Clinton's Spat With Press Has Its Precedents

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT once verbally awarded a reporter a German Iron Cross for giving aid and comfort to the enemy through his typewriter.

FDR's cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, once said of newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst: ''He preaches the gospel of envy, hatred, and unrest.... He cares nothing for the nation, nor for any citizens in it.''

Harry Truman wrote, by hand, in ink, to a music critic who panned daughter Margaret's professional singing career: ''I never met you, but if I do you'll need a new nose and a supporter below.''

Sooner or later, almost every president flashes public anger with a reporter. Bill Clinton's turn came this week, when, according to press secretary Mike McCurry, the president was irked by New York Times columnist William Safire's conclusion that Hillary Rodham Clinton was, in matters concerning Whitewater, ''a congenital liar.''

''The president, if he were not the president, would have delivered a more forceful response to that on the bridge of Mr. Safire's nose,'' said Mr. McCurry, deftly changing the subject from whether Mrs. Clinton lies to whether her honor needed presidential protection.

On Tuesday, President Clinton, speaking for himself and perhaps his predecessors, offered a short explanation for his irritation with the press: ''Presidents have feelings, too.''

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