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Jewish World Review June 18, 2003 / 18 Sivan, 5763

Dick Morris

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Times not a-changing | Anyone who thinks that Howell Raines' resignation will restore editorial balance to The New York Times is in for a sad disappointment. The following excerpt from my book, Off with Their Heads: Traitors, Crooks & Obstructionists in American Politics, Media & Business" (published today), examines an incident that shows the partisan tilt of Joseph Lelyveld, Raines' successor - and predecessor - as the Times' executive editor.

During the 1996 presidential campaign, Lelyveld told me, as he sought an exclusive interview with President Clinton, that he did not feel "the public cares about what happened back in Arkansas." His implied commitment to pull coverage of the scandals that dogged Clinton throughout his first term illustrates how facile is the hope that he can restore non-partisanship to the Times.

Indeed, in the two months before Election Day '96, the Times ran no stories on its front page about Paula Jones, the Rose Law Firm, Hillary's billing records and only lightly covered Whitewater.

Here's the story:

While working for President Clinton in 1996, I got a call from the Lelyveld's office. Naturally, I agreed to a meeting the Times' chief to "get to know one another."

As Clinton's chief political adviser, I knew the request had something to do with the White House. But I was surprised to be asked by Lelyveld and a Times reporter to help them get an exclusive interview with the president. "We've tried for months and come up empty," the editor pleaded. "Can you help get it done?"

I spoke of Clinton's sensitivity to criticism from the Times and how he had bristled particularly at Raines, then running the editorial page. A worried frown clouded the editor's formerly sunny face. "You know," he assured me sotto voce, "we don't think that the public cares about what happened back in Arkansas."


I wondered if I heard right. Did the top editor of The New York Times just imply that they'd pull their punches over Whitewater, Paula Jones, the Rose Law Firm, Hillary's billing records, the Web Hubbell hush money and the rest of the scandals that had emerged from Clinton's Arkansas Pandora's Box - all in return for an interview?

I certainly got that impression.

The next day I was in the White House residence, after our weekly strategy meeting, whispering in Clinton's ear about my conversation with the Times.

"They're B.S.-ing you," the president said. (He didn't use the initials.)

"No," I protested. "I wasn't fishing for the concession, they just threw it out."

"Hummmf," he grunted, moving on to our next topic.

Somehow, the interview got granted.

Then my phone rang. It was the reporter who had sat with his editor in my hotel suite. I'd known him for some time, and he was calling to tell me that he would be conducting the interview. I congratulated him, and he invited me for a drink.

As I crossed through Lafayette Park to get from the White House to the Hay Adams Hotel to meet him, I wondered why he wanted to talk before the interview.

After some light chatter over drinks, he began, casually, to tell me the questions he was going to ask. "I'll ask him what are his proudest achievements, what he's most ashamed of, why he thought he lost the Congress [in the 1994 elections], what he proposed to do about Bosnia . . ."

A reporter briefing a presidential aide on the questions he was preparing to ask the president: This was about as common as it is for Nebraska to brief Miami on their football signals before the game. I couldn't believe my luck. Pushing my luck, I prompted him. "Why don't you ask him about . . . "

"Good idea," my obedient reporter/friend said as he jotted down notes.

The briefing before the interview wasn't even hard. Sitting on the couch with the president in his wing chair on my right in the Oval Office, I fed the reporter's questions to Clinton, and we worked out answers.

"What if he asks about Whitewater? Clinton wondered.

"He won't," I assured him. "He's told me exactly what he's going to ask."

Clinton couldn't believe his luck! Knowing what was coming, we came up with answers to hit the ball out of the park.

And, on May 19, 1996, Clinton's smiling face adorned the cover of The New York Times Magazine, over the headline "Facets of Clinton."

The story touted the president as "one of the biggest, most talented, articulate, intelligent, open, colorful characters ever to inhabit the Oval Office." It went on to call him "breathtakingly bright" and even noted that he "exudes physical attraction."

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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, among others, Off with Their Heads: Traitors, Crooks & Obstructionists in American Politics, Media & Business" Comment by clicking here.


06/13/03:Why did Hillary write the book?
06/11/03: Will the Rev go rogue?
06/05/03: Napoleon's maneuvers at Austerlitz have nothing on prez's
06/02/03: Prez's tax-cut catch-22 for Dems
05/29/03: Liberal author documents Clinton's wasted second term
05/16/03: Early Democrat handicapping for 2004
05/14/03: Gephardt: AWOL
04/30/03: Prez can lose
04/25/03: My message to Putin: Call President Bush
04/23/03: NO OIL FOR BLOOD
04/21/03: The war that network news lost in Iraq
04/15/03: Media meltdown
04/10/03: Giving government a good name
04/03/03: Polls' message to Bush: Relax and win the war
03/31/03: Bomb as you need
03/28/03: The strong grow weak through inhibition
03/26/03: Carping pessimism of TV anchors and interviewers fails to give Americans a sense of defeatism
03/17/03: Poll: Get on with it
03/13/03: It's time for U.S. to play hardball at U.N.
03/10/03: The whole (Hispanic) world is watching
03/07/03: Anti-war errors
03/05/03: Domino theory II: Toppling Mideast despots
03/03/03: Europe's triangulators: Chirac and Blair
02/27/03: Invasion? More like a coup
02/21/03: The first casualty of Iraq war: Liberal credibility
02/19/03: Old Europe's last hurrah
02/14/03: Corzine throws down gauntlet on Wall St. fraud
02/12/03: An exile deal for Saddam
02/07/03: The Dems give up the House
02/05/03: France: Saddam's ally
02/03/03: War critics will suffer
02/30/03: Even by Clinton standards, it's sheer chutzpah
01/24/03: Rebirth of the balanced budget Republican
01/22/03: Next to Bubba, Dubya's got it good
01/16/03: End racism in affirmative action
01/13/03: The new swing voter
01/10/03: Political e-mailing comes of age
01/07/03: In Dem race: Home field no advantage
12/31/02: Hey, Hillary: Want to appear like a stateswomyn? Stay silent
12/19/02: Kerry in the lead
12/19/02: Lieberman the frontrunner
12/17/02: In defense of Lott
12/02/02: An issue for Bush: Drugs
11/27/02: Women gone wobbly?
11/25/02: The U.N. over a barrel
11/15/02: Gore's suicide
11/15/02 One-party control is an illusion
11/13/02 The House of Extremes
11/08/02 I have egg on my face
11/01/02 Is Bush losing control over events?
10/25/02What is causing Bush's free fall?
10/25/02: Anybody sense a trend?
10/23/02: A deadline for Iraq
10/18/02: Only sure bet of 2002 elections is voter angst
10/16/02: Endangered incumbents
10/11/02: Why multilateralism doesn't work
10/09/02: Hey, Dems: Believe NYTimes polling at your own risk
10/03/02: Dem suicide: Let's count the ways
09/30/02: The Dems just can't stop themselves
09/26/02: The perils of polling
09/19/02: W. boxed in the U.N.
09/19/02: Welfare reform: Keep on keeping on
09/12/02: Are Dems insane on Iraq?
09/09/02: Twin shadows of Election '02
09/05/02: GOP should triangulate
08/28/02: Trust the military
08/22/02: It's not the economy, stupid
08/09/02: As America unites, Gore goes divisive
08/01/02: Bush must focus on big picture
07/23/02: Election 2002: Advantage Dems
07/19/02: Rudy for SEC tough cop
07/17/02: The investor strike
07/15/02: Door open for drug testing students --- go for it, GOP!
07/12/02: Dubya looking out for No. 1?
07/03/02: The DNA war for Bush's soul
06/21/02: Why are conservatives winning?
06/19/02: Learning to love the feds
06/14/02: Hey, journalists and Dems: Dubya is doing just fine
06/12/02: It's terrorism, stupid!
06/10/02: Sanctions are a potent weapon
06/04/02: Al Qaeda's more dangerous new front
05/31/02: Why '04 looks tough for liberal Dems
05/24/02: Democratic self-destruction
05/22/02: The Clinton failures
05/15/02: Pataki positioned to win
05/08/02: A wakeup-call for American Jewry
05/03/02: Give Bush back his focus
05/01/02: Immigration fault li(n)es
04/25/02: It's the war, stupid
04/17/02: Bush goes small bore
04/12/02: Bush must be a gentle partisan
04/10/02: In defense of polling
04/08/02: Focus on Iraq, not the Palestinians
04/01/02: Only Internet will bring real campaign finance reform
03/27/02: Where W's drawn a line in the sand
03/22/02: Enron scandal will not trigger a wave of economic populism
03/20/02: Term-limited --- by war
03/15/02: Europe doesn't have a clue
03/11/02: Bush popularity = GOP win?
03/01/02: Will America be forced to chase its tail in its war on terrorism?
02/27/02: The Arafat/Saddam equilibrium must be destroyed
02/21/02: Campaign finance reform won't hurt GOPers
02/13/02: Dodd scurries for cover
02/11/02: U.S. 'unilateralism'? The Europeans don't have a case
02/06/02: WAR: What women want
02/01/02: They all talk in the end
01/30/01: The odd couple: Chris Dodd and Arthur Andersen
01/22/01: His father's son? Bush better get an 'Act II' fast!
01/18/01: Dubya & the 'vision thing'
01/14/01: The Rumsfeld Doctrine 01/03/01: A President Gore would have been a disaster
01/03/02: Clinton's priority: Political correctness over fighting terror
12/27/01: Terror network grew out of Clinton's inaction, despite warnings
12/24/01: Call 'em back, George
12/18/01: What Bush did right
12/13/01: Libs worry too much
12/11/01: "Open Sesame": Feinstein's proposed bill allows 100,000 non-immigrant students from anti-American countries to our shores
12/07/01: The non-partisan president
12/05/01: Both parties are phony on stimulus debate
11/29/01: When terrorists can enter legally, it's time to change the laws
11/21/01: Go for the jugular!
11/16/01: You are all incumbents
11/14/01: Clinton's failure to mobilize America to confront foreign terror after the 1993 attack led directly to 9-11 disaster
11/12/01: To the generals: Don't worry about losing support
11/08/01: The death of the white liberal
11/07/01: Our leaders are being transformed in a way unprecedented in post-World War II history

© 2002, Dick Morris