So who the hell is Benji Bronk?
He’s the heckler who disrupted Anthony Weiner’s press conference yesterday afternoon.
As the New York congressman intoned his prepared text, apologizing for texting salacious messages and photos to constituents and fans, taking responsibility for his actions, apologizing to his wife Huma Abedin, apologizing to the staff and supporters he betrayed, and finally resigning, Bronk shouted amidst the scrum of whirring cameras and flashing lights.
“How big is your penis!? Seven inches?! ”
Bronk is a writer for The Howard Stern Show. Fans of the show—like me—know he is 43, though he lied and concealed his age for many months until Howard Stern News reporter Steve Langford finally dug out the truth. Bronk is Jewish, from the South, perpetually horny, morose about his career, struggling to move up a rung. He carries a chip on his shoulder the size of a Walmart. On a show that elevates every participant, even every intern, to supporting character status, Bronk’s persona is that of an attention-starved, off-kilter sexually hyperactive man-child
Howard credits Bronk with being a good writer, if a very strange man. His finest moment may not have been Weinergate, but several months ago when he came across the comedian Tracy Morgan on a Manhattan street. Bronk started helping Morgan, acting like he was part of Morgan’s entourage. When Morgan asked, “Who are you?” Bronk responded, “I am part of your life.” It was creepy and brilliant and inspired—even Morgan later came on the show and said so.
Story continues after the jump.
Video courtesy of ABC News.
But why would Bronk disrupt what is supposed to be a solemn moment in the life of an American politician?
For years, one of the hardest parts of the Stern Show for me to appreciate was the faux journalism. Howard sends staffers into the world posing as reporters—people like Stuttering John, Gary Garver, Benjy Bronk. They identify themselves as reporters either from the stations Howard has worked for, or from Sirius Satellite Radio. They get access to newsmakers and celebrities. Then they ask about penis size. Or if someone ever said the N word. I remember cringing when Stuttering John asked Water Chronkite if he ever peed in the shower. I had to actually turn the radio off when he asked Dustin Hoffman if he ever farted in the bathtub.
I cringe, but inevitably I find myself smiling. It’s awful. It mocks journalism. And it’s funny.
For Stern, the ambush interviews serve two purposes. They provide content for the show. The reactions of the interviewees are the radio equivalent of those embarrassing Enquirer photos. Sometimes the Stern staffers are forcibly removed or shouted down. That’s good radio too.
They also give the show free publicity. It’s a really cheap way of branding the Stern show using other people’s cameras. Last night Bronk’s name and face were all over TV news. MSNBC’s Lawrence O ‘Donnell did a whole segment just on the disruption. Bronk’s face—round, sweaty, half-covered in a ski-cap—filled the corner of the screen.
But beyond those immediate functions, Stern’s use of ambush reporters does something else: it punctures the pomposity that passes as importance in our over-inflated political and celebrity culture.
Really, how seriously should we take a press conference featuring a congressman who texts his naked, challah-looking penis to admirers? How seriously should we take a press corp that sends 40 cameras and reporters to cover Weinergate, while news stories from Africa to Alabama go unreported? If the media wants to fiddle while America burns, Howard Stern will be there to demonstrate just how foolish they are. Sure Bronk’s questions are rude and silly, but how important is this story that it should suck all the coverage and resources away from serious stories about the soldiers dying in Afghanistan, the Medicare debacle, et al? Bronk is at least paid to be funny. He’s doing his job: is MSNBC? Fox? NBC?
In other words, sure Bronk is making a mockery of the news media. But can you really make a mockery of a mockery?
For more on Howard’s Stern’s crucial role in American culture, click here.