John O. Banion stared unblinkingly into the TV camera's cyclops eye, keeping his famous cool under the baking glare of the Videssence lights. It pleased him that he was more at ease than the person seated opposite him, who as it happened was the most powerful man in the world.
"Five seconds." The technician counted down with an outstretched hand. With his huge headset, he could have been a crewman on an aircraft carrier signaling for the launch of an F-14.
"Three, two . . ."
The theme music was cued, a variation on a Handel trumpet voluntary with echoes of Aaron Copland. The TV critic for The Washington Post had called it "Fanfare for the Self-Important Man." Still, nothing like a few bars of brass to get the Establishment's hemoglobin pumping on Sunday mornings as it sipped its third cup of coffee and scanned the newspapers for mentions of itself.
"Sunday . . ."
A satisfying opener, implying, as it did ownership of the entire day, and the Sabbath at that. The announcer's voice was familiar. It had taken four meetings between Banion, his producers, and the sponsor, Ample Ampere, to settle on it. Ample Ampere had wanted James Earl Jones, but Banion said that he couldn't hear the voice of James Earl Jones without thinking of Darth Vader, hardly an appropriate tone setter for such a high-level show as his. Ampere countered with Walter Cronkite. No, no, said Banion, Cronkite, the beloved former TV anchorman, was too avuncular, too upbeat. The voice must have such gravity as to suggest that if you missed the program, you were not a serious person. Only one would do - George C. Scott, the voice of General Patton.
". . . an exploration of tomorrow's issues, with today's leaders. And now . . ." - Banion had dictated the slight pause in the manner of Edward R. Murrow's wartime "This . . . is London" broadcasts - "your host . . . John Oliver Banion." The Post critic had written: "Drumroll, enter praetorians, household cavalry, concubines, elephants, rhinos, captured slaves, eunuchs, and other assorted worshipers."
Banion looked owlishly into the lens through his collegiate tortoiseshell eyeglasses. He seemed perpetually on the verge of smiling, without ever giving in to the impulse. He was in his late forties, but could have been any age. He had looked this way since his second year at Princeton. He had a round face that was handsome in a bookish sort of way. His graying blond hair was unstylishly cut, on purpose. He disdained salon haircuts as marks of unseriousness.
"Good morning," Banion said to the camera. "Our guest today is the president of the United States. Thank you for being with us this morning."
"My pleasure," lied the president. He had loathed John O. Banion ever since Banion had corrected him on a point of history at a White House dinner, in front of the French president. He would much - much - rather have stayed at Camp David, the presidential retreat in the Catoctin Mountain Park outside Washington, on this Sunday morning. He chafed at being told by his press secretary that Banion insisted on a live interview in the studio. What was the point of being the most powerful man on earth if you had to grovel before these assholes, just because they had their own TV--
"Sir, it's the top-rated weekend show. And it looks like he's going to be moderating the debates this fall."
"All right, but you tell him, no commercials. I won't sit there twiddling my thumbs while they break for commercials every five minutes. It's unpresidential."
"Mr. President," Banion said, "I want to ask you why, in light of your administration's below-par performance in a number of areas, you haven't fired at least two-thirds of your cabinet, but first . . ."
It was a trademark Banion opener: establish the guest's inadequacy, then move along to the even more pressing issue. The president maintained glacial equanimity. For this he had gotten up early on Sunday and helicoptered all the way back to Washington. The press secretary would suffer.
Excerpted from Little Green Men by Christopher Buckley. Copyright© 1999 by Christopher Buckley. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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