Talk shows can keep all those politicians

MIKE ROYKO

November 11, 1992|By MIKE ROYKO

Because this was the first full-blown talk-show political campaign, many traditional journalists fear that they have become irrelevant.

For much of the campaign, they were stuck in the cheap seats, scribbling notes while the candidates chatted with Larry King, Arsenio Hall, Phil Donahue, Jay Leno, Rush Limbaugh and other TV and radio stars.

Even the network heavies -- Dan, Sam, David and Professor Will -- frequently found themselves being bypassed. One night, for example, where was President Bush? With Ted or somebody from the McGoofy Group?

No, he was hooked up to the "George Michael Sports Machine," a high-tech, slam-bam, score-a-second sports show hosted by a hyper sports freak. There was the president of the United States, leader of the free world, squeezed between the day's pigskin highlights and auto race crashes.

So now, many newspaper and network drudges are asking themselves and each other: "Is this the end of us? Are we an endangered species? Will politicians snub us in favor of Larry, Phil, Arsenio and all the local disc jockeys and talk show babblers?"

Well, I for one deeply and sincerely hope so. Let the talk shows have them all: presidents, governors, congressmen, mayors, all the way down to sewer commissioners and weed inspectors. Let Larry, Phil, Arsenio and the rest of them overdose on visions of the future, legislative agendum, economic agendum, foreign policy, domestic policy, and babble about the infrastructure, the outfrastructure and the inbetweenfrastructure.

Does anyone really believe that listening to politicians is fun stuff? In earlier times, maybe; before they became processed, packaged and squirted full of additives by their media consultants, polling advisers, position shapers and spin specialists.

There used to be politicians who were lovable rogues, unafraid to express an opinion that was actually their own. Big-city cigar chompers, sly Southern stump jumpers. Cut a deal, cut the cards, but don't cut off the bar service until the last laugh.

But now? Turn on C-SPAN. Go ahead, do it right now. See? I challenge you to stay awake for more than 15 minutes.

I will gladly make a deal with Larry King right now. You interview Sen. Carol Moseley Braun about how she made political history. Let me interview Michelle Pfeiffer about how she makes anything: tea, hot chocolate, whoopee.

Go on, Larry, Phil, Arsenio, sit there and have a lively chat with Al Gore about the plight of the spotted owl, ozone holes, or the snail darter. I will swap you five Al Gore interviews for one wild and crazy conversation with Robin Williams. Or even a bit of smutty talk with Zsa Zsa.

Yes, there was a certain novelty value to all the talk-show campaigning. Never before have we seen a presidential candidate toot a sax for an Arsenio. And it did bring the candidates closer to the voters than they would be if they just sat there being gnawed up by Sam Donaldson and nipped by Professor Will.

But the campaign is over. Arsenio isn't likely to sit there and say: "Well, dude, why don't you tell us all about the progress your transitional team is making? Is everything transitionaling OK?"

And a few months from now, Larry King's phone will ring and his producer will say: "Senator Dole is on the phone. Says he wants to come on and talk about the increase in inheritance taxes."

"Tell him I left for the day. Then call Donald Trump and ask him if he wants to come on to talk about whether this is finally it for him and Marla. Or is it Melba? And see if Melba or Marla wants to come on, too, and scratch eyes."

"Dan Quayle called. Wants to talk about the revitalization of the Republican Party."

"Tell him to try Limbaugh. Then get me the author of that best-selling book: 'Be Good to Your Prostate and Your Prostate Will Be Good To You.'"

As for Bill Clinton, once he's in the White House, we'll see how often he goes on shows that take phone calls from a live audience. It's one thing to say what you plan on doing, it is something else to come up with an answer when a caller says:

"Hey, the company I work for just gave me two weeks' severance and headed for Mexico. Now that you're president, what the hell are you going to do about it?"

"Ah feel yo pain" isn't going to cut it.

No, now that the campaign is over, show biz will return to show biz, and we'll be stuck with Governor Drone, Senator Blah and Secretary Snore.

As Henny Youngman might put it: "Take my candidate -- please!"

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