By: Debra Gersh Hernandez
Says he cannot be expected to meet demands to ‘answer every question that anybody might ever ask about something that happened 10, 15, 17 years ago on the spur of the moment’ sp.
PRESIDENT CLINTON DECLINED to grade the press on its coverage of his administration but said he has done his best to answer questions asked of him about the Whitewater Development Co.
“Maybe you have total and complete recollection of every question that might be ? not is, might be ? asked of you at any moment of things that happened to you 12, 13, 14 years ago,” the president said in response to a question following his remarks at a luncheon session of the American Society of Newspaper Editors conference in Washington last week.
“Maybe you could give your tax records up for 17 years and at the moment answer any question,” Clinton continued. “Or maybe instead . . . you think I should have shut down the whole federal government and done nothing but study these things for the last two months.”
Clinton said that at the urging of the press and Republicans, he agreed to the appointment of special counsel to investigate Whitewater ? even though the criteria for the appointment were not met ? so he could get back to the job of being president.
“Since then, the same people who asked for the special counsel ? so that these issues could be answered in an appropriate and dignified way so I can get back to work ? have decided they were kidding and they wanted to continue for us to deal with this,” he said.
“Well, I’m sorry. I’m doing the best I can while I do the job I was elected by the American people to do,” Clinton added.
“I have been as candid and as forthright as possible . . . . But can I answer every question that anybody might ever ask me about something that happened 10, 15, 17 years ago on the spur of the moment and have total recall of all that while trying to be president? No, sir, I cannot.”
When asked to grade the press coverage of his administration in general and on Whitewater specifically, the president replied, “If I could grade the press, I wouldn’t, especially not now.”
Clinton added that it is very hard to generalize about the press today.
Further, he said, “the press, at least in this town, is very different from most of the press outside this town, in terms of how they work and what’s important and all of that.
“But they are under more competitive and other pressures today than ever before,” he added.
“The Founding Fathers had two points of untrammeled freedom in our setup. One was given to the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts, that is they have lifetime jobs,” he said. “And they got that because somebody had to make a final decision. They had limited power but ultimate freedom. So you have to be careful not to abuse the freedom.
“The other was the press because nobody could think of a practical way to limit the press. In fact, the limits have become less, not more, with the weakening of the libel laws over time.
“And I just think that always any kind of unrestricted freedom imposes great responsibility on people,” Clinton told the editors and their guests.
“What happens here is when you’ve got, for example . . . all these different news outlets, you’ve got all these channels, you’ve got all this time to fill, you have all this competition now from the tabloids, you have the highly politically motivated outlets posing as news
?(“Or maybe instead . . . you think I should have shut down the whole federal government and done nothing but study these things for the last two months.”) [Caption]
?(? President Clinton responding to a question at the American Society of Newspaper Editors annual conference) [Photo]