Mea Culpa Part II?

Chatterbox can understand why White House imagemakers are so eager to convince the president that he needs to try again with a lip-biting, tear-jerking, garment-rending apology. But who among the president’s advisers came up with the bright idea that Bill Clinton should don sack cloth and ashes in Moscow? The Associated Press is reporting that Clinton’s second-chance apology “could come next week in Russia at a news conference with Russian President Boris Yeltsin.”

Have they gone bonkers in the Clinton bunker? The collapse of the Russian economy is not so much a replay of Indonesia, as it is a return to the hyper-inflation of Weimar Germany. Any moment now, TV news will show hapless Russians trying to buy a loaf of black bread with wheel barrows filled with worthless rubles. Rumors are rife in Moscow that Yeltsin is gaga, drooling into his kasha. And yet amid the Russian meltdown, the Clinton spinmeisters are busy leaking the idea that the Yeltsin press conference would be the proper forum for a deja vu mea culpa.

What is the PR logic beyond this nutty scheme? That somehow Yeltsin will interrupt one of the Monica questions to confess that he too enjoys frolicking with Kremlin interns? That Americans watching at home will decide that Clinton’s conduct has been exemplary, and that it’s the reporters who are out of line with their invasive questions? That such a press conference will reassure the Russian people that their elected leader is a pillar of sobriety compared to the ever-adolescent American President?

If Clinton needs a dignified setting for some overdue truth-telling about the Lewinsky scandal, he could always sit for a Playboy interview. But if Clinton seriously intends to use Yeltsin as a prop, it will be the most maladroit move by a globe-trotting president since Ronald Reagan went to Bitburg.

Walter Shapiro