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Life Imitates Art; Migrant Surge Expected; Trying to Wake Up Oscar; Who Will Win The Men's NCAA Tournament. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired April 02, 2022 - 09:00   ET




I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia.

I have a new favorite TV show. It's on Netflix. It's about a citizen plucked from obscurity to lead his nation. Think Peter Sellers in being there, but with a modest twist. By the way, anybody remember the line "I like to watch"?

This show is called "Servant of the People." It tells the story of a high school history teacher who gets his 15 minutes of fame when his students record him engaged in a rant about government corruption. After a student-led crowd funding campaign, his political star rises, resulted in him being elected president.

"Servant of the People" is the title of the sitcom. It ran in Ukraine from 2015 to 2019. Think Veep meets parks and recreation. It is final year of the star of the show Volodymyr Zelenskyy was actually elected president in Ukraine.

And today, of course, we're accustomed to seeing Zelenskyy in his signature green T-shirt. A new millennium version of Winston Churchill. It is Turnbull and Asser siren suit.

It's easy to see why Ukrainians would have wanted him as their leader and why the world would be rallying to its cause now.

A few research center survey released this week revealed it's 72 percent of Americans have a lot or some confidence in Zelenskyy to do the right thing in Ukraine. That's higher than any other national leader tied to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

President Biden, by comparison, at 48 percent. France's Emmanuel Macron, 55 percent. Germany's Olaf Scholz has the confidence of 53 percent of Americans. Vladimir Putin, 6 percent. And you have to wonder who they are.

Something else, the depiction of Ukraine and its capital Kyiv. We've grown so accustomed to seeing the footage of people fleeing the country or the remains of bombed and burned-out buildings. It's easy to think of Ukraine as perpetually drab and dreary.

But here in "Servant of the People" is the pre-Putin Ukraine. Vibrant, colorfully lit, beautiful, modern, cosmopolitan. And yearning for others to embrace its burgeoning democracy, free of corruption or fealty to Russia.

Yes, the story is fictional, but it nevertheless is inciteful as to the country on which it's set and the man who now leads it. This is Ukraine the way that it was, the way it will be again once Putin's advance is permanently repelled. And there's no way that Zelenskyy could have played this role without possessing a high level of intelligence, wit, charm and resolve.

As Sean Penn himself an Oscar winner told me yesterday, "20 years from now, when documentaries about him are shown, kids will see them and say of Zelenskyy to their parents, 'Mom! Dad! Did you know that Zelenskyy was once a comedic actor?'"

"Servant of the People" an appropriate title for a great show about Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Now, today's page, one story of "The New York Times" reports that recent polls and interviews show many Russians are now rallying around Vladimir Putin.

Joining me now is Ivan Nechepurenko, a reporter with the Moscow bureau of "The New York Times." He's currently working out of Istanbul. He shares the byline on the story which is titled "Shaken at First, Many Russians Now Rally Behind Putin's Invasion."

Ivan, you and your colleagues have written this. You say, "Five weeks into President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, there are signs that the Russian public's initial shock has given way to a mix of support for their troops and anger at the West."

So what changed? What has happened?

IVAN NECHEPURENKO, MOSCOW BUREAU REPORTER, "NEW YORK TIMES": Well, when the invasion just started, people basically had to make a choice either to support it or not support it. There was a battle for people's minds in Russia and the state-run propaganda was working full force to make sure there's many people get on to the President Putin's side as possible. And it seems that they succeeded so far and many people who opposed the war, they either left or they faced, you know, criminal prosecution because people who went out in the first days of the invasion, they were brutally arrested and many of them were sentenced to administrative arrest.

So the government has clearly shown the limits of its power and went beyond of what it did before to make sure as many people support the war or at least say they support the war.


We need to make this clear that when a pollster calls you in Russia and asks you whether you support Vladimir Putin, whether you support the war, and if you say, no, and that answer might, you know, bring a criminal prosecution against you. Then I think most people would say that they do support the war, even if they think otherwise. SMERCONISH: Right. So, I wanted to ask, as a matter of fact -- Catherine, go to the slide that shows what Levada says is his approval rating. 83 percent, up from 69 percent in January. How reliable is any of the data? I know you are reporting in the "Times" today. Is both anecdotal and based on - on this reporting of the survey results. Can you rely on any of this?

NECHEPURENKO: Well, you can rely on this to show the dynamics of where the public opinion is - is developed, what public opinion is developing into. But it's not reliable in the sense of giving you kind of a picture of the country as a whole because many people just give what they - what pollsters say are socially acceptable answers, meaning that --


NECHEPURENKO: -- they say what they think is expected of them to say. So we should be just aware of that. This problem existed in Russia for a long time. Because Russia has been an authoritarian country under President Putin for a long time. But now, of course, this problem has been - you know, has gone worse.

SMERCONISH: Ivan, last week, a week ago when President Biden was leaving Poland, many of us debated the propriety of him seemingly, extemporaneous, and calling for regime change. And one of the things that I said here and on radio was that seems to play into Putin's hands to rally his own people. In the "Times" today, you say this, "Polls and interviews show that many Russians now accept Putin's contention that their country is under siege from the West and had no choice but to attack."

Are Biden's words now being used by Putin to bolster his own support at home?

NECHEPURENKO: Of course. Everything that is being said or done by the West against Russia now is being used by Putin. And his very effective machine of propaganda, which is not a sole way of machine of propaganda. It's, you know, it's like the CNN, but pro-Putin CNN, essentially. The government spends millions and millions of dollars on - on state-run TV channels.

So they use whatever is being said. For instance, you know, that Russian artists being canalled. Russian opera singers being removed from Western opera houses. Everything is used to portray this as a Western war against Russia. So it's not Russia that is waging war in Ukraine, but the West is waging war against Russia. And Russia had to kind of respond to it. Ukraine is just a battlefield for this grand war and Russia is being attacked. They just feeds very well into now we're going to see that the Russians so again prepared for the current situation, for the current war because it just translate -


SMERCONISH: Well, the hope has been -- the hope has been and also from American-based corporations, Professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld at Yale, a frequent guest on this program. He is sort of the keeper of the list of those corporations that have turned their back on Russia. You know, everything from Starbucks to McDonald's. You know the story.


SMERCONISH: Does that play into Putin's hands in so far as instead of the people getting angry at Putin like what the hell are you doing in Ukraine? Knock it off. Instead, they turn their sights and their antipathy toward the West?

NECHEPURENKO: Well, you have to think in stages. We have only been in this situation for what, five weeks now.


NECHEPURENKO: So the Russians haven't - haven't really felt the effect of sanctions. The effect of, you know, all of these Western stores being closed because, you know, there's some accumulated wealth. People still do have, you know, Western goods. They lived in a basically globalized economy for 30 years. So, I think it's too early to see that.

For now, I think for many Russians, the more comfortable psychological reaction is to accept it and to kind of rally around the flag. Because if you do not accept it, then you have to act. And the course - the cause of action in Russia is now very high. So, basically, that's a very kind of predictable reaction that most people have, I think.

SMERCONISH: Understood.

NECHEPURENKO: But whether this will be long lasting, we don't know yet.


SMERCONISH: Right. And, of course, if they had access - if they had access to your reporting and other reporting from the West that maybe that support level would take a nosedive.

Ivan Nechepurenko, thank you so much for being here. Appreciate your time.

NECHEPURENKO: Thank you, Michael. Thanks. Thank you for having me.


SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish. Hit me up through social media. I'll share some during the course of the program. What do we have, Catherine? From the world of Twitter.

Do you think it's possible the show "Servant of the People" and the subsequent election of Zelenskyy contributed to Putin's paranoia of western principles and contributed to invasion motivation?

Dave Nitzel, I absolutely buy into that. I have to believe that the show was well-known to Putin and that it pissed him off. That he didn't like seeing the depiction, not only of Zelenskyy personally but of a very Westernized Kyiv and Ukraine. You got to watch this show. It is such an eye-opener for me to understand the man, even though it's fictional, and to understand better the people of Ukraine as well as the state of their country before Putin did what he did.

Up ahead. After much pressure, the Biden administration is now ending Title 42. That's the pandemic era restriction on border migration. It will happen on May 23rd.

So what's going to happen when the estimated 170,000 plus hopefuls start showing up at crossings? That's this week's survey question at I'm asking this.

Should the Biden administration lift Title 42, a pandemic public health order which has stopped many migrants from crossing the U.S.- Mexico border?

Go to Vote on the survey question. Register for the newsletter while you're there.

Also, it was the slap scene debated around the world. But if Will Smith hadn't ruined the night and resign from the Academy, would anybody even be talking about this year's Oscars? Ratings have been tanking for years.

Question: Will a new initiative striving to be more inclusive and equitable no matter how well intention backfire on the Academy.

Plus, tonight, men's final four NCAA March madness, who better to break it all down than hall of famer Sir Charles Barkley. Even if his predictions aren't always 100 percent accurate.


CHARLES BARKLEY, FORMER PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYER: OK. Colgate, sorry about that. Brush your teeth.


UNKNOWN: All right.

BARKLEY: Over here -- now, this is big here.

UNKNOWN: What's big?

UNKNOWN: Memphis and Gonzaga later?

BARKLEY: Arkansas - OK. You're gone. Thanks for nothing.




SMERCONISH: What happens when the pandemic-related CDC border restriction ends next month? After the rule known as Title 42 was invoked by the Trump administration two years ago, border authorities have be allowed to immediately turn away would-be migrants more than 1.7 million times. Many Democrats and immigration advocates have been pressuring the Biden administration to have it revoked. And Friday came the news that with the easing of COVID restrictions the rule will be rescinded on May 23rd.

When Title 42 ends, an estimated 170,000 people are expected to try to enter via the Mexican border with as many as 18,000 presenting per day. While Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell attacked the end of the policy, several prominent Democratic senators have also voiced concern and opposition to the change. Including Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema of the border state of Arizona, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Mark Warner of Virginia.

Here's what Senator Warner told CNN's Alisyn Camerota.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): I would be very reluctant for the administration to end this Trump policy until they have a real plan in place. I would be worried about this notion that the border would be overwhelmed. And I would - I really want to hear a specific plan with adequate personnel. And, frankly, I would like to see the State Department do more pressure on some of the countries, particularly the northern triangle countries to try to stop the flow of some of these economic refugees.


SMERCONISH: This week, I want to know what you think. Go to my website at and answer the survey question.

Should the Biden administration lift Title 42, a pandemic public health order which has stopped many migrants from crossing the U.S.- Mexico border?

Joining me now is Chris Cabrera. He's the vice president and spokesman for the National Border Patrol Council. They represent approximately 12,500 border patrol agents.

So, Chris, the president of your organization has said that chaos is coming. And we're not prepared. What exactly is it that you need?

CHRIS CABRERA, VICE PRESIDENT AND SPOKESMAN, NATIONAL BORDER PATROL COUNCIL: We need to have a plan in place. We just can't pull this -- pull this program out and not have anything to - to replace it, much like they did with the migrant protection program. It caused huge numbers that we've seen in the past year of folks coming in.

SMERCONISH: So, what is it that you fear? Like the world now knows the date. May 23rd. I assume that's now circled on the calendar of people who try to smuggle folks into the United States. Do you have intel as to where you might be hit? Where folks might be amassing and try and cross the border the most?

CABRERA: Well, if you look at our border now, I mean, where aren't we being hit. We're being hit in every sector in every station along the southwest border. And once this program gets pulled from us, we're going to see mass flooding at the border, the unfortunate part of that is you're going to have a lot of people that are they're taking their lives in the hands of these smugglers. And a lot of people are going to get harmed in. And some won't make it along the way, just for a promise that may or may not be there.

SMERCONISH: You know that the flip side, that the argument, the argument against what you're advocating. People say, it's a subterfuge now. I mean, it's all - in Title 42 is simply being used to stymie asylum seekers. And that's why giving the waning of the pandemic, Title 42 has got to go. You would say what in response to that?

CABRERA: Well, you know, there's several ways to request asylum.


Crossing over illegally is probably not your best bet, if you're - if you're - if you're trying to do something right, breaking the law is probably not the best way to go about doing that. There's many ways to claim asylum. And a lot of people will have a lot of things to say but they haven't seen what we've seen on the ground firsthand. When you see young girls with - with Plan B pills or that are put on birth control, because their family knows bad things are going to happen to them along this journey. That's no way to start off. That's just terrible for these kids to go through what they have to go through.

SMERCONISH: Right. I understand that argument, but the reason that you've had this - this weapon of sorts to protect against so many coming into the United States has been a pandemic that is now on the wane. So how can politicians, how could the Biden administration justify using that as the excuse to turn everybody away?

CABRERA: Well, it's not turning anybody away. I mean, you can - you can request asylum from your home country. You can request asylum from a consulate office from an embassy. You don't necessarily have to cross the border to do it. You can go through the port of entry. Crossing through river is not the way to do it. That's a crime in and of itself if you present yourself at a bridge, you're not breaking any law. If you cross through the river, you're actually breaking the law without inspection. And so, if you're looking to do right in this country, the first act you do in this country is breaking the law. That's no way to get started off here.

SMERCONISH: You heard me reference 170,000 who may be poised and ready to cross. What kind of intel do you have as to the numbers and the whereabouts of people who will seek to exploit this change on or about May 23rd?

CABRERA: You know, we've heard as many as 400,000, to 500,000 a month. Up from 200,000 a month, what we're seeing now which coincidentally two years ago was about 20,000 a month. So right now, wherever they're looking to cross is where they've been crossing, the Rio Grande Valley, we're getting hit thousands per day. Every - I think every sector in our -- along the southwest border has seen huge jumps and they're going to - they're going to exploit every weakness they can. And right now, the weakness is the laws and policies of the U.S. government.

SMERCONISH: Quick final question, and maybe I'm naive. I'm wondering, though, are there encampments that you're aware of? Are there encampments right now where thousands of people, in relative, close proximity to the U.S.-Mexican border are just staging and getting ready, or are we not at that point?

CABRERA: Oh, we've been at that point. I mean, we can see them from our side, you'll see vehicles pull up, you know, 200, 300, 400 people waiting on the riverbank to cross. And, you know, if you ever want to see it for yourself, I welcome you to come down here. I'll take you down there myself and show you what we see. That way, you can, you know, full understanding. I think for anybody to have a real understanding of what happens down here, you need to come down here and take a look for yourself and believe me at which, I think.

SMERCONISH: I may take you up on that offer, Chris Cabrera. So thank you for extending it.

CABRERA: All right, thank you.

SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying on social media. Smerconish, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Republicans are pushing for every other COVID precaution to be lifted. It's either over or it's not.

So Stan Coffman, obviously, zeroing in on the political ramifications of this. I mean, think about it from the perspective of Mark Kelly in Arizona.

This on top of -- I mean, the president's got a full plate. The situation in Ukraine, inflation, escalating gas prices, the Afghanistan withdrawal. This will be huge to the GOP, but this will be bigger to the GOP base than CRT and don't say gay all combined. It's a major issue. And by the way, it's not just politics, it's a real issue. I'm worried about our border. I'm worried about the perception of a porous border. It's big and it needed to be flagged, so pay attention.

I want to remind you. Go to the website at this hour. Tell me.

Should the Biden administration lift Title 42, a pandemic public health order which has stopped many migrants from crossing the U.S.- Mexico border?

Still to come. Talk about your March madness. After last Saturday show in San Francisco, I had an airport layover, I ended up at the Duke/Arkansas game cheering on the cheerleaders. That may have been the influence of a couple of beers.

Anyway, today, I've got a better companion, NBA legend and turner sports analyst Charles Barkley is here to discuss who will survive to Monday's men's final. And that Will Smith and Chris Rock slap jolted the Oscar audience. Smith has now resigned from the Academy. But why is there nothing else to talk about regarding what used to be the most esteemed of all award shows. And might it even get worse?



BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME": The Oscars whether they like it or not, it's not fair. But they kind of are a representation to a lot of America of the Democratic Party. Because they look at the Oscars and it represents sort of like pandering. It represents sort of like we're not connected to everyday people. You know, look at the -- every year, the winners - I mean, this year, it was a disability, gay and race. Which there should be movies made about these topics. They're important topics but it looks like the Oscars only do those topics.



SMERCONISH: Are the Oscars in trouble? And I'm not talking about the slap over which Will Smith has now resigned from the Academy. That altercation is the only reason anybody is still covering this year's ceremony. There's no buzz around the awards or the movies themselves. Have you noticed?


In a recent cover story for "Los Angeles Magazine" writer Scott Johnson had already raised the question, "Are the Oscars over?" Even before COVID, viewership for the awards show has been plummeting for a variety of factors including the rise of streaming services and the lack of overlap between what's popular and what's critically acclaimed. And now striving to be more inclusive and equitable the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will soon implement diversity requirements for movies to qualify for Oscars.

Starting in 2024, as part of the initiative known as "Aperture 2025," producers will be required to submit a summary of the race, gender, sexual orientation and disability status of members of their movie's cast and crew. And if the production doesn't satisfy a complicated formula for representation including one about its story line, it won't qualify for best picture.

Think of all of the great movies that have been made over the years, "The Godfather," "Kramer versus Kramer," "Silence of the Lambs," "Titanic." Could any of them have qualified to be nominated? What does Aperture 25 mean for future awards and will it affect which movies get made?

Joining me now is Scott Johnson. His previous jobs have included being chief of "Newsweek's" Mexico, Baghdad and Africa bureaus. Scott, I told you on radio this week that a of couple years ago a novel that I wrote was optioned by one of the big studios. And along the way, after 2014's Oscar so white, it was suggested to me that maybe my protagonist shouldn't be a white guy, but should be a person of color. This "Aperture 2025" takes that to a whole new level, right?

SCOTT JOHNSON, CONTRIBUTOR, LOS ANGELES MAGAZINE'S "ARE THE OSCARS OVER?": It does. It's basically being seen by many in Hollywood as sort of top-down filmmaking. And if you look -- you mentioned a few great movies that if you look even back at the last decade or two of the best picture winners, you know, "Spotlight, "Argo," "The King's Speech," "The Hurt Locker," "No Country for Old Men," I mean, the list goes on, but it's hard to see how any of those would really pass muster under the new guidelines which -- while complicated do establish this sort of very byzantine and rather rigid set of criteria in order to qualify for the movies.

SMERCONISH: In other words, if you can't check all the boxes for the story line, the cast and crew, as well as everybody involved in the production, your movie will not be considered for best picture? And this is not theoretical. This is going to happen in 2025.

JOHNSON: Yes, that's correct, 2024. The best picture nominees for 2024 will have to adhere to these guidelines, according to the academy right now. Now, they may change their mind in the coming -- in the coming weeks or months, we'll see. But as of now, that's the -- that's the requirement.

The standards themselves are quite complicated and you have to meet sort of two out of the four sets of requirements. If you can't meet one criteria, you're given the option of trying to meet something else. But it all adds up to essentially a set of kind of top-down mandated requirements that -- for filmmakers who are already grappling with, you know, the difficulties of making any movie which are -- which are considerable are now going to be asked to include in their calculations a set of requirements around the diversity of both the cast and crew. And also, in some cases, potential even the story line in order to qualify for best picture.

SMERCONISH: Do you think that this will cause some in the business to say, "I'm just not going to pursue Oscar recognition, I'm not going to try and check those boxes, instead, I'm going to make the film that I want to make"? And the second question, can you see it spilling into other categories and into other entertainment realms like television? I mean, maybe television will become formulaic in the same sense.

JOHNSON: Yes, to your first question I do -- I do think that filmmakers will just simply choose to opt-out of the whole process altogether. I spoke to a number of people in the industry for the article, obviously. And I did hear that that, you know, this is just too burdensome. It's just not something that they're going to pursue.


And I think that's -- other piece with another part of this whole story which is that increasingly the movies, and this goes to your second question, are really just a part of a larger ecosystem that has made movies themselves much more complicated and problematic in a way. And also has sort of, you know, created problems for the academy itself which rewards those movies.

So, you know, more and more people are turning to television, that's been the case for good many years now. It will only increase, I think. I mean, this year's best picture winner was after all streamed on Apple TV. That's a first. That's the first time that a streamer has ever, you know, been in the mix in this way and actually come out a winner. And yet that movie was not seen very widely prior to the show.

And certainly, while it may get a little bit of a boost post academy awards it -- you know, it's unlikely to enter the realm of movies like those we mentioned earlier, "Titanic" and so forth, which were, you know, really more like cultural touchstones. They were things that millions of people in this country and elsewhere went to see. It became, you know, kind of, you know, talking points. They were things that unify --

SMERCONISH: I think it's -- I think it's going to be a story of unintended consequences. I mean, how can you check the box relative to LGBTQ participation unless you first ask me to disclose my sexuality? You wrote a great piece. It's in my social media. And I hope that people will read it. Scott Johnson, thank you so much.

JOHNSON: Thank you for having me.

SMERCONISH: Checking in now on more social media. Where does this come from? YouTube, I believe.

Without a doubt the Oscars is the most boring award show of the year and has been since Billy Crystal stopped hosting.

Harvey Scolnick, you and I are joined at the hip on this. Where is Billy Crystal? Actually, he's about to launch a brand-new Broadway show which, I think, is in like three weeks. I love the guy and I agree with you.

I want to remind you answer this week's survey question at Should the Biden administration lift Title 42, a pandemic public health order which has stopped many migrants from crossing the U.S./Mexico border?

Hey, still to come, you won't want to miss this. Who will win the men's NCAA tournament? Don't let the moves of my next guest deceive you. NBA legend Sir Charles Barkley, live from New Orleans to share his big dance predictions.


CHARLES BARKLEY, NEW ORLEANS TURNER SPORTS NBA ANALYST: Yes, you're Griddy as it gets. That's when all of them are playing -- when all of them are playing, you all.



[09:42:30] SMERCONISH: Tonight marks the start of men's basketball final four. This year's wild ride of tournament has been filled with all of the stunning upsets and performances that you'd expect during March Madness. Yet, it will be college's most storied programs. The so- called Blue Bloods of Kansas, Duke, Villanova and North Carolina will battle it out in New Orleans for the national title. Out of tens of millions of brackets created this year, no perfect one remains and that's particularly true for my next guest who isn't afraid of making some bold predictions.

With me is Turner Sports analyst, legendary NBA hall of famer, Sir Charles Barkley. Charles, I'm going to show the clip of your threat of removing your shirt if Auburn defeated Miami. Roll it.


BARKLEY: I'll tell you what, if we win, I might take my shirt off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hold it. What did you just say?

BARKLEY: I said --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, I'll have the wall ready --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did you just say?

BARKLEY: I said, I'm going to be Kelvin Sampson tonight.


SMERCONISH: Is that the reason, Sir Charles, as to why the Hurricanes defeated your alma mater? I do not hear Charles. Oh, no. All right. Let us get our act together and we will come back with basketball royalty in a moment.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here's somebody from the SEC --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, that's a Tennessee guard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know who played -- you're supposed to pronounce his name.

BARKLEY: Santiago --


BARKLEY: -- Vescovi.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your emphasis on the syllable is wrong.

BARKLEY: That's how we pronounce it in the hood.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not his hood. Not his hood.


SMERCONISH: Final four tonight. Sir Charles Barkley joining me from New Orleans. Hey, Chuck, great to have you back if only by phone. The first thing I want to tell you is that my handicapped has decreased from 27 to 26, so you might want a piece of me this spring or summer.

BARKLEY (on the phone): You must be in the zone then. I mean, because you're playing that well. Hey, listen, we can play -- we can play every day during the summer. I do nothing but play golf during the summer. We can play every day.

SMERCONISH: In your final four, you had Auburn. A bit of an emotional pull there for you. Arizona, Gonzaga and Kentucky. OK, so you got wiped out. But to your credit in the elite eight, you had Duke, UNC, Villanova and Kansas. What are you looking for tonight?

BARKLEY: Well, everybody is sleeping on the Kansas/Villanova game. It is really unfortunate that the kid from Villanova blew out his Achilles. But obviously everybody is talking about Duke and North Carolina.

It's going to be epic. It's going to be epic. I cannot wait to get there tonight. And Kansas gets a break because of injury, but they're a terrific team.

But, Michael, this is the greatest day of the whole March Madness. Saturday at the final four is one of the coolest things I get to do in my life.


It's unbelievable. Where you have 20,000 fans of each school, when they start out tonight, and the building is on fire. I cannot wait until tonight.

SMERCONISH: Can I say that you personally have added so much for me this year because I'm a causal fan when it comes to this, even March Madness? But I just look forward to your commentary and all the repartee that you have had with your co-host of giving me story lines I otherwise would not have heard of. In other words, it's not only the game and the "X"s and "O"s of it, but the back stories and the personalities of these kids is what makes it so much fun.

BARKLEY: You know, it was amazing. When we did the big story last week about the kid from Ukraine who is Facetiming his mom and dad in the middle of a war going on, and you can -- I can't even imagine what that would be like to be a son and your mom had to leave and your dad is over there and there's bombs going off. And then we saw that story about the blind sportscaster.

Michael, I've been so lucky and blessed. I've said this before. The greatest thing I've ever done sports-wise in my life is go to the Olympics because the Olympics are the greatest thing I've ever been to. But the second thing is March Madness.

Nothing can screw up March Madness. It's the most incredible thing you're ever going to come to. You're going to come down here one year, especially on Saturday. It's worth it for you. If you -- any type of sports fan, you got to come to March Madness one time.

SMERCONISH: Charles, you'll love this. So I was going to tell you this out on the links but I'll tell it to you right now. So last Saturday, I did this show from San Francisco. I was taking a red eye back to Philly at 11:00 at night. My hotel told me you got to be out at 4:00.

All of the sudden I figured out, "What a minute. Arkansas and Duke is a 6:00 p.m. tip-off." I went over to the Chase Center in San Francisco, got a great seat, sat and watched the game and had the time of my life. So I got to experience it and everybody in life should have this experience once.

BARKLEY: Yes, I've said that -- one time -- everybody one time in life should go to the Olympics. But the second thing they should do is go to March Madness.

It's incredible. It never lets us down. This is like my 10th year doing the tournament. It never lets us down. And I cannot wait to get there tonight, because it's unbelievable.

SMERCONISH: And of course, you know, for the whole tournament, every game that Duke has played in conceivably was Coach K's last game. Do you think his last game is tonight or is it Monday night?

BARKLEY: Well, I think it's going to be Monday night. I think that after Duke -- first of all, I think they have got more talented players. But I think the Duke -- the proper UNC is going to be the depth of Duke. They are really deep. But the kid Paolo Banchero is special. He's probably going to be the number one pick in the draft and he deserves to be the number one pick in the draft. But I think they win tonight.

And Kansas, I think they win because of the injury. I think that's going to be a big part. It's going to be a great final game Monday night. And I think Coach K -- I think he leaves in a great Cinderella story.

SMERCONISH: Charles, everybody is excited that you're here. There's a lot of social media reaction.

Catherine, put something up on the screen. And I can just ask it of Charles directly. This comes from the audience under -- these are things that people want you to answer.

Go ahead, Catherine. Hit me with it.

Would Chuck rather see the Cinderellas like St. Peters or the Blue Bloods like Duke in the final four? What's your answer?

BARKLEY: Cinderellas because I think that -- Michael, one thing about sports, it doesn't matter how rich you are, where you're from, when you roll the ball out there in any sport the best team always wins on that day.

You know, in the NBA, the best team is always going to win a seven- game series. A Cinderella is not going to beat an NBA team four times in a row. But the beauty of March Madness is you just have to be the best that day.

And listen, no matter what happens Coach K -- his thing has probably been the story of March Madness. But the second biggest story has been the Peacocks of St. Peter's. And for them those guys to win three games, it had never happened before, a 15 seed get to the elite eight. That was the second biggest story after Coach K in this tournament.

SMERCONISH: Enjoy yourself tonight. I'll see you when you get back to Philly.

BARKLEY: Amen. You know I got a lot of love and respect for you. Thank you for having me on.


SMERCONISH: Mutual, of course. Thank you, Charles.

Time to see how you responded to the survey question this week at We ask this. Should the Biden administration lift Title 42, a pandemic public health order which has stopped many migrants from crossing the U.S./Mexico border?

Here comes the result. May 23rd, the day to circle. Oh, wow. Let's call it two-thirds say no. And look at the voting, 17,169, 68 percent of whom say, no, should not end it.

I'll leave the survey question up for the rest of the day. Go to and keep voting. Register for the newsletter when you're there. Enjoy the action tonight. I'll see you next week.