JULY 5, 1996
This Friday's political wrap focuses on the problems Bob Dole is having in his defense of the tobacco lobby, particularly a run-in he had with Katie Couric on the "Today Show" this week.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Next tonight, the politics of tobacco and other issues of the past week. The tobacco story actually began last month when Bob Dole on a campaign swing through Kentucky questioned whether tobacco use was addictive. Earlier this week during an appearance on NBC's "Today Show," Katie Couric asked him about that and about campaign contributions to him and to the Republican Party from tobacco companies.
KATIE COURIC: (NBC "Today") What would you say to people who say he's in tobacco's pocket, he's in the pocket of the tobacco industry?
SEN. BOB DOLE, Republican Presidential Candidate: I don't--I don't know if anybody's in the tobacco pocket.
KATIE COURIC: He's an apologist.
SEN. BOB DOLE: Obviously when the Republicans control, we get more contributions from companies, as we have since 1994. I haven't any idea whether I've had any money directed to my campaign by tobacco companies. I'm not in their pocket. And my view is, as I've said time and time again, again, the liberal media crosses that out, goes right back to the Democratic line, I mean, you should--you know, you may be violating the FCC regulations by always, you know, sticking up for the Democrats, advertising their--
KATIE COURIC: This has been in the news, and it certainly--
SEN. BOB DOLE: Well, it's been in the news.
KATIE COURIC: We want to give you an opportunity to respond.
SEN. BOB DOLE: You can't respond because the media has already made up their mind. I've said, I don't know whether it's addictive. I'm not a doctor. I'm not a scientist. People shouldn't smoke, young or old. Now what else do you do?
KATIE COURIC: C. Everett Koop is, is pretty non-partisan, wouldn't you say?
SEN. BOB DOLE: Oh, he's a Dole supporter, a Dole contributor.
KATIE COURIC: Well, he criticized you quite severely for your comments.
ELIZABETH DOLE: You saw the answer, my husband's letter.
KATIE COURIC: Yes, I did. I saw the letter. I did. But I'm saying, you know, you're saying it's the liberal media--
SEN. BOB DOLE: But, again, he read something that--
KATIE COURIC: --but even Dr. Koop had a real problem with your comments.
SEN. BOB DOLE: Dr. Koop, you know, he watches the liberal media, and he--
KATIE COURIC: He's brainwashed?
SEN. BOB DOLE: --probably got carried away. Probably a little bit.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Today at a White House press conference President Clinton was asked if there was any difference between Bob Dole's accepting money from the tobacco industry and tobacco contributions to Democratic campaigns.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: It is roughly I think a five to one difference in the ratio of contributions. I think about over 80 percent of their money, I believe, of the tobacco industry's money, I believe, has gone to Republicans. And what I've been critical of is the apparent impact of this. We have evidence of the Republican Party chairman calling state Republican officials around the country when they're going--when the Republicans are out in the country thinking about doing responsible things to restrict access of young people to tobacco and urging them not to do certain things, and we have the repeated opposition of Sen. Dole to what we're trying to do to restrict the advertising of tobacco products to children, the distribution of them, and going to areas where he thinks there will be a receptive audience for that and attacking my policy, so what, what I think is, you know, we have an open and free country, and people who are citizens should be able to contribute to whomever they wish, but when you see a pattern of contributions and then a dramatic difference in the policies, it is the policies and their impact on the American people that I'm most concerned about, and the American people should look at where I stand and where he stands, and they should decide whether they agree with us. And because all the contributions are reported, they can decide whether they think the contributions have anything to do with the policy position. That's how I think it ought to be analyzed. Thank you.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now analysis of the tobacco controversy and other political issues this week. We get it from syndicated columnist Mark Shields. Joining him tonight is Kate O'Beirne, Washington editor of the "National Review." Paul Gigot is on vacation. Welcome, Kate. Hello to both of you. Mark, is Sen. Dole right, is the liberal media beating up on him over this tobacco issues?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I have to confess I've never thought of Katie Couric of the "Today" Show as Rush Limbaugh in drag. I mean, I think she's had a very low profile ideologically. Uh, Bob Dole visited this upon himself. Does he have a case to be made, that the Democrats have taken money, and they did when they were in the majority, he's absolutely right, from the tobacco interests and tobacco companies, no question about it. But this is a self-inflicted wound. That's what has people despairing at Dole headquarters. He went to Kentucky. He raised this issue. You do that in Kentucky. Kentucky is a tobacco state. Bill Clinton's been harsh on tobacco. Uh, a little righteous, as we heard, in those words, uh, so Dole, Bob Dole goes down there and says, hey, I got something in common, he raises it, and then starts talking about whether milk in the next day in North Carolina, whether milk is addictive or unhealthy--too much milk could be. And what he's doing is he's kept alive--he's finally got off abortion, which was draining him. It was the death of a hundred cuts there, self-inflicted, and now he's moved on to tobacco. I don't know what's next, I mean, I really don't. But I don't think he can blame this on the liberal media, anybody else, but this is self-inflicted.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think about that? Is it the liberal media's fault, or is it self-inflicted, or is it both?
KATE O'BEIRNE, National Review: It's the--it's the kind of performance that causes enormous Republican angst, and I fear that between now and November, Republican supporters are going to be like nervous stage mothers every time Bob Dole is unscripted unfortunately. Here he is with his wife, trying to do the personality pieces, I grew up in Kansas, how long Libby and I have been married, those sorts of things. He later complained after Katie Couric's questions, he later complained to another member of the media that the media puts too much emphasis "on issues I don't raise." Hello? (laughing) Normally with a career politician, if you're going to have to put up with running a career politician, you get the experience factor. They seem to have the worst of both worlds here. They have a career politician who doesn't seem to have learned very much about dealing with the media. Look at how Haley Barbour responded to the same charges because President Clinton criticized the Republican National Committee was taking tobacco money, how he made the point that Democrats took tobacco money but didn't inhale it, I guess is his point. It made no difference to them. Haley Barbour ignores the charge and says marijuana use under Bill Clinton, look at what's happened to marijuana use, what Bill Clinton is trying to do is shift the focus from drug use among teenagers, which has skyrocketed on his watch, to tobacco. Why is Bob Dole incapable of talking "his" issues and taking the case to Clinton and being put on the defense on something as silly as this?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is this an important issue, Mark? Is this something that, umm, really is about the way Bob Dole isn't able to get his message across, or does this say--does this interchange say something important that people should be paying attention to?
MR. SHIELDS: The subject, itself, on tobacco?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yeah.
MR. SHIELDS: I don't think it's an important--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And the way it was handled.
MR. SHIELDS: I--well, the way it was handled, Kate is absolutely right. I mean, the level of anxiety among Republicans this week is very high. Here they were, Elizabeth, with the FBI File Gate--the story going their way, and not only has Bob Dole done it, they bring in this fellah, Aldrich, who is right out of--I mean, the Twilight Zone--who starts talking about pornographic ornaments on the Christmas Tree at the White House, and I mean, this guy is--I mean, he really is an extraterrestrial, and--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let's just stop a minute in case people don't know what we're talking about.
MR. SHIELDS: I'm sorry.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The book by Gary Aldrich.
MR. SHIELDS: Gary Aldrich.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: A thirty-year FBI veteran who worked in the White House for five years and has written a book very unflattering to the Clinton White House.
MR. SHIELDS: Very unflattering and which--which has imploded on him. I mean, this--this is somebody who was introduced by the "Wall Street Journal," a respected, a respected newspaper, editorial page, June 13th. He gets a full page to say he's an investigative writer, Gary Aldrich is, and a retired FBI, saying gee this guy must be pretty important. So you read what he writes. They never mention the fact that he's got a book coming out, and the book comes out, and the book is stepped on first of all by one of the leading conservative writers that Kate knows, a fellah named David Brock, who says the principal story about--allegation the President twisted at a Washington hotel was a fabrication, there was absolutely no substantiation to it, and he goes on with sort of these series of allegations that don't stand scrutiny, and so it's imploded upon them, and everybody--all the Republicans are moving away from it, and here's the Clinton administration really still reeling from the FBI files story. And yet, it's all been stepped over, and they can stand, the White House can stand there and say, hey, look, this is typical, unsubstantiated allegations, that's all of this stuff, and it really kind of takes the edge off what is really I think a strong case that the Republicans and Congress have on the FBI files.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Kate, what do you think the political impact of the Aldrich book is at this point?
MS. O'BEIRNE: Well, I think--I think Mark's right. The Republicans do have a strong case, the public seems to agree. In fact, the public, what they already know about the FBI files--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And this you're talking about the files.
MS. O'BEIRNE: The existence of at least 700, yeah, Republican files up at the White House. The public is inclined to think it wasn't innocent. It is abuse of power, the public thinks, and half the public believes that Bill Clinton knew about it. What the Republicans will do is get back to that after the distraction of the Gary Aldrich book. Unfortunately, Mark's right. His most explosive charges that the President slips out, hidden in the back seat of a car at night, were--was all second and third-hand. His underlining charges were firsthand. The White House was very lax with security. They were not--they didn't get themselves White House passes. They refused to go--they never cooperated with the--wouldn't cooperate with the FBI. There was animus towards the FBI. Umm, all of that is firsthand and remains, I think, makes a credible case, but the attention has been given to the more explosive charges which shouldn't have been any book if they, if they couldn't have been substantiated.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So do you think that the fire is out at this point, you first on that, because of that?
MR. SHIELDS: I don't think the fire is out. I mean, just one point that Kate made on that business about the President supposedly in the back seat, Kate's and my colleague from CNN, Margaret Carlson, pointed out that was in the movie "Dave." That's how he got out of the White House, hiding--it was a comedy about this accidental President. I mean, so this, this is kind of the level of investigative acumen that Mr. Aldrich has brought to this subject. No, I think the FBI files story has legs. I think it's going to be with us for a long time.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: No, I didn't mean is that fire out. I mean, the Aldrich book?
MR. SHIELDS: I think--I mean, the Aldrich book sells and I think the White House, the Democrats took a risk. They raised it. They elevated it in importance by their response and kind of the full court press, but I think it has been discredited. So I don't--in other words, I don't think it's going to be credible. I don't think he's going to be a credible witness on Capitol Hill. He hasn't been a credible witness in his appearances. I mean, George Will, certainly the poet laureate of the American conservative movement, was very tough on him last Sunday on ABC.
MS. O'BEIRNE: There were other revelations this week, though, which I think underscore the FBI--the underlying FBI files story being here to say, and Craig Livingstone, more about his background came out, the fellow who somehow--nobody knows how yet--wound up head of security at the White House, and it turns out that his principal qualification was running dirty tricks for the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1992. He apparently was responsible for hiring the guy in the chicken suit to play George Bush at every stop. So given the fact that his portfolio which is dirty tricks in the '92 campaign, this, this story does have legs and maybe breasts and wings, given the chicken suit.
MR. SHIELDS: But let me dissent here. What he did obviously, Craig Livingstone, what he did--they had a Chicken George. When George Bush would not debate Bill Clinton in 1992, Mary Madeleine writes about it very humorously in her book, about he would appear, this Chicken George, and say, a big debate, George, why aren't you going to debate, and it kind of got under George Bush's skin. This is not dirty tricks. I mean, dirty tricks--
MS. O'BEIRNE: Silly tricks.
MR. SHIELDS: Yeah.
MS. O'BEIRNE: Trickster, though.
MR. SHIELDS: Yeah, but it isn't--that's right--it's tricks. It's fun. It's out in the open. You can see who's doing it, and it's not--it's not dirty tricks like--
MS. O'BEIRNE: It's not nefarious.
MR. SHIELDS: --sending an unsigned letter.
MS. O'BEIRNE: It's not nefarious stuff, but it still seems to be, I mean, that level of, you know, his political expertise--
MR. SHIELDS: I'm not talking about a qualification to be White House security.
MS. O'BEIRNE: It raises more questions.
MR. SHIELDS: Sure.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: On the economy, the new unemployment figures, will they be good for the Clinton campaign?
MR. SHIELDS: Well, I mean, it's awfully tough to say that somebody who came into office in 1993, passed a deficit reduction program without a single Republican vote, was called the job killer that would increase the deficit by the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, job killer by Dick Armey, it took Ronald Reagan, the master wizard, 74 months to produce 10 million new jobs. Bill Clinton's administration has produced it in 41 months. Unemployment is down 30 percent from, from 1992, from--four years ago today, it was at 7.8 percent. Now it's at 5.3. Uh, is there a widening gap in income? Sure, there is. Uh, and stagnating wages? Absolutely. Should economic growth be higher? It should be, but we had it higher in 1992 but unemployment was over 7 percent every month of that year, in spite of that, so I think Bill Clinton has routed his critics. The deficit is one half of what it was in 1992--pretty impressive record.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you think? Do you think this will help Clinton, or do you think Bob Dole--but the Dole campaign has been putting out facts and figures about the economy that make it look pretty bad, but do you think that Sen. Dole can get that word out?
MS. O'BEIRNE: Look, Elizabeth, had the economy taken a nose dive, Bill Clinton, fair or not, would have been blamed for it. With good unemployment numbers, although there's anemic growth, Bill Clinton is going to get the credit that's on his watch, fair or not. What the challenge to Bob Dole is, uh, is to take the conversation away from macroeconomic trends. It's small comfort to people who with median family have had--median family income have seen either stagnant growth in income, or, or decreases in income. Small, small comfort that the unemployment rates at the macroeconomy level look good. Bob Dole's going to have to make a case to them about stagnate income, and he's going to have to make a case about taxes. In fact, under Bill Clinton, American families are paying more in income taxes. They're at a historic high, 38 percent, federal, state, and local taxes. Uh, whether or not Bob Dole can deny him credit for the good macro news by making a case directly to American families remains to be seen.
MR. SHIELDS: All I can say to the Republicans is cheer up, eventually things will get worse.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think, Kate, that Bob Dole is frustrated, or that the Katie Couric interview reflected a kind of frustration with not being able to get on top of this message?
MS. O'BEIRNE: I think that's exactly the root of snapping at Katie, Katie Couric, was frustration, but, again, where has he been? Look at as recently as during the primaries. Steve Forbes was a complete political novice. When Steve Forbes left an interview with media, he left frustrated reporters in his wake because he would not get off his message, and you just knew reporters were rolling their eyes, oh, here we go again, unleashing the engine of growth in the American economy. How did Steve Forbes understand that what you have to do is talk about what you want to talk about and stick to your own message? Uh, so, of course, he's frustrated. He ought to be talking to Steve Forbes or watching clips of how to deliver a consistent message to the frustration of the media.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: That's all the time we have. Thanks a lot.
MR. SHIELDS: Thank you.