By Jared Chausow
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Actually, the theme song was about the only thing that didn't change on WFAN's drive time gabfest last week. But perhaps because it involved winners, losers, and a questionable scoring decision, the normally apolitical Mike Francesa and Chris Russo threw themselves into the Gore-Bush election controversy with a gusto normally reserved for a big trade or a player flunking a drug test.
On Wednesday, the special guest wasn't Steve Phillips or Jeff Van Gundy but Professor Fred Greenstein of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs. The hosts quizzed Greenstein about the historical antecedents of the electoral college, and stood rapt as he recounted Benjamin Harrison's stunning upset victory over Grover Cleveland. Later they cut away to Al Gore's press conference and stayed with Warren Christopher's briefing longer than the networks.
And although the subject matter changed, the formula stayed the same. For instance, the hosts sparred a little when it came time to talk butterfly ballots.
"If you punched it, would you punch it wrong?" asked Mike rhetorically.
"I probably would," laughed Russo, while admitting that Mets announcer Bob "That's Why Pencils Have Erasers" Murphy probably got it right.
Russo, for his part, focused on Gore's state of mind as if he were analyzing a Barry Bonds playoff slump. Wondered the Dog: "Is he going to be crushed? This guy's life is this election . . . his inner core."
And when it was time to go to the phones, it was again business as usual. When Joe from Staten Island (or was it Stan from Yonkers?) complained about staying on hold for an hour and a half, and then launched into a wholly incomprehensible screed"But it's da people's votes!"Mike shut him down as thoroughly as if he had suggested trading Timo Perez and Armando Benitez for Nomar Garciaparra: "You're missing the whole point!"
On the other hand, this format made for analysis that was refreshingly uninhibited. When one caller cited the Chicagoland monkey business during the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election, Russo seized on the irony immediately: "It's weird that Daley is Gore's guy, and his old man's . . ."
"He was notorious," interrupted Mike, "for running elections the way he wanted to run 'em." And when someone cited Nixon refusal to contest the Illinois vote, the ever cynical Francesa posited an alternate theory: "Gary, there's a lot of people who felt that Nixon didn't blow the whistle on Cook County and Mayor Daley because in southern Illinois he was doing the same thing." This is not the kind of analysis you get from R.W. Apple in The New York Times.
In the end, this presidential election, like everything else on 660 AM between one o'clock and 6:30 p.m., could be reduced to moral victories.
"Gore's so hokey, it's nauseating sometimes, the way he tries to set up a line, or set up a story. It's terrible," said Bush-supporter Francesa. "But I gained a lot of respect for him because he worked his rear end off last week."
"Even the staunchest Republican who hates Democrats would have to say that if Gore bows out of this gracefully, he did one heckuva job," countered the Dog.
"Tremendous," agreed Mike.