Gore and the press

I had actually thought that Stan Greenberg, an Al Gore adviser, would say that he thought the vice president should open himself more to examination by the media.

Mr. Gore had shut down on press conferences and meetings with groups of journalists - like the Monitor's.

Mr. Greenberg had been one of a few of Gov. Bill Clinton's advisers who, back in the fall of 1991, had persuaded Mr. Clinton to come to Washington and meet with the Monitor's assemblage of print journalists.

Indeed, that proposal to the governor was partly shaped by Mrs. Clinton, who saw this get-together with the press as an opportunity to deal with the growing talk about her husband's alleged extramarital affairs. In the plan, Mrs. Clinton was to join the governor at the press breakfast.

As any watcher of the fascinating saga of Clinton and his rise to the presidency knows: Both the Clintons met with our group and, as they say, the rest is history.

As Mrs. Clinton nodded her head, Clinton earnestly told us that he and his wife had had some personal problems, "like most married people," and had dealt with them. He assured us that these problems were all behind them.

Greenberg has to know what a "successful" press session that was for the Clintons.

The press representatives at the table did not go running to their offices with stories that they could then regale their readers with about Clinton's "admissions" of misbehavior.

Instead, very little was written on that subject - and what was written was positive, from the Clintons' point of view: that the Clintons had been dealing with their marital problems and there had been a healing.

Up to that point, in September 1991, Mrs. Clinton was standing in the way of her husband running. She thought Clinton, with his women problems, "carried too much baggage."

But when she saw that facing up to these problems at this press get-together had been so successful, she urged her husband to run. And on seeing how well his "explanation" played with us, he became a candidate.

Sure, now we all know that the explanation wasn't true - or if it was true at the time, it didn't hold for very long.

But, as Greenberg well knows, it was a masterful piece of strategy on his (and a few other Clinton aides') part that persuaded the Clintons to sit down with the press that autumn morning.

Had Bill Clinton actually put his extramarital behavior behind him, well, history would be written a lot differently today.

But Greenberg, meeting recently with the Monitor group, surprised me by saying he was on the side of Gore staying away from press conferences or press sessions like the one we were having with him (and another Gore adviser, Robert Shrum) that morning.

It seemed to me that Greenberg might well see a Gore get-together with our group - where he could lay out his plans and describe his vision for the country - as a good opportunity for the vice president also to deal with his own fund-raising and other problems.

But, no, Greenberg said he would oppose such sessions. He said he thought Gore should remain relatively quiet prior to the convention, that the public needed a little rest from the campaign.

Mr. Shrum, who arrived a little later at the breakfast and had not heard the Greenberg answer, said he thought Gore should come in to the breakfast and that he would so recommend.

Actually, Gore isn't remaining quiet. He's continually making speeches and announcing positions.

And Gore's comments on the Elian Gonzalez case still cry out for further explanation.

He should meet with the print press, clarify his position, and - most importantly - show that he is able to stand up to the heat.

The public expects that of someone who would be president.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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