Mo Rocca: 'We'll all be on bikes'

It was just a little thing, but another Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me! panelist managed to irritate me over the weekend.

Mo Rocca
Mo Rocca | Photo: Muppet Wiki

The first time it was P.J. O’Rourke. This time it’s Mo Rocca.

I was listening to the show from April 23, 2011. They were playing “Who’s Carl This Time.” The question had to do with Standard and Poor’s credit rating of the United States.

Here’s a section of the transcript:

[PETER] SAGAL: All right, if we do default on our debt, they say we’ll become a third world country, instantly. Big crisis. But what’s wrong with that? Why not embrace that? A third world United States would finally get interested in soccer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. [EMILY] DICKINSON: That’s right.

Mr. [ADAM] FELBER: That’s true.

SAGAL: We could enjoy the thrills of bringing your livestock onto public transportation.


SAGAL: I’ve always wanted to do that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. [MO] ROCCA: We’ll all be…

We’ll all be what, Mo?

It’s not as though he was drowned out by laughter. He clearly says, “We’ll all be on bikes.”

Before anyone jumps on me for being hypersensitive, I’m not calling for one of those petty Internet campaigns to demand an apology over an offhanded comment. This is just another example of “What we’re up against.” (I could almost create a blog category about that. Maybe I will.)

I don’t believe that offhanded comment was meant with a mean spirit. But it came from a place in his consciousness that equates automobiles with progress, and bicycles with backwardness. And what makes Mo Rocca funny–what makes anyone funny–is that they understand instinctively the cultural context in which they speak.

This is what we’re up against.

But isn’t it fascinating that “riding bicycles” would be left out of the transcript? Is NPR sensitive to offending cyclists? I’m actually worried that they’ll do a Juan Williams on poor Mo.

The relevant clip is at 02:45.

Mo, You’ve annoyed me, but I’ve got your back. If you do lose your Wait! Wait! job in an act of NPR skittishness, a bike is a really efficient and economical way of getting around DC. I’ve got contacts at The League of American Bicyclists and Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and I can hook you up with a bike dog trailer

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8 thoughts on “Mo Rocca: 'We'll all be on bikes'”

  1. It’s more like, “If we don’t all start riding bicycles, we’ll soon be a Third World nation.”

    After all, Third World nations are known for wasting resources, low employment, poor public health, and a high disparity between rich and poor.

    Bicycles conserve resources, support local jobs, improve public health, and keep more money in the hands of working people.

    And of course I must point out that Holland, Denmark, and Germany–strong cycling nations all–have higher standards of living and GDP per person than the US.

  2. Chris says:

    Do they get paid for appearing on Wait Wait? I cant imagine him getting banned from the show for this as it is a comedy program.

  3. David says:

    The ironic part (or perhaps part of the joke) is that WBEZ is home to one of the more active Bicycling communities in Chicago. The host of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me has even ridden more than 20 miles from the North Shore to work. It might have gotten left out of the transcript because it was more of an inside joke.

    1. Ted Johnson says:

      I’ll cling to the idea that it might have been an inside joke. Thanks.

  4. Evan says:

    I don’t think this is an unreasonable statement. If our economy collapses, which is certainly possible, we will all probably be on bicycles. That makes sense right? Because bicycles are cheap and efficient. Maybe we should look seriously at trying to restructure our society more like a third world country. Micro agriculture, passive water collection, houses that don’t need climate control, self generated electricity… These are all things we should probably be doing anyway right? Maybe our idea of ourselves as a first world nation is part of our problem. It’s not like we couldn’t survive without our national wealth.

  5. Evan brings up a good point. Maybe our idea of what a first world country should look like is a problem. It has always bothered me that our economy is based on consumerism, i.e. for the economy to work and for Americans to maintain the standard of living which we are accustomed- we are required to constantly consume. Incessantly buying stuff and consuming resources employs people and makes the country go round. We need to figure out how to get by with less- including using a bicycle- and still provide “enough” for a good standard of living.

  6. BluesCat says:

    I have to agree with Ted. Bicycles are viewed either as transportation for the poor folks who can’t AFFORD a car or as toys for kids and hippies. That’s why Mo made the comment he made in the context of the skit.

    I saw a segment on the television news last night about $4.00 gas prices. A reporter was asking people — who were pumping gas — how they were dealing with higher gas prices. Seems like ALL of them had answers which revolved around “driving less” and “going out to eat less” and “buying less because of all the money they had to spend on gas.” Not a single person said they were riding a bike MORE!

    Naturally, the comments could have had a lot to do with the captive audience the reporter had, but we even have U.S. senators who have the opinion that bicycles aren’t relevant to REAL transportation; senators McCain (AZ) and Coburn (OK) are two primary examples.

  7. J-Dub says:

    Sorry to any fans out there, but I absolutely hate WWDTM, don’t find it the least bit amusing, and change the station the moment it comes on. The show is like all the worst NPR stereotypes come to life. 😛

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