Episode 54, with guests Tammy Haddad, Mark Katz and Mary Phillips-Sandy

Tammy Hadded, Mark Katz and Mary Phillips-Sandy are our guests this week.
Show produced by Katherine Caperton. 
Original Air Date: April 28, 2012 on SiriusXM Satellite Radio “POTUS” Channel 124.
Polioptics airs regularly on POTUS on Saturdays at 6:00 am, 12 noon and 6:00 pm.
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Episode 54, where are you?

Okay, so not every week is so weighty in the world of Polioptics. This is one of those occasions. On a week when we heard whispers that Governor Romney may soon do a sketch on Saturday Night Live and President Obama Slow-Jammed the news on Stafford Loan interest rates with Jimmy Fallon as he barnstormed this nation of college towns, this was Seven Days In April in which humor took brief hold of an otherwise serious narrative.


Tammy Haddad

For Washington, D.C., this is Silly Season — the culmination of the Big Three black tie dinners that begins with the Gridiron Club, continues with the Radio & TV Correpondents’ Association dinner and concludes, this weekend, with the White House Correspondents Association dinner.

Yeah, I’m going, sitting at the SiriusXM Satellite Radio Table (Thank you, Tim Farley) at an event that brings back memories of a continuous string of dinners during the Clinton Years when the West Wing and the Family Theater of the White House briefly took on the aura of a comedy show writer’s room.

But this weekend in Washington — on the Twitters they’re using the hashtag #nerdprom — has now become much more than that, in large part due to our first guest on Episode 54, Tammy Haddad. Read a profile of Tammy here.

Back in the Spring of 1993, my first in Washington as a member of the White House Staff, Tammy Haddad, who had surfed a wave of relative Capitol fame as the executive producer of Larry King Live, held her first annual Garden Brunch. The brunch took its august place in the Saturday midday hours preceding the dinner. Then, later in the afternoon, when the 2,500 or so invitees to the WHCA dinner convened on the patio of the Washington Hilton, the evening began its forward march of banquet food and ever more opulent after-parties. The early years of Mike Bloomberg’s party at the Russian Legation will never be forgotten, but for Washington insiders whose energy level is highest during daylight hours and prefer to actually hear the person you’re talking to, Tammy’s Brunch never yielded its status as the most sought-after ticket in town.

On Episode 54, you’ll hear Tammy offer Brunch access to Adam Belmar and me — in fact, you’ll hear her demand our attendance — and, well, with Tammy’s persistence and the force of nature that she is, it’s pretty tough to turn down, especially on live-to-tape radio.

* * *

My memory of Tammy goes back even further, to the final month of Campaign ’92.

Paul Meyer and me in Ocala, Florida, October 1992

My advance pal Paul Meyer and I were assigned to produce a Clinton/Gore site at a stop along the Florida Bus Tour. Our assignment was Ocala, the GOP-dominated heart of Florida horse country. Little Rock wanted us to find a small, indoor venue, something that wouldn’t look embarrassing on national TV when a paltry crowd showed up to greet the Democratic ticket.

But Paul and I, knowing we were in the midst of our final few events of the campaign — perhaps our last campaign ever as advance men — were disinclined to following the edicts of headquarters, not when there was a crowd to raise. So we found and old-fashioned rodeo arena, the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion, and conscripted the leading local Democratic families to help us fill it.

Even better, we conspired with our Secret Service advance team to do something rare in presidential campaign event production: roll the candidate’s busses right into the rodeo arena in the midst of thousands of screaming fans. We used barricades to build an avenue through the crowd just large enough to accommodate the lead busses of the motorcade. When the busses arrived, coming off Interstate 75, we cued he music and started the show.

The bus carrying Governor Clinton, Senator Gore and their wives drove right toward the stage, stopping to form the middle ground of the visual composition. In front was the placard-waiving crowd. In the middle were the Clintons and Gores on stage in clear focus, their bus as the immediate backdrop. And in gauzy relief in the far background another few hundred young Floridians in the Livestock Pavilion’s bunting-festooned bleachers.

The lead bus in the motorcade makes its way into the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion, Ocala, Florida

The Clintons and Gores alighted from their bus and were ushered stage right to the beginning of an elevated walkway that we constructed that would give them a second grand entrance. Once the candidates were in position, we cued the country band and the future president and vice president walked toward the stage, 18 inches higher than the rest of the crowd, as if elevated above a Bruce Springsteen mosh pit to a platform set in the middle of the rodeo arena.

Paul and I will never forget how the local political columnist, Howard Troxler, summarized the event for the St. Petersburg Times in his column, “Bill & Al Show Plays Like A Winner”:

“But it was Ocala that stuck with me the most. That crowd hooted and hollered and jumped like nothing else I’ve seen, and as I sat there, the thought that I had been pushing aside for days finally fought its way out into the open: He’s going to win, isn’t he?  He’s going to win Florida, and he is going to be president.”

Howard Troxler Column
St. Petersburg Times
October 7, 1992

After the event, the real benefit of holding the rally at the Livestock Pavilion kicked in. Tammy Haddad had flown in a day earlier with a production crew from CNN to set up a 90-minute interview for Clinton and Gore with Larry King. Ninety minutes on CNN in a custom-produced remote location was, at the time, pure gold in the calculus of free media that inure to a campaign. And to have Larry bring his entire production to what amounted to a horse stall in the middle of the Livestock Pavilion paddocks was pure Tammy Haddad.

Paul and I watched from the fringe as the Larry King Show, lit spectacularly on a warm fall Florida evening, brought a relaxed and casually-dressed Bill Clinton and Al Gore into hundreds of thousands of living rooms across America. It would have been a shame if the interview happened in a stale classroom at a local high school, which is where the even may have ended up if Paul and I hadn’t pressed for an outdoor rally. In fact, if we weren’t able to sell the charm of the rodeo arena to Tammy, the show may not have happened at all.

* * *

For some on WHCA dinner weekend, life is a lot more strenuous and stressful than socializing. At the White House, the president and his regular speechwriters along, perhaps, with some outside comedy hands and acting coaches, are busy at work, prepping the guy who serves as Commander-in-Chief to do something not entirely natural: to be laugh-out loud funny with 10-15 minutes of schtick in front of 2,500 dinner guests.

Remember the stakes last year: with Donald Trump, who had been hinting at a presidential run of his own in prior weeks, sitting in front of him, President Obama dressed down the host of the Apprentice to point where Trump may have felt like the smallest guy in the room. All this while, across the globe, the President know that SEAL operators were about to take out Osama bin Laden in Abbotobad, Pakistan.

As Mark Katz, our second guest on Episode 54 observes, sometimes Obama’s heart doesn’t always seem to be in it. He doesn’t, according to Katz, own the material. It’s more like humorous stuff his staff wrote for him that the President, sorta, gets a kick out of delivering, reserving a chuckle now and then whenever he’s even moved to laugh at the bits.

Katz knows of what he speaks. As the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Soundbite Institute, Katz has made a career out of his simple approach to using humor as strategy. We worked together on a number of Clinton WHCA dinner speeches, including the legendary one in which the President employed an egg timer to track his progress. Katz documents that effort, and my role in it, in his book, Clinton & Me, still available at Amazon.

In my memory, the best material ever used during a WHCA dinner came in the 2000 affair while Vice President Gore and First Lady Hillary Clinton where both out on the campaign trail, leaving President Clinton “home alone” at the White House. It’s still a classic. Have a watch:


Adam Belmar and I were thrilled to have Mark back on our program to help listeners get a better understanding of what goes on behind the scenes as the President prepares for his night of stand-up. As we’re seeing this week, every time that Barack Obama does anything now that isn’t straight-down-the-line presidential, he’s getting tagged by the Romney machine as a man more known for his celebrity status than his accomplishments.

Obama may prefer to spend his Saturday night at home with Michelle and the girls, watching a movie, and instead has to go out in front of the lights and try to kill it in front of a national audience, and then get tagged for it by his political opponents, no matter how well he does. This is a nasty business, and tonight, the stakes are, in fact, very high, even in the middle of Silly Season.

* * *

Mary Phillips-Sandy

At Comedy Central’s Indecision, it’s always Silly Season, and that’s why we wanted to welcome Mary Phillips-Sandy, editorial producer of Comedy Central’s Indecision, to our microphones to shed light on how Comedy Central plans to cover the campaign down the final stretch.

Today, if you go to www.indecisionforever.com, here are some of the things y0u’ll find:

Mary goes into detail with Adam and me about the process by which Comedy Central goes about pumping new material onto the web (hint: it involves a team of freelance writers that start around 6:00 in the morning, presumably jacked up on Starbucks).

You sometimes wonder where they get comedy writers for this type of work. Stephen Colbert, as we know, is the youngest of 11 children from Charleston, South Carolina. Jon Stewart was born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz in New York City. Mary Phillips-Sandy, it turns out, is the pride of Waterville, Maine and, given my many connections to the Pine Tree State, that makes her tops in my book. Not since Tim Sample has someone been able to find so much humor in a people with such long faces.

Mary has a serious streak, too, exemplified in her long-form journalism that often focuses on her home state. I found particularly poignant her piece in the Awl about Maine’s dying paper industry and the fate of two mills in Millinocket that were once the flagship operations of the Great Northern Paper Company.

The towns and rivers around Millinocket and the vast expanse of Aroostook County are places well worth the visit, but be prepared to step into a time warp. My seven-year-old son, Toby, and I are prepping for our next trip by watching marathon sessions of North Woods Law on Animal Planet On Demand. He is now convinced he wants to become a game warden. He’d better dress warmly.


See you next week for another episode of Polioptics.



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