By: Tony Case
President Clinton, Mexican President Zedillo
and Canadian Prime Minister Chr?tien
address U.S. newspaper editors sp.
ANY DOUBTS THAT newspaper editors are an influential lot were allayed this month at the annual convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), which brought the three North American heads of state to Dallas.
President Bill Clinton, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chr?tien took turns as featured luncheon speakers over the course of the three-day conclave. While their mostly prepared remarks amounted to political speeches, the leaders managed to include some comments ? and stand-up comedy ? appropriate for their audience.
In his address, Chr?tien compared appearing before the hundreds of editors to meeting with “the mother of all editorial boards.” He quipped, “Now I won’t have to meet with another editorial board for 10 years.”
Clinton praised ASNE and the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) for working “tirelessly for press freedoms all throughout the Americas.” He also announced that he had signed, prior to addressing the group, the Declaration of Chapultepec, a press freedom document drafted by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA).
The president encouraged the journalists to put a human face on the daily news, citing a newspaper article on welfare he had read that focused on the struggle of one family on public assistance.
“Take each of these big issues, and try to figure out how to go from rhetoric to reality so that people can understand what all these labels mean,” he urged.
Clinton seemed to endorse, to the delight of the editors, the long-held opinion that print reporting tends to be more substantive than broadcast coverage.
“If all you hear about these debates is what sort of pierces through 10 or 15 seconds on the evening news,” he observed, “chances are your opinion will be more dominated by the rhetoric.”
He described newspapers as uniquely suited to provide in-depth analysis on “the real, hard evidence on various problems.”
This view is at odds with a report by the Freedom Forum Media Studies Center at Columbia University, released at ASNE, that determined network television news coverage was, in some cases, comparable or superior to reporting in medium-sized dailies.
The president also came out ? perhaps unknowingly ? as a supporter of a controversial concept sweeping the newspaper business known as public journalism, which advocates bringing readers into the journalism process by way of guest columns, polling and town meeting-style gatherings. The philosophy is espoused by newspapers such as the Seattle Times and Akron Beacon Journal.
Clinton suggested, as proponents of public journalism do, that papers sponsor conversations in their communities with people of all races and different walks of life, so they may better understand one another.
“My experience has always been that the differences among us, except on a few issues, are not nearly as profound as we think they are,” he told the editors. “Report that to your readers, because we have to establish some sense of common ground.”
Clinton said he had hoped a telecommunications bill would be passed in the last session of Congress, but “minor problems hung it up in the Senate . . . and, as you know, it’s not difficult to hang up a bill in the Senate.”
The president expressed concern that legislation currently before the Senate might lead to rapid and substantial increases in telephone and cable rates. These effects notwithstanding, he maintained that a telecommunications act could pump billions into the economy and create jobs.
Clinton said the Justice Department’s antitrust division also had “fairly serious reservations” about proposed legislation.
One ASNE member asked Clinton about the seemingly shifting role of his once-policy-molding wife, pointing out a New York Times story on her recent five-nation tour of Asia, the headline of which read, “Hillary Clinton: A Traditional First Lady Now.”
The president didn’t agree with the Times’s characterization but said he was “very, very pleased” with the bulk of the reporting on her trip.
As for news coverage of Mexico, Zedillo urged the editors to paint his country, not as a political and economic maelstrom, but as a hopeful neighbor working hard to fulfill its promise.
“I come here today, asking you to focus on the truth about Mexico ? the good as well as the difficult, both our progress and our problems,” Zedillo said.
“Our people want the American people to know the extraordinary efforts we are making to overcome the present financial crisis, to resume our economic growth, and to defend and extend the ideals of democracy and justice.”
?(My experience has always been that the differences among us, except on a few issues, are not nearly as profound as we think they are.” ) [Captions]
?(President Bill Clinton, addressing the American Society of Newspaper Editors)[Photo &Caption]