What is the lesson? They took God as they found Him. They did not decide that God could not come to us in ways that we do not expect—and we do not recognize Him.
The Magi gave Him treasures of gifts—gold, frankincense and myrrh. There is great significance in these gifts. Gold is a gift for a king; incense for a priest and myrrh was the sign of suffering. Jesus is a King. He is also a Priest and He is the Suffering Servant, Who died for us on the Cross. The Magi must have been inspired on their choice of gifts.
Legend has been very busy over the years about the Wise Men. They have been made kings, which they were not. We are not told in the Gospel how many there were. But the fact that they gave three gifts has been taken as a sign that they were three. They have been given names—Melchior, an old, bearded man; Casper, young and beardless and Balthsar, who is often portrayed as black. We can certainly see two significant meanings to their arrival. The first is that they represent the Gentiles being led to Christ. The second is the bowing of science to the teaching of the Gospel and the Lordship of Christ.
When they had paid their respects to the Saviour, they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod but to make for home by a different route. They took the Queen Elizabeth Way, instead of the 401! Apparently they got away from his territory before Herod knew they were gone. He did not know exactly where the dangerous child was but he was determined to get rid of Him.
The world has tried so many times since –without success. Since Herod did not know which this Child was, he ordered that all boy babies of two years and under were to be killed. This was the famous Massacre of the Holy Innocents. Bethelehem was a small city at that time, so it has been estimated that perhaps between 20-30 baby boys were slain. In this great country of Canada, we murdered some 100,000 babies every year and in the United States the average is one and a half million per annum. So Herod isn’t really dead.
Joseph was told in a dream to “take the Child and his Mother and flee to Egypt. This he did and the Child Jesus—God Himself—became a refugee in the world He had made. We are not sure how long they spent there but when Herod died, his kingdom was divided between his three sons. The one who was now ruling in Jerusalem was Archelaus, his eldest, a man of the same calibre as his father. So Joseph was warned again and they went to live in Nazareth where another son of Jerod, Antipas, was ruler. He was not as evil as his brother.
And so ends the story of the Wise Men or magi. What is their contribution in history and their lesson to each of us? I think it could be summed up in one short sentence: They were determined to find the Saviour they did not allow anything—personal inconvenience or political correctness—stop them. It’s worth thinking and praying about!