updated 3/25/2004 11:43:25 AM ET 2004-03-25T16:43:25

Guests: Craig Silverman, Larry Pozner, Karen Russell, Charles Cross, Mark Katz, Judy Gold

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER:  DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.

Courtroom drama.  Kobe Bryant and his accuser faced each other in court today for the first time since their encounter last summer when she says he raped her.  And now her sexual history may be admissible. 

Remembering Kurt Cobain.  He personified a musical revolution and then, his suicide made him a rock legend.  Now, 10 years later, a look back at the legacy of a troubled talent and how it‘s affected his widow, Courtney Love.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Courtney - Courtney, what‘s happened?

ANNOUNCER:  Under fire.  George Bush, feeling the heat from 9/11 and the war in Iraq.  No one ever told him this job would be easy. 

But tonight the president gets to have a little fun and take his shots at the press for one evening.  Live from the Radio and Television Correspondents‘ Dinner, starring George W. Bush tonight. 

Substituting tonight from Studio 3-K in Rockefeller Center, Dan Abrams. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Hi, everyone. 

Kobe Bryant and the 19-year-old woman accusing him of rape sat face-to-face today for the first time since they met last June. 

The alleged victim entered the Colorado courthouse through a fire exit, then went straight to the courtroom for a closed-door hearing.  She testified for more than three hours and was expected to be questioned about her sex life.

Now, focusing primarily on the 72-hour period surrounding her encounter with Bryant, but there were no specific rules as to time frame. 

The defense team says her testimony could prove her injuries were not caused by Bryant, but perhaps by another sexual partner. 

Colorado‘s rape shield law usually prevents defense attorneys from bringing up information about an alleged victim‘s sex life.  But because there‘s an issue as to the cause of the injuries, the judge decided to allow the testimony.  He will decide later whether a jury will ever hear this at trial. 

Now, some say it‘s still unfair. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NORM EARLY, NBC NEWS LEGAL ANALYST:  If a man had sex four times in four days with four different women, he would be considered a stud.  If a woman did the same thing, she would be considered quite the opposite.  And somehow that has a bearing on how people perceive a victim in a rape case. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  There will be more closed-door hearings tomorrow to discuss a request by Bryant‘s attorneys to throw out some evidence, including a big one: Kobe Bryant‘s recorded statement to investigators and a T-shirt stained with the alleged victim‘s blood. 

And no trial date has been set.  If convicted, Bryant could face four years to life or, you know, really there‘s no sense yet as to how much time he could face.  But he faces a whole lot of time if he‘s convicted. 

For more on the Bryant case, we‘re joined by former prosecutor Craig Silverman.  He spent the day inside the Eagle County courthouse.  We also have with us defense attorneys Larry Pozner and Karen Russell. 

All right.  Good to see all of you. 

Craig, let me start with you with regard to today‘s events inside the courthouse.  Lay out for us in layperson‘s terms—most people are going to say there‘s a rape shield law.  Rape shield law intended to prevent attorneys from asking even an alleged victim about her sexual past, and yet, that‘s exactly what they get to do here. 

CRAIG SILVERMAN, FORMER PROSECUTOR:  Well, it‘s not so much a rape shield—I know it‘s called that—as it is a rape gate.  There are certain words that a defendant can put before the court which will cause him to open the gate.  The judge is the gatekeeper. 

And if you boil it down, every state‘s rape shield statute says the same thing.  “Hey, judge, be very careful before you let in this kind of evidence.  Make very sure it‘s really relevant to a critical issue in the case.  Do not allow mere character assassination.” 

And those are the issues being weighed by the judge in the courthouse behind me over these next two days. 

ABRAMS:  But Karen, isn‘t there something that says also the alleged victim is protected from having to come into court and discuss in front of everybody who she‘s had sex with, how many times, did it hurt, how big was he?  I mean, these are kinds of questions...

KAREN RUSSELL, DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  First of all, it‘s not in front of everyone.  It‘s behind closed doors.  And so...

ABRAMS:  In front of all the lawyers, in front of Kobe Bryant, in front of the defense lawyers. 

RUSSELL:  And you know, and you‘re going to—Put your rapist behind bars, you have to stand up and confront him.  And Kobe Bryant has a constitutionally protected right to confront his accuser. 

So I think that these are very narrow, narrow issues.  We don‘t know what the defense has put in on their offers of proof.  But it‘s not like this giant fishing expedition.  It‘s very narrow questioning. 

ABRAMS:  But Larry, why didn‘t the judge restrict the amount of time that they‘d be able to talk about it? 

I mean, all right, see, you get the point that they want to ask about 48 hours before it happened.  They want to ask about the period between the time it happened and the time she went to get a rape test. 

But it sounds like the judge is saying, “Well, I‘m not going to necessarily restrict them to just that period.” 

LARRY POZNER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Don‘t think the judge is restricting the amount of time the defense had to question her, and the judge is not restricting the amount of time in her life.  They can go back to it.  But the judge is restricting the area. 

For instance, Dan, the critical issue right now is, could her injuries have been caused by consensual intercourse with someone else?  If she had intercourse a year ago or two years ago and suffered the same kind of bleeding through consensual intercourse, that would be relevant in this trial. 

So it‘s not wide open, ask her anything you want about any time you want.  It‘s ask her only questions that go to issues I have already OK‘d you to ask about. 

ABRAMS:  But see, Larry, if you can ask those sorts of questions, doesn‘t the rape shield law just mean nothing?

POZNER:  No.  The rape shield law means—I think what both of your guests have said.  It says to a judge, first demand the defense tell you in advance what it has.  No fishing expeditions. 

The defense had to file an affidavit, meaning a statement under oath saying, “Judge, we already have facts a, b and c, and they‘re relevant for this particular reason.” 

Then the judge says, “You know, I think that could be relevant.  I will allow you to screen those questions with me.” 

In essence what the judge is doing is he‘s pre-hearing part of the case.  And he‘s saying, “I will allow the following questions to happen in open court, and I‘m going to take the following questions off the table.” 

This protects the woman, but also protects the rights of the defendant. 

ABRAMS:  Craig, how ugly is it getting back there, do you think, in this closed-door hearing?

SILVERMAN:  Well, I think it could get very X-rated.  After all, she will not only be questioned about sex acts.  She‘s going to be asked to name the specific partners, describe the foreplay, describe the duration, describe the sexual position. 

These are all things that a normal person would not talk about in front of strangers, let alone under oath. 

ABRAMS:  And that‘s what gets me about this.  I understand, you know, we‘ve got three lawyers who are all very smart making arguments, Karen, as to why certain questions can and can‘t be asked. 

But if you look at it in sort of the macro picture for a minute, people are going to say, “Wait a second.  There‘s a rape shield law in Colorado, and yet, they get to ask this woman questions like Craig was just talking about, about positions and which guy and when and this and that.” 

I mean, it really does feel like the rape shield law doesn‘t mean a whole lot. 

RUSSELL:  I think it means a lot.  It‘s just not happening in open court.  And Kobe Bryant, like you said could go to jail for the rest of his life.  And so it‘s really important that we know that he is responsible for these injuries, if they‘re going to send him up. 

And so she‘s a little discomfort?  I mean, it‘s not that you have a constitutional protection against discomfort and embarrassment.  And so it‘s about the Constitution. 

ABRAMS:  But Craig, is there anything disturbing to you about sort of, you know, people always say, what message does this send? 

And the reason that the rape shield law was enacted in the first place was to allow women to feel comfortable to come forward.  And they‘re not going to be able to sort of delve into your sexual history. 

And yet it seems like the sort of arguments that they‘re making here, “Oh, we want to see whether she bled with other people, for example.”  That‘s the sort of argument I would think you could make in almost any case. 

SILVERMAN:  Well, not really, Dan.  I do think there is some legitimate fear that true rape victims will not come forward, fearing that they will be exposed to this kind of questioning.  In reality, very few victims would ever be as vulnerable to these kinds of questions as this young lady is. 

It‘s in large part due to the fact she went to the hospital with semen-stained underwear, semen that did not belong to Kobe Bryant.  That‘s part of what has triggered this whole inquiry. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, but...

RUSSELL:  Dan, I also think that women will be empowered by this, because I think future victims will now know that they need to report the crime immediately, to preserve evidence, and like Craig said, not to show up for the rape exam with someone else‘s semen in their shorts. 

ABRAMS:  Well, I don‘t know if that‘s going to empower them.  But I mean, it made sort of...

RUSSELL:  Well, they understand the rules of engagement.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  OK.  I mean, look, I understand.

POZNER:  Dan, the complaint seems to be that the defense has good facts.  That‘s not the defense fault.  The defense didn‘t create it, and they didn‘t go fishing for it.  They said to the judge, “We already have these facts.  Let us tell them to a jury.” 

Now if they already have these facts, that means that the prosecution case is in deep trouble, and all the defense is doing is exploring that, is showing that prospectively to a jury. 

ABRAMS:  See, what I think, and I‘ve said this before, is you know, I think the prosecution is going to have a really hard time in this case.  I really do. 

But it‘s not because of all the stuff that she did before, and it‘s not because of the injuries were caused by some other man.  It‘s because in the end they‘re not going to be able to demonstrate that the sexual act that occurred in that room wasn‘t necessarily consensual. 

And I think that sort of getting into all the history of the—anyway, we‘ve got—Very quickly.  Craig, another issue.  Kobe Bryant trying to keep out his taped statement to the authorities.  I think the defense is going to have a hard time keeping that out.  Do you agree?

SILVERMAN:  I agree with you.  In open court we heard the testimony of Detective Loya, who went up to the parking lot of Cordillera and said, “You are not under arrest; you are free to go.”  If the judge buys that, then he didn‘t need to Mirandize him, and all of his statements are coming in. 

RUSSELL:  Yes, but that‘s not on tape.  That‘s the critical point of that is not on tape.  The rest of the stuff is on tape.  So I find it very suspicious that the one thing that we really need to hear on tape is not on tape. 

And this—The law enforcement, they went out and they bought the racist T-shirts.  The D.A. had lied about having T-shirts.  The D.A.  wouldn‘t turn over evidence. 

ABRAMS:  That‘s a sideshow.  I mean...

RUSSELL:  You have to hold—you should hold them responsible. 

ABRAMS:  You want to hold them responsible.  Therefore, because they did a dumb, dumb thing by ordering T-shirts, therefore, this woman‘s case should be basically dismissed?

RUSSELL:  That‘s why we have...

POZNER:  The case won‘t be affected.  But it does tell us the state of mind of the cops. 

What I hear people saying here is, isn‘t it suspicious, if you know the tape is your key evidence in the case, that you only turned it on after you told him he was free to leave?  Why wouldn‘t you put that on tape?

But I agree with Craig; I think it‘s a long shot for the defense to win this.  Because in general, the benefit of the doubt seems to go to police officers when they say, “Well, I really told him that.” 

ABRAMS:  Very quickly, Craig, any chance that any of the testimony that‘s happening behind closed doors of the alleged victim will be made public?

SILVERMAN:  Well, yes.  If we have a trial she can be impeached with any prior testimony.  You can bet it will be transcribed.  The lawyers will have that transcript.  And if she says something different, we‘ll hear about it. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Craig Silverman, Larry Pozner and Karen Russell. 

Karen, good to finally meet you in person. 

RUSSELL:  Nice to meet you in person. 

ABRAMS:  Thanks. 

ANNOUNCER:  Coming up, live from Washington.  President Bush takes the stage and gets to have a little fun with the press. 

But next: her husband was a grunge rock icon.  Now 10 years after Kurt Cobain‘s suicide, fans are wondering what‘s up with Courtney Love?

DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT is coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s been 10 years, 10 years since singer Kurt Cobain took his own life. 

His band Nirvana turned out platinum-selling records that redefined the sound of the ‘90s, creating a vibe and attitude that became an anthem for Generation X. 

Cobain enjoyed enormous mainstream acceptance, wealth and status as a rock icon.  But behind the scenes, he struggled with depression and drug addiction.  He attempted suicide a number of times and finally succeeded in April of 1994. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM BROKAW, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS” ANCHOR:  Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of the enormously popular rock band Nirvana, is dead.  Apparently, it was a suicide at the age of 27. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Cobain shot himself in a garage apartment adjacent to the home he shared with his wife, Courtney Love, and their daughter. 

Cobain‘s death cut short a great musical career.  And he remains an icon and a muse for a generation of rock fans. 

In writing his “New York Times” best-selling biography of Cobain, entitled “Heavier Than Heaven,” author Charles Cross interviewed hundreds of friends and family members of Kurt Cobain, including his widow, Courtney Love, a rock star in her own right, who‘s also had a serious acting career and a lot of serious problems. 

As of late, she appears to be struggling, landing headlines for her strange behavior and problems with the law. 

Charles Cross joins us now from where it all began and ended for Kurt Cobain, in Seattle, Washington. 

Thanks very much for coming on the program. 

CHARLES CROSS, AUTHOR, “HEAVIER THAN HEAVEN”:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So 10 years later.  It really is amazing that it was 10 years ago. 

For those people who are not that familiar with why he did it, remind us of what your research indicated as to why Kurt Cobain took his own life. 

CROSS:  Well, of course, we‘ll never know that answer definitively, but he had struggled with drug addiction; he had struggled with depression.  He had talked about suicide as young as at 15 years old. 

And he had suicide and depression in his family.  Kurt even joked as a teenager that he suicide genes.  So it was actually more surprising to the people that knew him was that he actually lived as long as he did. 

ABRAMS:  And you say in your book that his friends weren‘t just surprised about his success, but about his suicide, as well.  I mean, tell me about that. 

CROSS:  Well, one of the most remarkable things was one of Kurt‘s junior high school friends told me that before Kurt even picked a guitar up he was talking about committing suicide. 

And I got the chance to read his journals, which were just remarkable.  And some of the things he wrote as a teenager, he was thinking about suicide at that point in his life.  And this was before music ever even came into his world. 

So clearly, he was predisposed to suicide.  And I think you add drug addiction, which was a serious problem for Kurt for the last three years of his life, and you get a very potent mix that is dangerous. 

ABRAMS:  Did his wife have anything to do with this?  I mean, did she make him miserable?  Was he unhappy?

CROSS:  Well, you know, one of the more remarkable things about researching Kurt‘s history with Courtney was that their relationship began as a very almost romantic relationship. 

I mean, she had had drug problems.  There‘s no doubt about that.  And their relationship was one where drugs played a role.  But she actually was the more sober one in their relationship.  I know that may be hard for people to believe...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

CROSS:  ... considering some of her recent reactions, but Kurt‘s drug problems were far more severe than Courtney‘s.  And there was a significant time during their marriage in 1993 when she was the sober one and was attempting to get clean and Kurt just couldn‘t get any better. 

So the sad story was drugs were something that Kurt just simply could not kick.  And they in some ways became his great weight to bear. 

ABRAMS:  Before I ask you more about Courtney Love, did he like the fame and fortune?  You know, you always hear these musicians talk about wanting to keep true to the music and that they—many of them say, I don‘t like all the attention I get.  I wish I could just do the music. 

Did he like the fame and fortune?

CROSS:  Well, he said he didn‘t like it, but clearly he could have retired or quit. 

And one of the funny things was that Kurt would complain about being on TV, yet he‘d agree to go on TV.  I mean, he wasn‘t forced to make these choices. 

And he would complain when his videos weren‘t played enough on MTV.  So fortune and fame almost became kind of a drug themselves.  Once he got a taste of it, he simply couldn‘t walk away from it. 

ABRAMS:  Do you think Courtney Love would be as out of control as she is today, had her husband not committed suicide?

CROSS:  No.  I think that suicide‘s tragedy is that it leaves a number of victims, not just the person that dies, but the families of those suicide victims, you know, suffer tremendously. 

And certainly around the anniversary of deaths is a very difficult time for friends and family of the person that‘s deceased.  And you know, this 10-year anniversary and the increased media attention, all of Kurt‘s friends that I know—I mean, it‘s a very disturbing time.  It‘s something just to simply be endured.

It‘s hard to celebrate the suicide of somebody.  You know, it‘s not something you know quite what to make of it.  And it‘s a tragic thing that just brings up a lot of feelings for a lot of people in Seattle. 

ABRAMS:  What to make of Courtney Love?  I mean, you know, we saw this David Letterman, you know, the antics on David Letterman recently, which really was not the first time.  We‘ve seen her behave this way, literally lifting up her shirt to Letterman.  We have the video, if we can put that up for a moment.  There it is. 

You know, just behaving in this bizarre way.  How do you explain it?

CROSS:  Well, I certainly can‘t explain it. 

ABRAMS:  I don‘t mean—I don‘t mean for you to defend it. 

CROSS:  Right.

ABRAMS:  But how does one explain it in terms of what you know about her as to what she‘s doing?  Is it just—Is it just drugs?

CROSS:  Well, you know, I think that she‘s also got a new record out.  And one of the sad things about American media is that controversy gets people attention.  And whether it‘s Janet Jackson or Courtney Love, both of those two people have gotten an incredible amount of attention recently for showing their breasts. 

ABRAMS:  That doesn‘t necessarily mean that that‘s going to translate into more sales for their albums. 

CROSS:  It doesn‘t.  But it certainly has gotten a lot of attention and people talking.  She does have a new record out.  And you know, I can‘t explain exactly what her behavior was. 

I think it is fair to say, though, that Courtney has always been an outrageous person.  In some reason—That was one reason Kurt Cobain was attracted to her.  I mean, the kind of behavior she did on Letterman was the kind of stuff they did when she and him were married.  And they both were like that.  They‘re rock stars.  They‘re not gardeners or known for their subtleties, you know?

ABRAMS:  Did you talk to her in writing your book?

CROSS:  Yes.  Extensively. 

ABRAMS:  And?

CROSS:  Well, obviously, Kurt‘s suicide was something that left her with a lot of unanswered questions.  At some point as a biographer, I ended up knowing a lot about Kurt‘s background that she didn‘t know. 

And I think some of the revelations that I came up with were quite a surprise to her.  I don‘t even think she knew how troubled Kurt had been as a teenager and about some of the difficulties he had growing up.  And those things, I think, were something he ultimately couldn‘t overcome, even with fame and fortune. 

ABRAMS:  Final question.  If Kurt Cobain were alive today, what do you think he‘d be doing?

CROSS:  I actually think he would have been a painter.  Believe it or not, he became very artistic at some point during his career. 

ABRAMS:  Was he good?

CROSS:  He was quite good, I think.  And he talked about quitting the music industry and becoming, you know, an artist.  And I‘ve seen his work.  Almost none of it has been shown to the public, and I think it‘s quite remarkable. 

ABRAMS:  Charles Cross, thanks a lot for taking the time. 

CROSS:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, it‘s the president‘s chance to turn the tables on the press, to show his sense of humor and perhaps get in a few zingers.  This is a live—we‘ve got a live shot.  Do we?  Is that a live picture? 

Live picture from the annual Radio and TV Correspondents‘ Dinner in Washington, D.C., where you see there George W. Bush himself.  He is the keynote speaker tonight. 

And we‘ll bring you that address live when we come back.  Our panel of comedy writers will do a little pre-game.  Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

ABRAMS:  It has been a pretty tough and serious year for the Bush administration.  But there‘s got to be a laugh in there somewhere. 

Tonight it‘s the president‘s annual chance to poke a little fun at the press, Washington events, and the news, maybe at himself at the Radio and Television Correspondents‘ Dinner in Washington. 

The pressure is on for the president to be funny.  That‘s the tradition. 

That‘s actually a live picture.  And no doubt he and the White House joke writers have been working on this speech for awhile. 

The president arrived at the Washington Hilton Hotel a short time ago.  And this is Joe Johns, looking at a live picture of the dinner where the president will take the stage in a few minutes.  And he‘s going to, you know, make some funnies. 

We‘ll take you there live when the president starts speaking. 

So while usually we talk to political analysts before a presidential address, since this is going to be lighter, we invited some comedians in for a preview. 

Comedian Judy Gold, the host of HBO‘s “At the Multiplex with Judy Gold,” political impressionist Jim Morris; and former joke writer for President Clinton and the author of “Clinton and Me,” Mark Katz.  Thanks to all of you for coming. 

JUDY GOLD, COMEDIAN:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Jim, let me start with you.  You also do impressions to a certain degree.  So let me let you start.  If the president is beginning his address, how might he begin it?

JIM MORRIS, POLITICAL IMPRESSIONIST:  I appreciate it.  God bless America.  I‘m going to be a uniter, not a divider.  I am a uniter.  I‘m a joker.  I‘m a smoker.  Midnight toker.  God bless America.

I don‘t know how broad he‘s going to go with his humor tonight.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

MORRIS:  We‘ll just have to wait and see.

ABRAMS:  Well, I think you actually were thinking specifically about some of the jokes that he might—you write it for him, right? 

First of all, let me ask you a broad question.  You don‘t want to get

·         you have to be very careful when you‘re writing for a president that you want to be funny, yet not offend anyone.  And I would assume that‘s got to be kind of tough. 

MARK KATZ, AUTHOR, “CLINTON & ME”:  President Bush has got a very fine needle to thread, I should start by saying.  He‘s got to tell jokes that are funny enough to make the cynical White House press corps laugh, but not so enough as to endanger the life of his vice president.  So it‘s a very narrow margin he‘s got to hit. 

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAMS:  If you were writing some of these jokes, what are the topics you want to hit? 

KATZ:  Someone asked me recently if I would write—I wrote for President Clinton over the course of his two terms.  Someone asked me if I would write jokes for President Bush.  And the answer I told them was, the Republican National Committee does have enough money to hire me to write jokes for him, but they wouldn‘t have a lot left over. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Are there any conservatives comedians? 

JUDY GOLD, COMEDIAN:  There are. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I remember when we were talking about doing this panel today, I said let‘s make sure that we don‘t—because, three comedians, I‘m taking, all right they are all going to be Bush bashers, because that‘s all I seem to hear.  Am I wrong? 

GOLD:  You‘re wrong. 

KATZ:  Well, there is one less.  Bob Hope is no longer with us. 

ABRAMS:  Right. 

KATZ:  So that‘s one less.

GOLD:  No, there are plenty of comics, mostly male, I have to say, and white, that are very conservative and very pro-war. 

ABRAMS:  And funny. 

GOLD:  And funny.  I don‘t agree with them.

(CROSSTALK)

MORRIS:  I don‘t think you guys put me in the nook here because I‘m conservative.  I‘m not conservative.  I am an equal opportunity offender, as I have heard other comedians say. 

ABRAMS:  Judy, let‘s assume you‘re helping a president, this president, write this particular speech.  What are you going to do? 

GOLD:  Well, I think we are in such a weird situation here because there‘s so much going on and a lot of it is not funny.  So..

ABRAMS:  You can‘t make bin Laden jokes, can you? 

GOLD:  You can‘t make bin Laden jokes.  I don‘t think he can make gay marriage jokes.  You can‘t make war jokes, but he can attack his running mate. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  And he can make fun of the press, the media. 

(CROSSTALK)

KATZ:  But in a time of war, the question is, can you put people in laugh‘s way?  And the answer is, yes, if you know what you‘re doing. 

ABRAMS:  How? 

KATZ:  By picking the right topics.  You can never go wrong by making fun of yourself, quite honestly.  And President Bush would be wise to kind of do self-directed humor before he starts making fun of other people, which really is where he...

GOLD:  Well, it‘s what every comic really does. 

KATZ:  That‘s right. 

GOLD:  They direct the humor at themselves, so that the audience knows, hey, I am going to make fun of myself as well as you.  So don‘t think that I take myself seriously.

KATZ:  But after that, once you‘ve been self-deprecating, I think you have acquired the right to be self-deprecating on behalf of others. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  What is the best line you ever wrote for President Clinton? 

KATZ:  Best line.  He did very well—well, he was great at this for starters.  So he was an enormously talented man. 

But it was his first White House correspondents dinner in 1993 where he came out.  Remember, he had bumpy first 100 days in office, between gays in the military and the haircut on the LAX tarmac.  He came out that night and said, I don‘t think I‘m doing that bad.  After his first 100 days in office, William Henry Harrison had already been dead for 68 days. 

(LAUGHTER)

KATZ:  I had a stimulus package that lived longer than that.

ABRAMS:  That‘s a good sort of history.

(CROSSTALK)

MORRIS:  I just have to say—can I get a word in there? 

ABRAMS:  Go ahead.

MORRIS:  Whatever you think of me—and I didn‘t need Mark Katz to write this joke for me.  This is not a joke.  This is the truth.  Whatever you think of me, I kept every promise I intended to keep. 

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAMS:  Have you written for any politicians? 

GOLD:  No, no politicians.

ABRAMS:  Would you ever do it?  Would you want to do it?

GOLD:  Yes, I would.  I would do it.  I would do it.  I would love to do something, because I feel very passionate about politics.  I would love to punch up someone‘s speech or—yes, I definitely would love to do that.  I‘ve only written...

KATZ:  I was in on conference calls this afternoon.  We could have patched you in. 

GOLD:  See. 

KATZ:  I need your number before we go.

(CROSSTALK)

GOLD:  Let me write that down for you.

ABRAMS:  And, really, it‘s one of these things that people don‘t think about that often, but, for politicians, it‘s really important to have humor in your speeches. 

KATZ:  Sure.

ABRAMS:  Because they always want to start with a joke or end with a joke, even if it‘s not a sort of one-liner joke, something light. 

KATZ:  Well, people are naturally funny.  Most people are. 

ABRAMS:  Really? 

KATZ:  And politicians are a lot

(CROSSTALK)

GOLD:  I don‘t think people are naturally funny. 

ABRAMS:  Most people are not funny.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Most of the people you hang out with actually are funny. 

(CROSSTALK)

GOLD:  I think people love funny people.

KATZ:  Well, I think people are funny.  And I think politicians are a lot like people in many significant ways. 

ABRAMS:  And from what I understand, Jim, the president actually from talking to people who have been on the campaign with him, who spend time with him covering the White House, say he can actually be a very funny guy.  It seems to me, I think it was at the White House correspondents dinner that I saw him give a speech where he was actually very funny. 

MORRIS:  He still strikes me as the kind of guy that would come up to me and say, pull my finger. 

(LAUGHTER)

MORRIS:  He‘s got the frat boy thing going for him.

But, now, wait a second.  I just have to say here, he—I‘d like to tell the people behind me to get back to work here.  But if you‘re going to help somebody with a speech, could you help me with my speech, Judy Gold?  I think that Karl Rove in the White House would rather relish the opportunity to run against Mr. Heinz, the ketchup concubine who gives 57 varieties of an answer to a simple question. 

ABRAMS:  We‘re coming back with our panel, as we wait for President Bush to speak at the Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner.  It‘s supposed to be funny. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Tonight, it‘s the president‘s turn to poke fun at the TV and radio reporters who cover him.  We‘ll bring you his one-liners live coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  You are looking at a live picture of the Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner in Washington.  We‘re waiting for President Bush to take the stage. 

But this is supposed to be a light event, as we‘re waiting for the president, who is actually going to make a lot of jokes.  That was my former colleague David Bloom‘s wife who is speaking there.  And David is being honored at this event, rightly so.  And David was a good friend and a great journalist.  And his wife has been very brave in the aftermath since David died while covering the war in Iraq. 

But when the president does take the stage, he is going to be talking on the lighter side.  He is going to be telling jokes.  He is going to be making fun of the press.  He is going to be taking a moment away from some of the serious events that this country is facing. 

And so we are talking to a panel of comedians and people who write jokes for a living for a little bit of presidential pregame, comedian Judy Gold, political impressionist Jim Morris, and former joke writer for President Clinton and the author of “Clinton & Me,” Mark Katz. 

Jim, impressionist, what does that mean?  Do you tell jokes?  What does that mean?  Come on. 

MORRIS:  What does it mean? 

It just means that by becoming the character that we all—it‘s like an editorial cartoonist who exaggerates certain features and still embodies the essence of the character.  And if I can get to you forget that I am doing an impression after a few minutes, then you‘ll go with me and it will be as if I am the person saying the self-implicating—that‘s where the humor comes from, is that you wouldn‘t ordinarily expect the self-deprecating humor to come out of the mouth of the person I‘m doing, but... 

ABRAMS:  How long does it take to you get down the President Bush—it must have been the campaign.  You must have been practicing a Gore.  How long does it take you from the time someone‘s—you have got to start really practicing that role, because you do a great impression of President Bush.  You do a great one of President Clinton.  How long does it take you to get that down? 

MORRIS:  Well, it really takes many, many months of watching coverage and storing away in my memory bank.  And then as the candidates get fewer and fewer, I am able to devote more resources.  And with this front-loaded system, having John Kerry emerge so early...

ABRAMS:  You got a Kerry imitation ready? 

MORRIS:  I am working on it.  I don‘t do any until I‘m ready, but I‘m trying to. 

(LAUGHTER)

MORRIS:  I‘m trying to—he‘s got a goofy—it‘s not ready, OK? 

ABRAMS:  All right. 

MORRIS:  But, yes, about this time is when I really start kicking into gear.  And I remember Dukakis, though, gave me a lot of trouble.  I try to do everybody who I need to do by the time of the conventions.  And Dukakis I didn‘t get until the eve of ‘88 conventions.

KATZ:  You should have tried working on his campaign, as I did. 

(LAUGHTER)

GOLD:  That worked out well.

ABRAMS:  Mark, how does a president generally do at these kinds of dinners? 

KATZ:  You know, as in all things, President Bush benefits greatly from reduced expectations.  At his last humor dinner in Washington, the press corps was all agog when he managed to pull off a single entendre. 

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAMS:  The president is scheduled to speak in a few minutes.  And our comedy panel will stick around to analyze, talk about what the president said and how his jokes went.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  You are looking at a live picture of the Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner in Washington, the president‘s annual chance to publicly poke fun at the people who cover him. 

As soon as he begins speaking, we‘re going to bring that to you live.  I‘m back with our panel of comedians and comic writers, Judy Gold, former joke writer of President Clinton and author of the book “Clinton & Me” Mark Katz, and political impressionist Jim Morris. 

You were making a point before about sort of the funniest jokes sometimes can be the ones where you are walking right on that line. 

KATZ:  Yes.  When you go in and you try to pitch jokes to West Wing honchos, they are always trying to tell you what you can and cannot do. 

And as a joke writer, as you know, what you really want to do is kind of, once you know where that line is, how to touch this topic that everyone thinks is taboo, how to just find a way to touch it, walk right up to that line and say...

GOLD:  But not go over.

KATZ:  ... hi, there. 

GOLD:  Right. 

KATZ:  Just walk right to the edge, wrap your toes around it and be fearless even within the margins you set for yourself. 

ABRAMS:  Jim, can you make jokes, for example, about the 9/11 Commission that‘s happening?  This is today‘s news, is this commission looking into 9/11.  Yet it‘s so serious, but do you think the president is going to make some jokes about it? 

MORRIS:  No.

As a matter of fact, before I came down here tonight, I made a note to

myself, I think that is one thing he will not make a joke about.  There are

certain things—you get points for scoring with great comic material, but

you can get points taken off for inappropriate

(CROSSTALK)  

ABRAMS:  Right.  And the points you get are not going to be worth the points you can lose.  So you told a great joke, but, boy, you tell a bad one that is inappropriate, and you‘ve got to live with it forever. 

(CROSSTALK)

KATZ:  That is exactly right.  And that is why politicians are so cautious, because they know a great line will last a week and a bad line will be reprinted in their obituary.  They know that. 

(CROSSTALK)

MORRIS:  Well, I have to tell you, Mark, it was a terrific joke.  We thought it was very funny, me putting on the tank helmet. 

(LAUGHTER)

MORRIS:  And that‘s a joke that didn‘t serve him very well. 

KATZ:  No, I do think President Bush has an opportunity to do a joke on the commission today.  On the way over here, I thought he might take a chance, take an opportunity to apologize for all the bad jokes he told in the seven months prior to 9/11. 

GOLD:  That‘s very funny. 

(LAUGHTER)

KATZ:  Thanks for saving me. 

GOLD:  No problem. 

ABRAMS:  Judy.

GOLD:  Yes. 

ABRAMS:  You said it reminds you of something, that this is sort of comparable, you think. 

GOLD:  In the political world, I think that President Bush speaking to the media is really comparable to whoever is hosting the Academy Awards in show business.  That‘s your toughest audience.  Those are your peers.  Those are the people that judge you.  These are critics.  And you have them staring at you and not wanting you to succeed. 

I don‘t know.  I assume that it‘s a little left wing

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  I wonder if maybe they wait until a little bit later in the night after everyone has sort of put down a few. 

GOLD:  Yes, right.

ABRAMS:  Because then that sort of usual sort of press is going to want to say, oh, that‘s not funny. 

(CROSSTALK)

MORRIS:  I was talking to my colleague over at the other network, Dan Rather.  I asked him what he thought of the president‘s remarks tonight.  He just looked at me and he said, frankly, I thought he bit the big one. 

He sucks.  Can‘t tell a joke. 

(LAUGHTER)

GOLD:  I thought that...

ABRAMS:  Yes, go ahead.

GOLD:  The one thing I thought that he would make fun of was the dental records thing.  I‘ve written something that he would say.

ABRAMS:  You tried to write it.

GOLD:  Yes, I did.

My critics are making wild allegations that I am not really here, but I brought my dental records from this morning when I had a root canal.  Thank you. 

(LAUGHTER)

KATZ:  You can name any joke on root canal and you got yourself a joke.

ABRAMS:  But I think that they have to stick to more—I think he can‘t do the typical one-liners. 

GOLD:  Right. 

ABRAMS:  He‘s really got to do the sort of stuff about Dick Cheney being in a secure location and sort of talk about sort of in a way the sort of noncontroversial stereotypes about his Cabinet, for example.

(CROSSTALK)

GOLD:  And the way he speaks—last time, he did make fun of...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Of himself.

GOLD:  Yes. 

KATZ:  Actually, I predict he will make a joke about Richard Clarke tonight. 

GOLD:  Oh, definitely, about Dick Clarke and “American Bandstand,” something like that, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

KATZ:  Absolutely.  The right joke would get him into this news cycle in a way that allowed him to be dismissive towards someone making serious allegations about his... 

ABRAMS:  And I wouldn‘t be surprised if there was an “American Bandstand.”  Of course, we are talking about Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism czar under both Clinton and Bush who testified today in front of the 9/11 Commission, wrote that scathing book of the Bush administration.  And I wouldn‘t be surprised, right?

(CROSSTALK)  

KATZ:  I think he would be very smart to.

ABRAMS:  Dick Clarke, Dick Clark.

KATZ:  Well, maybe not that joke.  That‘s not the joke I would write for him. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  We got it up on the screen.  They had that one ready. 

KATZ:  Yes, very good producers. 

(CROSSTALK)

GOLD:  One Dick Clarke ages and the other one doesn‘t. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MORRIS:  Well, one of them was Darrell Hammond.  The one on the left was Darrell Hammond, wasn‘t it?  Maybe not. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Mark, when you were advising President Clinton before he would go in, how do you give president advice about delivery of a joke? 

KATZ:  It‘s a tough thing. 

You actually have to fine-tune your ears to his.  And that was something I needed to learn as a writer to kind of—I remember one joke I wrote for him, which was a good joke on paper.  It was a Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner.  And it was about the 50 years of history of the political press.  And one of the jokes was working through a timeline; 1960, people who watched the Kennedy-Nixon debates on television thought John Kennedy won.  People who listened to the debates on radio thought, it‘s 1960, when the hell am I going to get a television set already? 

(LAUGHTER)

KATZ:  Now, it was a funny joke, but, you know, every time he tried to tell it, it didn‘t come out right.  And the reason is, Bill Clinton is a Southern Baptist and I am not. 

And that was a kind of joke that was kind of written, predicated in

Yiddishisms and kind of

(CROSSTALK)

KATZ: ... sensibility.

GOLD:  Which a lot of comedy is.

KATZ:  Right.  So that joke, for example, had me recognizing, OK, I need to kind of fine-tune my ear to his. 

GOLD:  But it is.  It is 90 percent timing, comedy.

You have the material.  If you see a comic who is telling incredibly great jokes, if they have no stage presence and no sort of performing qualities, good performing qualities, then it‘s not funny. 

KATZ:  That‘s right. 

ABRAMS:  All right, let me just put up the live picture again, because we are waiting for the president to speak three minutes later right now than expected.

Oh, here we go. 

GOLD:  Oh, here he is.

ABRAMS:  There is Joe Johns. 

KATZ:  Joe Johns is our president? 

ABRAMS:  Let‘s listen. 

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)  

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Thank you all.  Thank you.  Thanks for inviting me—finally.   

(LAUGHTER)

And thank you for honoring David Bloom.  It was a fantastic speech you gave for a man you loved. 

I am sorry Laura couldn‘t be here.  And I‘m sorry Secretary Rumsfeld

is not here, either.  The guy constantly surprises me.  Do you know what

Rummy‘s favorite TV show is?  “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”           

(LAUGHTER)

My Cabinet could take some pointers from watching that show.  In fact, I‘m going to have the Fab Five do a make over on Ashcroft.                 

(LAUGHTER)

Anyway, it‘s nice to be with you.  A couple of years ago when I was

here, I read from my book of “Misarticulations.”          

(LAUGHTER)

Fortunately, my verbal phonation and electrocution...

(LAUGHTER)

... have improved.  So tonight I‘m going to do one of my slide shows.  These are actual, unstaged photos pulled from the files of the White House Photo Office.  So, ladies and gentlemen, I present a White House Election-Year Album. 

(APPLAUSE) 

As you know, the contest with my opponent is going to be a slugfest. 

I‘m feeling good.                 

(LAUGHTER)

I‘m feeling ready.        

(LAUGHTER)

I‘m psyching myself up for the fight.      

(LAUGHTER)

I knew it was going to be a tough campaign when Karl Rove started dressing like this.   

(LAUGHTER)

And this is Condi Rice, of course.  Here I am trying to explain John Kerry‘s foreign policy.            

(LAUGHTER)

I have to admit it really ticked me off when Democrats questioned my National Guard service in Alabama.  Here‘s a photo proving that I was in Alabama fulfilling my duties.                

(LAUGHTER)

Political campaigns always have their unexpected moments.  This next photo is when I heard that Senator McCain said he was considering being Kerry‘s running mate.             

(LAUGHTER)

The next one was taken a couple of months ago.  I had just gotten word that Howard Dean had lost Iowa. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE) 

In addition to campaign calls, I also spend a lot of time on the phone listening to our European allies.        

(LAUGHTER)

The conversation went like this: “Hey, John, Kim Jong Il here.”        

(LAUGHTER)

“Just wanted to call and let you know you‘re my guy.”      

(LAUGHTER)

Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere. 

(LAUGHTER) 

As you can tell from the look on Andy Card‘s face, we‘ve become a little concerned about the Vice President lately.              

(LAUGHTER)

Whenever you ask him a question, he replies, “Let‘s see what my little

friend says.”        

(LAUGHTER)

But we get along well.  Here I am saying, “Dick, if the Hunan Palace

doesn‘t get lunch here in four minutes, we‘re going out.”          

(LAUGHTER)

Nope, no weapons over there.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

Maybe under here.     

(LAUGHTER)

Oops, this photo wasn‘t supposed to be in here.  This is the Skull and Bones secret signal.          

(LAUGHTER)

I‘m not paranoid.         

(LAUGHTER)

But it was at this point in my presidency that I had a strange feeling somebody was following me.              

(LAUGHTER)

One thing about being President is you get lots of advice.  Yes, Mother.           

(LAUGHTER)

Yes, Mother.                

(LAUGHTER)

Mother, would you just listen to us for once.        

(LAUGHTER)

I like this next picture a lot.  It‘s hard to get Rumsfeld to laugh, but when he does, boy, it is worth it.           

(LAUGHTER)

This photo was taken down at the ranch, and as you can tell, Barney is not very happy with me.  This is the day I told him he‘d been neutered.              

(LAUGHTER)

And this is the day that Barney got his revenge.  

(LAUGHTER)

Now, on long flights, the staff and I often play cards.  The key to playing Poker is keeping a straight face and never letting your opponent know what you‘re thinking.              

(LAUGHTER)

Actually, this is on the way to the G8 summit.  Once I got these trading cards, it‘s easy to remember the names of the foreign leaders. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

All Presidents have dreams and aspirations of what their legacy will be.  Here they are measuring me for Mount Rushmore.  

(LAUGHTER)

But I do have a few serious photos to show you, in closing.  It‘s photos like these that mean the most to me.  Some of our Special Forces sent me this last picture.  The faces are blurred in the slide because they remain in harm‘s way.  The photo hangs in my private study next to the Oval Office. 

To honor those who died on September the 11th, and to make a statement of their own commitment to this country‘s security, these Americans buried a piece of the World Trade Center in a place in Afghanistan where the al Qaeda once ran free.  They wrote that they held a ceremony, which was far more emotional than they had expected.  The team leader wrote a prayer and a dedication.  Let me read you one sentence from that dedication. 

“We consecrate this spot as an everlasting memorial to the brave Americans who died on September the 11th, so that all who would seek to do her harm will know that America will not stand by and watch terror prevail.” 

We will not stand by.  The greatest honor being President is leading such men and women.  We have the freedom we enjoy tonight because they protect that freedom.  And may God protect them. 

Thank you very much. 

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAMS:  The president of the United States—you know that this is generally a later occasion.  But at this time in our nation‘s history, it is impossible to have an entirely light evening, the president showing another picture there that was not light at all and an important one. 

But before that, the president making fun of himself and some of his Cabinet members. 

Very quickly, we want to go around the horn here to rate the president‘s comedy and humor. 

Mark? 

KATZ:  I‘d give him a solid B.  I think, as a device, slideshows are a step up from like balloon animals, I‘d say.

GOLD:  Carrot Top.

KATZ:  But it got him through the evening. 

ABRAMS:  Judy? 

GOLD:  I‘m going to go for a C.  The timing not that great. 

And I do—I think the slideshow thing is a real crutch, because you have something visual, rather than just your words. 

ABRAMS:  Jim? 

MORRIS:  F, F, F.  Was this comedy?  Was this—this was a travesty. 

He was making fun of the reason we went there.  And then he showed slides and wants our sympathy for the people who are in harm‘s way.  I thought it was offensive. 

ABRAMS:  Well, that‘s a political statement, rather than a sort of comedy assessment. 

MORRIS:  There wasn‘t enough comedy for me. 

KATZ:  I think it was funny that we did go to war just to set up this WMD joke. 

ABRAMS:  All right, I‘ve got to wrap it up. 

We are now going to go to “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” that is already in progress. 

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media, Inc. (f/k/a/ Federal Document Clearing House Inc., eMediaMillWorks, Inc.), ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,