APRIL 1, 1996
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton got a break last week from the slings and arrows of Whitewater and other misfortunes. She took a nine-day trip to Germany, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Italy, Turkey, and Greece with her 16-year-old daughter, Chelsea. After touring remote outposts in Bosnia, the First Lady thanked cheering U.S. soldiers in Tuzla for providing a good example to the Bosnians.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: There is no better example in the world of what a multiethnic, multiracial, multicultural team means in the United States military. You look around at the men and women in this room, you're letting people who have hated each other, who have killed each other know there is another way. Look to America. And that's what I thank you for. (cheers and applause)
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The White House pointed out that no First Lady since Eleanor Roosevelt has made such a trip into a potentially hostile military environment. After Bosnia-Herzegovina, the First Lady pushed on, fulfilling more traditional duties and, whenever possible, addressing issues important to her like women's rights and families. In Turkey, she placed a wreath at the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the modern Turkish Republic. In Greece, at the head of a throng of reporters, she toured the Acropolis and nearby ruins. Throughout the nine- day trip, Mrs. Clinton made herself unusually available to reporters. Bill Nichols of "U.S.A. Today" wrote, "Far away from the White House and stories that portray her as the scheming shadow President, a very different Hillary Clinton emerges. She is relaxed and funny, a prankster who can turn the tables on reporters. She is an engaging dinner companion." The trip produced a far different image than Mrs. Clinton's last appearance before a large group of reporters after her four-hour testimony before a Washington grand jury investigating obstruction of justice in the Whitewater affair. Central to the investigation were questions about the disappearance and recovery of law firm billing records that had recently turned up at the White House.
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON: (January 26) I, like everyone else, would like to know the answer about how those documents showed up after all these years. It would have been certainly to my advantage in trying to bring this matter to a conclusion if they had been found several years ago, so I tried to be as helpful as I could in their investigation efforts.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Since Hillary Clinton's appearance before the grand jury, many more Americans have come to believe there was wrongdoing on her part. In a March Washington Post/ABC News poll, half of the respondents said they thought Mrs. Clinton had broken the law. Two years ago, a Post poll showed that one in three thought so, and a February University of Iowa poll found that the number of Midwesterners with negative feelings towards the First Lady jumped from 30 percent in 1992 to almost 50 percent this year, all this in spite of her book, It Take A Village, published in January and now a nationwide bestseller. Though the work reaffirms the First Lady's long involvement in issues concerning children, difficult questions plagued Mrs. Clinton throughout her book tour. Now a new book on Whitewater has hit the bestseller lists. In Blood Sport, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James Stewart explores the Clintons' financial dealings in Arkansas, pushing Whitewater to the fore once again.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, for more on the First Lady, we turn to our regional commentators. They are: Lee Cullum of the Dallas Morning News, Patrick McGuigan of the Daily Oklahoman, William Wong, formerly with the Oakland Tribune, now with Pacific News Service, Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Constitution, who's not with us but should be in just a few minutes, and Mike Barnicle of the Boston Globe. Welcome to you all. Lee Cullum, is something unfair happening to Hillary Clinton? The people who respond to the polls saying that their feelings about her are more negative than they were before, are they responding to an unfair level of criticism and scrutiny or not?
LEE CULLUM, Dallas Morning News: (Dallas) It's possible that they are, Elizabeth. It seems to me she's taking enormous punishment just for being herself thus far, existing in her own way in the White House. Uh, you know, she started out as an unorthodox First Lady. This, of course, raised suspicion among many. Many women were exhilarated by it, but, but there were many people in the country who were very suspicious, deeply suspicious. Then came the health care effort that she made in '93, came to a head in '94, and I think that turned out to be practically fatal for her. I didn't foresee it as such, but it was enormously controversial and I think it did the major damage. The interesting thing is that the negative figures have continued to rise since then, have risen over the last two years, when actually she has been far less prominent in a policy way and in a public policy way, so I was noticing Anthony Lewis's column in the New York Times this morning about the Resolution Trust Corporation study of Whitewater that indicated that no illegality had taken place on the part of the Clintons. So, yes, it's perfectly possible if there's a certain hysteria about this issue that has been unfair to her.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Pat McGuigan, what do you think? Is there a certain hysteria? Is the criticism, is the level of scrutiny and criticism unfair or not?
PATRICK McGUIGAN, Daily Oklahoman: (Oklahoma City) Oh, I don't know if it's unfair. I mean, to some extent, the Clintons brought this on themselves. I mean, the President spoke quite a bit in 1992 about this being a two for one package, that if you voted for him, he would also get her. And so people have paid attention. She is following a little different course than some previous First Ladies, so people are paying attention. I don't know if it's unfair. I do think that all of us in the press tend to kind of go in waves and in packs, if you will, and right now, she is in the midst of another wave, but the flip side of the negative coverage is that once again the White House, itself, is helping to feed the attention paid to Mrs. Clinton, particularly on this recent trip. I mean, the White House was putting out packages to those of us in the media, trying to frame the issue, trying to frame the coverage. It's been a very interesting nine, ten days while she's taken this trip.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Bill Wong, what do you think? Is the White House handling this wrong, and is it--is this scrutiny and the attention unfair?
WILLIAM WONG, Pacific News Service: (San Francisco) I don't necessarily think it's unfair because I think that for a long time Hillary Clinton has been a lightning rod. She and Bill Clinton have been lightning rods for criticism because of both their personalities and their strength of character or lack of character, their intelligence and, and the idea that both are very sharp and, and good politicians. After all, when Hillary was, umm, the, the governor's wife while they were-- while Bill was running for President, uh, there were a lot of stories about Hillary out-earning Bill and being a very strong, independent woman. I think that the dilemma, if you will, is really the dilemma of Americans about the role of strong career women like Hillary Clinton, and we're still not used to the idea of a First Lady, even though Eleanor Roosevelt was very strong in her era, uh, modern day Americans are--are really faced with a dilemma on the very strong women--on a strong woman in the White House, as the First Lady. And, and I think that's really part of it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mike Barnicle, do you agree with what Bill says? Is the problem an ambivalence about the role of a strong woman in the White House?
MIKE BARNICLE, Boston Globe: (Boston) It seems to me that the more you talk to people, you find out that it's more an aspect of her personality that drives the negatives than it is anything having to do with politics, that a lot of people know that she has access to tremendous power as the wife of the President of the United States, and that she both wields and exerts this power and has in the past. And yet, it's almost as if she walks away from any accountability when she's called on. It's like, you know, she wants to drive the car but if she backs up in the supermarket lot and bumps into another car, she says, hey, it wasn't me behind the wheel; it must be him, or must be someone else. And it's, and it's this unnerving aspect of her personality, probably not her full personality, but the one that is portrayed I think most prominently in the papers that sort of drives these negatives up, I think.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think that it would have been different if, umm, the President had not said, you get two for the price of one, if they hadn't been presented so much as a duo? Would that have made a difference?
MR. BARNICLE: I, I don't think so. I think because people are smart enough to realize that they are a duo. They both appeared on "60 Minutes" together to explain, you know, their marriage, and what had happened during the course of the marriage, to an enormous public audience. There was the two of them. I think the public has always viewed the two of them as a team.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Lee, what do you think about that? Is it a personality problem? How do you view it? We're waiting for Cynthia, by the way. She's on her way but she's not here yet.
MS. CULLUM: Well, then I'll carry the burden of the feminine response here. Yes, I think it is to some extent a personality problem. She does seem to be abrasive and in certain ways. I have no doubt that she's charming in others. I was just hearing the USA Today report that in your story. You know, I, I think that the situation is one of unorthodoxy. I think it is a situation that Bob Dole is going to be able to exploit very successfully. Elizabeth Dole, for example, I think has been very wise, in fact, clever in saying that she would continue her work with the Red Cross. That's a very subtle way of saying that she will continue to be a turn-of-the-century, turn-of-a-new-century woman. She won't retreat. She'll be active in the world, but not in a way that interferes at all with the work of the White House. Uh, this will be a very subtle matter, but, but it will work to Hillary Clinton's disadvantage. I, I think the way it was structured I disagree a little bit. I think that the two for one, uh, advertisement on the part of the Clintons, on the part of the President was not wise. I think it raised hackles, and those hackles are continuing, and getting worse.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Lee, do you think that in the campaign there will actually be a lot of comparing of Mrs. Dole and Mrs. Clinton? Is this going to be important?
MS. CULLUM: Yes, I think it's going to be important. I'm not saying that it will be, uh, blatant or open. Uh, it may be tactic, it may be subtle, but it will be very present in the campaign, I believe.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Pat, do you agree with that?
MR. McGUIGAN: I think it's possible that it becomes an issue. You know, I don't think this is a guy problem or a problem of men being concerned about, you know, strong, aggressive women like some others seem to imply, because, you know, like here in Oklahoma, we have at least three statewide elected officials. Two of them are strong conservative Republican women. The other is kind of a moderate Democrat. And those people are respected by people all over the state. They get a lot of votes every time they run for office. That's not the problem. I think Mrs. Clinton's problem is a policy problem. She is to her husband's left, so there's stronger disagreement with some of her views, and it's also the personality thing that Mike talked about a little bit earlier.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is this something, Pat, that is partly dependent on regions? Do you think that different regions have very strong--different feelings, very strongly, depending on where you are?
MR. McGUIGAN: I don't think there's any doubt about that. I mean, when Mrs. Thatcher, for example, came here a couple of years ago and gave a speech for Oklahoma State University, the place was packed. The crowd was probably 50/50 men and women, and I'd say that about 95 percent of the people in the room were ardent admirers of her. You wouldn't necessarily get that on, on the East Coast, perhaps not on the West Coast. I think that it's a function of policy views, and Mrs. Thatcher, Lady Thatcher, being closer to the conservative views that people hold out here, that's--that would account for a higher degree of popularity. So I think that's part of Mrs. Clinton's problems. I do want to say one other quick thing. The election is going to be, as it always is, a function of increments, and I don't think we ought to obsess on this too much because I think this will only be one factor among many and traditional political factors will probably be more significant than Hillary Clinton by the time of the election.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Bill Wong, how important do you think it will be, and especially how important will it be in California, the Hillary Clinton factor in the election?
MR. WONG: Uh, I would--in one of my rare agreements with my colleague from Oklahoma, I think there are regional differences. Uh, in Northern California, I think there is still a, a reservoir of, of support for Hillary Clinton, not no matter what, because I think that she still has some answers-- some questions to answer with regards, uh, to Whitewater, as well as Travelgate, but I think that there, there--we would be much more sympathetic in general, although there's deep division and disagreement in California about the Clintons, as well as the Doles. I'd like to add one comment about Elizabeth Dole. I think that while we don't know really all that much about Elizabeth Dole, or certainly not as much about her as we do about Hillary, I think that as the campaign goes along, we'll find out that Elizabeth Dole is also a very strong, independent, umm, independently-minded woman who, who could be portrayed in very much the same way that, that Hillary Clinton is.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Bill, this is a new thing, isn't it, to have the First Lady such an important factor in a campaign?
MR. WONG: Well, I mean--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: A sign of the changing times, right?
MR. WONG: It is. I mean, I mean, Eleanor was a very prominent figure in, in the Roosevelt administration, or the New Deal, but I do think that--I hate to go back to my large picture--but the role of women in our society and whether they're equal and whether they have equal opportunities is the big backdrop to both Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Dole's scrutiny as the campaign goes along.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mike Barnicle, what about the comparison between Mrs. Dole and Mrs. Clinton, do you think this is going to be important and, and how do you see the comparison?
MR. BARNICLE: I don't think the comparison is going to be that important. I think the Clintons' futures, both of them, depend on what--to a large extent--what the Whitewater special prosecutor does. If Hillary Clinton is indicted for obstruction of justice prior to July 1st, I think you know they're in trouble, both of them. Uh, if anything goes beyond July 1st, I think people are going to say no matter what happens, it's politics as usual. Around here, it's, it's sort of an unusual region, as most viewers would probably guess. Both Clintons could be in jail, and they would win in Massachusetts. But they have a case to prove, I think, before the public at large in the rest of the country and, and some questions to answer, as was just brought out.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And they could still win in Massachusetts because--
MR. BARNICLE: People, people like her here. People like the President here. Uh, people are more liberal, I think, in this area of the country than they are in Oklahoma City or, or other areas of the country and they're inclined to give Mrs. Clinton much more of the benefit of the doubt than I think she'd get in, you know, Chicago, Detroit, or Philadelphia.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Lee Cullum, from the point of view of a Texan, what needs to happen? What does Mrs. Clinton need to do between now and November to, umm, improve her image?
MS. CULLUM: Elizabeth, I think she needs to say and do as little as possible. I really think this is a season when less is more. I think restraint would, would be the very best possible course. Certainly her trip has been a great success, but I, I would counsel restraint above all things.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I'm having trouble hearing you. Well, let's go on--let's go on to Pat.
MS. CULLUM: Oh, I'm sorry.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: That's okay. I heard the very last part of it. Pat McGuigan, what do you think?
MR. McGUIGAN: I--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What does she need to do?
MR. McGUIGAN: I think she's got problems in this part of the country. The key thing, like Mike pointed out, is going to be on the legal front. And I agree with him, that after a certain point any action against the Clintons, as we get very close to the election, will appear political. The--there's a possibility that her problems and her husband's problems become part of a larger picture of a character problem or a character issue, I should say, in terms of the entire Clinton administration, with, you know, actions right now involving Ron Brown. There's a big Oklahoma connection on that, and it's getting quite a bit of attention in the press. So all of these issues will play together as we go on. If they can dodge the legal problems between now and November, or if they simply fix them and they go away, the things get corrected, or these various investigations don't pan out, I think she will not be that negative a factor. Otherwise, she's going to be.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you all very much. I'm sorry. Cynthia must have been caught in a terrible traffic jam. She never arrived, but thank you all.