The National Press Club, of which I'm a member, recently held a standing-room-only forum on ``Humor, Politics and the Media.'' It was interesting and enjoyable entertainment-though not in the way I had anticipated. It began as a true laugh fest, when master of ceremonies and ``60 Minutes'' anchorman Morley Safer asked political humorists Al Franken and Bill Maher about the opportunities for jokes in this election year. Their answers were hilarious, as long as you don't consider Bob Dole sacrosanct.
``BOB DOLE. . . wants. . . SCRAMBLED EGGS!'' Mr. Franken said, in his patented impersonation of Dole ordering breakfast. ``And BOB DOLE. . . does NOT like. . . his eggs RUNNY!''
``Bob Dole is so old that when he declared victory in California, he declared it for Spain!'' Mr. Maher added helpfully.
Even the press flaks were funny at first. ``Pat Buchanan says there's no room in his campaign for racists and anti-semites,'' said Roger Stone, former press secretary to Dan Quayle. ``Well, of course not! Those positions were filled months ago!''
When press secretaries for various politicians took the floor, however, a touch of asperity crept into the proceedings. It became evident the press flaks' main concern was to cover their bosses' behinds, and their own-a fool's errand when Messrs. Franken and Maher are around.
Tony Blankley, press secretary to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, averred that politicians tell no more lies than the rest of the population. Mr. Maher stood up and made shoveling motions. Mr. Blankley made a half-hearted stab at looking amused, like Roger Ebert trapped at a Pauly Shore film festival.
When Mr. Safer opened the floor for questions, it was hard to say which was more annoying-the sheer dullness of the questions or the rudeness with which they were asked. Journalists jumped up willy-nilly, interrupting the panelists and each other in their zeal to get THEIR questions in.
The questioners didn't sound as if they were having fun. They DID sound as if they suspected the panelists of selling atomic secrets to the Serbs, and wanted to get the goods on them before anyone else in the room did.
So the forum was less funny than fascinating, a privileged glimpse into Washington sociology. For me, above all, it proved three things: Political press secretaries resent political humorists; political humorists resent political press secretaries; and political reporters resent both.
Mr. Moore is the Washington correspondent for TIRE BUSINESS.