Jewish World Review May 7, 2002 /25 Iyar 5762

Clarence Page

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Consumer Reports

Forget it, Bill, you're no Oprah | MEMO TO BILL CLINTON: Dear Mr. Ex-President: Don't do it.


You know what I'm talking about. News reports say that you have been talking to NBC about hosting your own talk show. You reportedly want $50 million a year and aspire to be "the next Oprah Winfrey," according to a source quoted by the Los Angeles Times.

Sir, I know Oprah Winfrey. Oprah Winfrey is a hero of mine. Mr. Ex-President, you're no Oprah Winfrey.

However, you do have to a frightening degree the fundamental ingredients of daytime TV talk-show hosts: A gift for gab, an engaging personality and a relentlessly insatiable appetite for public attention. Oprah? No. Jerry Springer? Hmmm….

In fact, I have seen you handle the wireless mike with jaunty ease and eagerness at so many televised town hall meetings that I feel as though I already have seen "The Bill Clinton Show."

It is not clear whose bright idea this was. Your aides tell reporters that this is just one of many offers to which you have listened but made no commitment. Other sources say you're as hot for this gig as a young hound dog in heat.

Frankly, I don't believe this show has any chance of actually happening. In fact, I bet you are secretly enjoying your ability to keep us guessing. I bet you are kicking back even now and laughing uproariously at the conniptions this report has sent through your many obsessed detractors on the political right. Every time the bash-Clinton industry tries to move on to other targets, you keep popping back up in their sights. You know they can't help themselves.

I don't care how much you may crave the spotlight, the money or (it must be mentioned) the potential babes, I like to believe that your better judgment will put the brakes on this TV talk show notion, if it hasn't already.

That's right, your better judgment has failed you before, hasn't it?

So, if you might even think about listening to that little demon on your shoulder (See him? The little red-colored guy who looks like you, but with little horns, a tail and a folksy Ozark accent?), think for a minute:

Sure, the White House looks tame next to the excitement of network TV, but do you really want to take the risk? Remember Magic Johnson. He probably wishes everyone would forget his late-night talk show disaster.

Besides, where in the world - literally - would you find a guest who was more interesting than you are? All of the time that you were asking people questions, they and your audience would be dying to ask YOU questions. Where would it end?

"Does Bill Clinton understand that former presidents rise in popularity, first and foremost, BECAUSE they are former presidents?"

So exclaimed noted presidential historian Richard Norton Smith as I was interviewing him on the same day that your TV show possibility leaked.

Yes, step one for successful ex-presidents, Smith suggests, is that they go out of sight. You, by contrast, have a way jumping back into the public eye even when news media are perfectly willing to leave you be. We long for a Harry Truman, who retired quietly to Missouri. You give us P.T. Barnum.

I know it is tempting for you to think that you can have it all, that you can rush here and there and do whatever you darn well please, pausing only long enough to wonder why more people have not given you the proper credit for the economic boom, for welfare reform, for the Camp David peace accords.

Ah, yes, I know that you care about how history remembers you. The most revealing moment recounted in your former adviser Dick Morris' book "Behind the Oval Office" described you and he casually discussing what tier of history you might end up on. Remember those good old days? Before the Monica scandal?

Sir, take a tip from the legacies of other ex-presidents. Some get improved reputations later. Others get devalued. Either way, you can't spin history, so don't even try. Just do worthwhile stuff and let people judge for themselves.

Besides, ex-presidents belong in history books, not in TV Guide.

Comment on JWR contributor Clarence Page's column by clicking here.


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