Clinton’s Rules of the Rude

No wonder everybody hates the press. Here is Bill Clinton in Jerusalem on Sunday trying to save the Wye River Accords, and all the scabrous scandal scrubs in the press want to talk about is impeachment. How humiliating for America that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to interrupt his joint press conference with the president to instruct reporters, “The president has come here … on a very clear voyage of peace, and I believe that it would be appropriate also to ask one or two questions on the peace process.”

TV viewers, who have seen this type of disregard for the sensibilities of foreign leaders before, must have been asking themselves in outrage, “Why doesn’t the White House press corps have the simple dignity to confine their questions at times like this to foreign policy?”

That’s precisely what the president and his press handlers want you to think. In case you haven’t noticed, Clinton has totally abandoned the long tradition of presidential news conferences to a degree undreamed of by Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. As near as Chatterbox can tell from scanning the White House archives and the NEXIS data base, Clinton has not held a single traditional press conference since Monica Madness first swept Washington. Not one. Sure, the president sometimes takes a few shouted questions after Rose Garden statements and during photo ops. But that’s it, aside from joint press sessions with foreign dignitaries.

So whether it’s Tony Blair in Washington in early February, Boris Yeltsin in the Kremlin in September, or Netanyahu on Sunday, world leaders are forced to watch awkwardly from their lecterns as the president parries press questions about the scandal. It is a symbol of Clinton’s undiminished narcissism that he orchestrates his press coverage so that the Netanyahus of the world serve as unwitting foils for the White House press corps. Beyond Clinton’s disdain for reporters, this self-centered press policy undermines the stature of foreign leaders and underlines America’s superpower hubris. But rather than blaming the press for its bumptious lack of respect, remember that the real rudeness starts with Clinton.

Correction: Chatterbox erred on this item. For his correction click here.

Walter Shapiro