How not to be humiliated on C-Span? Don't show up


June 23, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

I was very surprised when C-Span called and asked me to go on the air again.

The last time I was on I had humiliated myself and I figured I would never be invited back.

If you think I am another one of Bill Clinton's half-brothers, I'm not, I told the producer.

She said she knew that, but it was summer and summer means picnics and picnics mean potato salad and the guy they had scheduled had food poisoning and could I come on?

So I started studying.

The problem with appearing on C-Span is that the people who watch it expect you to know what you are talking about.

I consider this an unfair burden.

When I write a column and wish to say something, I just type it. Like this:

"Polls show that 47 percent of all those who voted for Bill Clinton did so because he looked like Elvis."

Sure, some people might call the next day and complain that I made it up, but by then it is too late.

When you appear on C-Span, however, all your statements can be challenged instantly.

"Polls did not show that 47 percent of the voters thought Clinton looked like Elvis," a caller from Tucumcari, N.M., will say in a snotty tone of voice. "Forty-seven percent of all voters thought Bill Clinton was Elvis."

The C-Span show I appear on every now and then airs live at 8 a.m. Eastern Time, but there are always callers from California, which means there are people out there with newspapers clippings and World Almanacs open on their laps at 5 a.m. waiting to trip me up.

"Could you please tell me the capital of Suriname?" somebody from Merced, Calif., asked the last time I was on.

Uh, Paramaribo? I said.

"And the chief crops?"

Uh, rice, sugar and fruits?

"And the leading mineral?"

Uh, iron ore?

"Wrong! It's bauxite! And you call yourself a journalist! They shouldn't allow you on the air!"

When I was on C-Span a few months ago, a caller asked if I thought the House would pass H.R. 617 and H.R. 2164.

Uh, jog my memory on those, I said, knowing I was in deep trouble no matter what they were.

"H.R. 617 and H.R. 2164 seek to trade mandatory votes on presidential rescissions for a curtailment of the time allowed the president to submit them," the caller said. "You do know what rescission is, don't you?"

I did not want to admit it, but I did not. I had always assumed that rescission was a misspelling of recession.

As I later learned, it has something to do with a president requesting that Congress not spend allocated money.

I don't know what they call it when Congress bursts out laughing in response, but I am sure they have a fancy name for that, too.

In any case, about three people in the world understand rescission and, unfortunately, all of them watch C-Span.

Ah, yes, I said. Rescission. The rescission vote. Well, I think it will be a real battle.

"Will it pass or fail?" the caller asked.

Uh, fail, I said. Or narrowly pass.

"By what margin?" the caller asked.

Well, that's an excellent question, I said, sweating through my makeup. The vote will probably be, uh, along party lines.

Saying something will happen "along party lines" is always a safe thing to say on C-Span.

The other safe things to say when you don't know the answer is "the devil is in the details" and "a billion here, a billion there and pretty soon we're talking about real money."

I fall back on those a lot.

So when C-Span called me last week and asked me to appear on Monday, I began reading and researching so I wouldn't be humiliated.

So what happens?

I go on the air and all anybody wants to talk about is whether Bill Clinton has a mystery half-brother named Henry Leon Ritzenthaler.

Ritzenthaler says he is the president's half-brother.

The White House isn't saying yes and it isn't saying no.

But I don't know why Bill Clinton is so reluctant to welcome the guy to the family.

After all, this would be the half-brother without a criminal record.

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