22 Minutes star pulls prank on George W. Bush

The American media have become fixated on a prank pulled by This Hour Has 22 Minutes star Rick Mercer that showed U.S. presidential candidate George W. Bush doesn't know the name of Canada's prime minister.

In one of the show's regular segments, Talking to Americans, Mercer delights in asking Americans pointed political questions about Canada to reveal how little they know about their northern neighbour.

In keeping with the show's guerrilla tactics, Mercer ambushed Bush at a campaign rally in Michigan. Bush was swamped by reporters and people asking for autographs as Mercer popped out of the crowd.

First Mercer approached Michigan state governor John Engler: "Prime Minister Jean Poutine said he wouldn't endorse any candidate in this election, now he says he believes George W. Bush is the man to lead the free world into the 21st century," Mercer said.

Engler didn't catch the reference to a well-known Canadian dish of french fries, gravy and cheese curds.

And in true political glad-handing fashion, Engler replied "I certainly think he's got very good judgement in making that statement about George W. Bush."

Mercer moved on to George W. Bush and asked for a response to the same comment.

"He understands I want to make sure our relationship with our most important neighbour to the north of us is strong and we'll work closely together," Bush said.

The blunder delighted some of the most respected journalistic institutions in the United States. CBS Radio ran the skit and a story. The Wall Street Journal wrote about it on Thursday.

But the Washington Post's columnist Al Kamen called it a bit unfair.

"I guess I'm a little sympathetic. He was a little tired. But I appreciate shows like This Hour Has 22 Minutes because they lighten things up," Kamen said.

However, Kamen made a mistake of his own. He mistook the word "poutine" for "Putin", believing Mercer was referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

It's a sensitive area for Bush, who recently failed a pop quiz on world leaders with a reporter.

22 Minutes producer Geoff D'eon makes no apologies. "I think if we went to a McCain rally next week and said 'question from Canada' I think the antennae would be up. And I bet you McCain knows the name of the prime minister of Canada now," D'eon said.