David Letterman Lashes Out at Bush Camp Over Debate
August 4, 2000
By Jeremy Pelofsky
WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, N.C. (Reuters) - To debate or not to debate, that has been late night television comedian David Letterman's No. 1 question in recent days.
While Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush was receiving the royal treatment at his nominating convention in Philadelphia, he was being roasted by Letterman night after night on television for not responding to a debate invitation.
Two weeks ago the comedian invited Bush and his Democratic opponent, Vice President Al Gore, to a debate on his show, ``The Late Show with David Letterman,'' on Nov. 6, the night before Americans vote to select their new president.
Gore, anxious to debate his opponent, quickly accepted but Bush has not given his answer, leading Letterman to lash out at the Republican nominee on his show the past few nights.
At first, Bush press secretary Mindy Tucker did not return phone calls from the show's executive producer, Maria Pope, after the invitation was issued.
``We can't get anybody from George W. Bush's office to return our call,'' Letterman said on the show on Tuesday night. ''If this is the way they run the campaign, how do you think they're going to run the country?''
The on-air badgering and repeated calls finally seemed to be paying off -- at least partially.
On Wednesday night's show Pope told Letterman she finally received a call back from Tucker, who said the campaign had not made a decision about the debate. Letterman, whose late night show on CBS has about 4 million viewers each night, is vowing to press on until he receives an answer. ``We're breathing down their necks,'' he said.
Tucker, responding after three attempts to contact the campaign for comment, told Reuters the Bush campaign was still considering the invitation.
``We've received many invitations for debates but we have not made any decisions about which to accept,'' Tucker said, adding that the campaign realizes Letterman's lambasting was ''all in good fun.''
``We're laughing along with them,'' she said.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart, who was a guest on Wednesday night's show, urged Letterman to escalate the request to Bush's communications director Karen Hughes.
``They were dumb enough not to call in first and say yes, so they deserve some of this,'' Lockhart said.
The Gore campaign accepted the invitation to debate immediately, according to Gore 2000 spokesman Douglas Hattaway.
``Al Gore would love to debate George Bush on the Letterman show or any show for that matter,'' he told Reuters. As for the failure to return phone calls, Hattaway said that would not happen at the Gore camp.
``If the Letterman show calls the Al Gore campaign,'' he said, ``they will get a real spokesperson and a real answer.''