“For a brief period in the late ’80s—long before the era of Fox News, Glenn Beck, and the 24-hour right-wing demagoguery cycle—there was The Morton Downey, Jr. Show, a Secaucus, N.J.-based talk show that was nationally syndicated after its host’s flamboyantly abrasive style proved to be a ratings magnet. Lit cigarette in hand, Downey would invade the personal space of his guests (among them Al Sharpton, Alan Dershowitz, Gloria Allred, Ron Paul, and assorted feminists, vegans, and other liberal punching bags), hurling insults at them with such force that he often appeared to be deliberately spitting at them. The show’s live studio audience—a moblike entity Downey referred to as “the beast”—ate it up, and for two years, Downey held the title of television’s rabble-rousing populist asshole-in-chief.
Then, as quickly as Downey’s star had risen, it began to fall—in part as a result of an embarrassing hoax in which he claimed to have been the victim of an assault by Nazi skinheads. (The circumstances of his downfall ironically recalled elements of the Tawana Brawley scandal, a racial tinderbox of a rape case in whose tabloid exploitation The Morton Downey, Jr. Show had played a very public and ugly role.) After only two years on the air, Downey’s program was canceled. He would die of lung cancer in 2001 after being a four-pack-a-day smoker for much of his life; his last few appearances on talk shows were as an anti-smoking activist.” -Dana Stevens/ Slate