Turnabout doesn't always mean fair play.
But last night's spoof of "Meet the Press," called "Meet the Still Op-pressed" -- in which the politicians switch roles with the reporters -- was not meant to be fair. Sponsored by by the Washington Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists/Sigma Delta Chi, it was a badminton game of barbs -- all done in good fun.
"It's a chance for the politicians to try to get even with the press," said Paula Wolfson, president of the society, taking the first whack in her opening remarks and drawing the first laughs from the audience of about 70.
Emcee Val Hymes, vice president of the chapter, asked Rep. Morris Udall (D-Ariz.) to start the show, cautioning that "Nothing that is said here is meant to be serious or meaningful."
"Well, I've been thinking of running for president, Ms. McClendon," Udall said after a few warm-up jokes, "and I wanted to know if there's any defense against you at a presidential press conference? Is there any known defense?"
Sarah McClendon, who gained notoriety this summer with her relentless questioning of President Reagan during a televised press conference, replied sweetly. "Sir," she said, "there is none. There is no known defense."
Rep. Margaret Heckler (R-Mass.) also went straight for McClendon.
"You're a very literary woman. Would you define the difference between 'rude' and 'outspoken?' " The crowd roared. McClendon smiled.
"I'm never rude," McClendon answered. "Some people just don't hear so well. You know, sometimes the president just doesn't hear me."
The score was tied. Back to Udall.
"I wanted to direct a question to UPI columnist Dick West. I've been reading his so-called political humor for years," Udall said. "I want to say he's done for political humor what Claus von Bu low did for the diabetes institution."
Hoots and hollers kept Udall rolling.
"It's the reverse of E.F. Hutton -- when he speaks, no one listens."
Udall said he had tried to get Alexander Haig to join the panel, "but he's left town. I tried to get him to come tonight, but he wanted $20,000."
Several jovial questions were addressed by Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to William Kling, national editor of the Washington Times, about the editorial policies and religious affiliation of his newspaper. "I'm a Presbyterian, and they still let me come to work," Kling responded.
Time for the press to retaliate against the politicians. Dick West with the mike.
"Next year, you're going to be faced with not only an anti-abortion ballot, but a school prayer ballot," West said.
"Good lord," Udall muttered.
"And my advice to you, sir," West continued, "is that you try to get those combined so that each day as school opens, all the kids pray that no one gets pregnant."
After about 45 minutes of play, the match ended in typical fashion. The politicians, who also included Rep. Parren Mitchell (D-Md.), left early. The journalists, who also included Diane Dimond of RKO Radio Network and columnist Robert Novak, headed for the open bar.
Referee Val Hymes wrapped up the show, addressing both panels. "We thank you for helping us cement what is usually a cracked relationship." The teams shook on it.