David Greene: From Russia To NPR With Love
NPR's Morning Programming Host and Correspondent David Greene joins us for a special Washington, D.C.-based episode of Ask Me Another. Greene shares with host Ophira Eisenberg stories of his many adventures, first as a White House correspondent who moonlighted as a bartender, and more recently as NPR's foreign correspondent in Russia. One gig involved Greene's failure to evacuate a famous landmark during a bomb scare; the other made him long for Chick-fil-A. And later, we put Greene to the test with an Ask Me Another Challenge about famous political gaffes.
About David Greene
David Greene is NPR's Morning Programming Host/Correspondent — a role that's played in the wee hours of dawn when hosting Morning Edition. The craziest interview he's ever done was with comedian Kathy Griffin, who berated him for not being one of the show's two primary hosts, while also regaling him with tales of her bikini bod.
Before taking on his current role in 2012, Greene was an NPR foreign correspondent based in Moscow. Thankfully, cold weather isn't a problem. For him. Greene is still trying to make amends for forcing his wife to sit through the coldest playoff game in the history of Pittsburgh Steelers football. Sadly, the Steelers lost, but thankfully, he managed to keep the wife. Who, consequently, is way cooler and has a 74-0 record against him in skeeball.
Greene's voice became familiar to NPR listeners from his four years covering the White House. He came to NPR from a similar position with the Baltimore Sun, where he moonlighted Sunday nights as the bartender of a dingy pool hall serving beer and tequila, and pretending he could break up bar fights. But radio was the natural choice for Greene since he never learned to type, and hunting and pecking isn't great on deadline.
He bats lefty, throws righty, and loves pickles... but hate cucumbers.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Welcome back to ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's show for trivia nuts and the people that have to live with them. I'm your host, Ophira Eisenberg and joining me this week is our mystery guest, host and correspondent for MORNING EDITION, David Greene.
EISENBERG: Welcome David Greene.
DAVID GREENE: Thank you Ophira. Thank you.
EISENBERG: Welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER.
GREENE: Thank you for having me. It's an honor to be here.
EISENBERG: Way back when, when you worked for the Baltimore Sun, I was reading - I just thought this was amazing. Actually I was told this, that when you worked for the Baltimore Sun as a White House Correspondent, you still kept - even though you had to be at the White House very early, you kept a bartending job at a dive bar on Sunday night.
GREENE: I did. It was on Sunday nights. I think the bar owners - it was a bar called Coco Pooleys (ph) in Washington D.C.. It was a great...
EISENBERG: Coco Pooleys?
GREENE: Divey pool hall and I think the bar owners saw me there so often, they sort of felt bad. They were like, we've got to help this guy out. Do you want a job if you're going to be playing pool here so often? And so I started working there and my wife was a bartender. It was also a matter of trying to act as cool as my wife which I really failed at.
But, you know, I'd come home and she had made like, you know, hundreds of dollars in tips and I'd say, oh that's - I made like 30 bucks. So I'll take you to, you know, somewhere for a really expensive date on that.
EISENBERG: So you're a big pool shark?
GREENE: No, no.
GREENE: And really not a good pool player either but...
EISENBERG: You just love it?
GREENE: I just - It was - It was cool to tell people you work in a pool hall, because they assume that you're really good.
EISENBERG: What White House correspondent wasn't cool, is that all?
GREENE: No I wanted pool hall bartender.
EISENBERG: OK, so finally though you had to quit.
GREENE: I did. You know the campaign, I think, came and I was just away too much.
EISENBERG: Right you worked on the campaign.
EISENBERG: And welcome back to D.C., we're happy to have you back.
GREENE: Thank you.
EISENBERG: I know you were in Moscow for two years, Russia for two years.
GREENE: In Russia, yeah, it was a wild time.
EISENBERG: Anything you miss about Russia?
GREENE: People are really nice, it was an adventure.
GREENE: It was - No it's really - Russia is a place where, on its face it seems really cold and, and mean, but when Russians invite you into their homes they give you lots of tea and vodka and they're really sweet. And so...
EISENBERG: So super generous.
GREENE: Super generous. And so that, that I miss, but it was, it was really cold. I mean I know that's a cliche, but it was cold.
EISENBERG: Yeah. No, when cold is cold it's real.
GREENE: Yeah, like your nostrils still, you know, together. I mean it's just that kind of cold.
GREENE: It's like unpleasant kind of cold.
EISENBERG: I grew up in Canada, I have a little bit of a taste of it.
GREENE: You know.
EISENBERG: I remember, like the tears would freeze on my face, because the whole time I lived in Canada I just cried.
GREENE: Not fun.
EISENBERG: And what did you - What was the number one thing you missed about America while you were over in Russia?
EISENBERG: I figured it would be a food thing. I figured it would be a food thing.
GREENE: I mean among other things.
EISENBERG: I mean people are clapping, you have a lot of - you've got a lot of fans for that.
GREENE: Yeah. I mean where do you go on Sundays though?
GREENE: That's an insider Chick-fill-A joke.
EISENBERG: Yeah I don't know, I don't know, I don't know.
GREENE: We're cool. They don't have them in New York - it's cool, they all get it. They're all good. It's fine.
EISENBERG: They all get it. Chick-fill-A. I'm going to make sure I have one before I leave. It's good. It's very...
GREENE: Closed on - Just don't go on Sundays.
EISENBERG: Just don't go on Sundays. Good to know.
EISENBERG: They're religious I suppose.
GREENE: Very much.
EISENBERG: And have you ever been on a game show before?
GREENE: I was on WAIT, WAIT DON'T TELL ME.
EISENBERG: Oh look at you.
GREENE: Which is an NPR show.
EISENBERG: And how did it go, was it fun? Did you have a good time?
GREENE: I was the butt of a joke. It was kind of unfortunate actually.
EISENBERG: They ridiculed you?
GREENE: Well it was shortly after I got to NPR and I was covering the White House and Don Gonyea who's a great political correspondent for NPR and sort of my mentor, he had said, "If you're in the NPR booth at the White House, be careful if you shut that soundproof door too often, because you know what the hell's going on outside."
EISENBERG: Right, because it's soundproof, it's like really...
GREENE: Because it's soundproof and I was sitting there, one of my first days and just kind of chilling and like being like, OK I'm covering the White House for NPR, like I'm really excited about this, this is like a huge honor and then the phone rang and it was my editor and my editor Ron and Ron said, David, what's going on there? I was like I'm here, I'm covering the White House, here I am.
He was like, "OK, because I'm watching CNN and the White House has been evacuated."
GREENE: And I was like...
EISENBERG: And you were like hanging out there.
GREENE: I was like, Yeah Ron, let me go check that out. And so I opened the - I opened the door and there was a Secret Service agent there and he looked surprised and I was surprised and he said, Why are you here? And I said This is the question I'm trying to answer. Yeah there was a plane coming towards the White House and they had cleared the building.
EISENBERG: I remember.
GREENE: Right, you remember that.
EISENBERG: That was - You were that one guy that they were like, there was this one guy who didn't leave.
GREENE: Yeah, that was me. Yeah. And so they brought me on WAIT, WAIT DON'T TELL ME and they played, I think, "Danger Zone," the song, Kenny Loggins...
GREENE: ...and they said, hey, what building was evacuated because a plane was, you know, heading in its direction. The White House and everybody was out except NPR's David Greene. Hey David, why were you there?
GREENE: So I was hoping to be on MORNING EDITION, all things considered, you know, as a new White House reporter and not WAIT, WAIT, but it was, it was, it was, it was cool.
EISENBERG: Well see, but we treat you nice here.
GREENE: You do.
EISENBERG: This is - yeah. But are you ready for a trivia showdown?
EISENBERG: See, you know it's interesting what you say about your story because your story actually is kind of a hint to the game that we're going to play, because I know, since obviously you were privy to something that kind of was embarrassing on your part, but I'm sure you've been, throughout your time as a reporter, have seen a lot of embarrassing things. Probably witnessed some political gaffs.
EISENBERG: And that is a bit of a hint to what we're going to be playing now.
GREENE: Oh. Thank you for the hint.
EISENBERG: So, I ask you right now David Greene, do you except an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?
GREENE: Bring it on.
EISENBERG: All right. David, no one was willing to go up against you in a trivia game. Does that scare you?
GREENE: That is very surprising, because they should have. They would have had a very good night.
EISENBERG: Instead, you're going to be playing for a member in our audience and you're going to be playing for a very intelligent man by the name of Scott Shrake (ph).
EISENBERG: Depending on how you do David, Scott will get a prize. And don't worry Scott, it's going to be really good. We've got our intern in the back right now, riffling through David's stuff. So they're going to get like a credit card.
GREENE: And Scott can help, I mean I can sort of signal to him.
EISENBERG: No, oh no. You're on your own my friend.
GREENE: Scott, you see, we're going to - we've got a thing going, it's going to be OK.
EISENBERG: No Scott just gets to think of the answers in his head and, depending on how well you do, he'll get a prize.
GREENE: That's good.
EISENBERG: So there's a lot of pressure on you.
SCOTT SHRAKE: Bring it home David.
GREENE: Take care of everything Scott. Don't you worry.
EISENBERG: It's going to be fine, it's going to be fine. And since we're in D.C., you know, we were hoping to write a quiz about political gaffs and mistakes, but we just couldn't find any. Oh.
EISENBERG: Just kidding. We found like enough for 40 shows. But, we decided to just do one quiz with him. So, just to be clear though, we are not going to do anything like this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVE RECORDING)
HOWARD DEAN: Here we go to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan and then we're going to Washington D.C., to take back the White House.
GREENE: You know, I always felt like that was strange that that ended his career, his campaign. But listening to it now, he sounds crazy.
GREENE: That's Howard Dean, of course.
JOHN CHANESKI: Yes.
EISENBERG: It's going to be great. OK John Chaneski is here and he is going to help me with this puzzle. He is going to be playing the role of various politicians. Number one. In 2006, Harry Whittington issued a press statement that said...
CHANESKI: "My family and I are deeply sorry for everything Vice President Cheney and his family have had to deal with. We hope that he will continue to come to Texas and seek the relaxation that he deserves."
EISENBERG: Why did he say that?
GREENE: Cheney accidentally shot someone.
EISENBERG: That is correct. Can you - Yes, yes.
GREENE: Cheney shot Whittington in the face, yes.
EISENBERG: Shot him in the face.
CHANESKI: I believe on Harry's property. Was he the guy in - Yeah there. Yeah, it was on a ranch. Cheney was a really great hunter.
CHANESKI: Until just that day.
GREENE: That's right.
EISENBERG: Hunter of people's faces, as it turns out, was really his thing.
GREENE: He went after - went after the most dangerous game.
GREENE: An old white man.
EISENBERG: They are agile, they're very agile.
GREENE: They're very quick.
EISENBERG: What California senator famously said the following.
CHANESKI: "Those who survive the San Francisco earthquake said, "Thank God I'm still alive." But of course, those who died, their lives will never be the same again."
GREENE: Barbara Boxer.
EISENBERG: Barbara Boxer is correct.
EISENBERG: See, this is, this is great stuff, you know all these gaffs.
GREENE: Rock on, yes, yeah we're going to be fine. Three more, right, is that what we need? OK.
EISENBERG: Yeah three more, I love that, eye on the prize, eye on the prize. In early 2009, British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, visited the US and gave President Obama a penholder carved from the timbers of the anti-slavery ship, the HMS Gannet and a framed commission from the HMS Resolute and a seven volume biography of Winston Churchill. Amazing. In return, what did Obama give Gordon Brown?
GREENE: Scott, I am so sorry.
GREENE: I think I was in Russia.
EISENBERG: Yeah. That's a good - You're not sure?
GREENE: Not sure.
EISENBERG: All right. Shall we throw it out to the crowd?
CHANESKI: That lady right there?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: DVDs that didn't play on British DVD players.
EISENBERG: That's right. He gave 25 DVDs of American films like Psycho, Raging Bull, It's a Wonderful Life.
GREENE: And they don't play on British DVD players.
EISENBERG: But he did rip them himself from Torrent, so that was nice. That was special.
GREENE: It shows he cares to do it himself.
EISENBERG: Had his hands on it. All right, you're still in the game.
GREENE: We're still there.
EISENBERG: During the 1992 Vice Presidential Debate, whose opening remarks were...
CHANESKI: "Who am I? Why am I here?"
GREENE: Oh God? Oh man. I forget his name.
CHANESKI: Can you tell us who he was?
GREENE: This is tragic. Dan Quayle? No that was 88. Clinton.
EISENBERG: Is this process of elimination?
GREENE: Yeah. Everything's going to be fine. Ross Perot's running mate, Lloyd Benson.
EISENBERG: Oh wait.
EISENBERG: Half of it. He got half of it.
CHANESKI: He got the Ross Perot.
GREENE: Ross Perot's running mate.
CHANESKI: That's - We'll take that.
EISENBERG: Yes, that will do it. That will do it. That will do it.
CHANESKI: Half a point.
CHANESKI: Does anybody know his name?
(SOUNDBITE OF AUDIENCE)
CHANESKI: James - Admiral James Stockdale. Very good.
EISENBERG: The Japanese coined the word (Japanese spoken) after George H.W. Bush visited Japan in 1992. What does the word mean?
CHANESKI: Yes. Yes.
EISENBERG: It literally means, to do a bush but it refers to embarrassing public vomiting.
EISENBERG: Which Bush did on the Prime Minister. Only the best, only the best.
GREENE: Is there any other kind of public vomiting really?
EISENBERG: Right. Totally confident, happy public vomiting.
GREENE: Look at that guy, look at that, how do you do it sir?
EISENBERG: Practice, practice, practice. All right, how did David do?
CHANESKI: He got three.
GREENE: And how many did I need for Scott to win a prize?
GREENE: All right.
EISENBERG: Yeah, it worked out. It worked out. We have some prizes for you Scott. You will be receiving a one of a kind, special NPR ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's cube.
EISENBERG: Yes. And David, for being such a good sport, you'll be receiving also a one of a kind ASK ME ANOTHER NPR Rubik's cube. Thank you so much for being an amazing guest. David Greene.
(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.