This is not a first draft of history that my Nightline colleagues
and I have committed. It's too soon for that. Consider "The Clinton Years"
instead, a second draft of video journalism.
In our limited universe of television news, though, eight years is a
very long time indeed. Collectively, in fact we have spent more than eight
years covering the campaigns and presidential terms of Bill Clinton. Chris
Bury, who conducted all of the interviews with advisors, staffers and cabinet
officers for this series, covered the first Clinton campaign for ABC News. I
came to know the candidate only during the first primaries of 1992. At that
time, Bill Clinton was, variously, hungry for coverage - as only a relatively
unknown governor from Arkansas could be - and in need of a forum in which the
trials and tribulations of that first presidential campaign could be examined
somewhat more extensively. He turned quite often to Nightline in those
B.W., that is Before Whitewater, we were a favored outlet. As we
continued to focus on the Whitewater troubles, however, our access to the
Clinton White House diminished. Our coverage, of course did not.
What we have brought together in this series, then, is a combination of
parts and pieces: the resources of our video library, the insights of those who
worked most closely with Bill Clinton during the campaigns and at the White
House, and the perspective of time.
It is, at times, quite astonishing to see old video clips with the
advantages of hindsight and the perspective of his co-workers.
History will render its own assessments. Here are ours.
In 1992, when Bill Clinton first ran for President, ABC News assigned me
to cover his campaign full-time. Like many of the reporters on the bus, I
found Clinton charming, brilliant, ambitious, and enormously energetic. I
also considered him a candidate with serious flaws: an undisciplined, even
chaotic man who clearly had trouble telling the truth. Since Clinton first
crowned himself, "the Comeback Kid, " after surviving scandal in New Hampshire,
I've been fascinated by a few fundamental questions: How does Clinton come
back politically from one near-death experience after another? Were there
patterns even in the campaign that help explain how this master politician
lived on the edge yet survived every close call, from Gennifer Flowers through
his impeachment trial in the Senate? What implications did Clinton's own
character and style have on his presidency?
"The Clinton Years" is an attempt to examine these questions through the
eyes of those who worked on the higher levels of Bill Clinton's team over the
last nine years. We conducted more than forty hours of videotaped interviews
with twenty senior Administration officials, Cabinet secretaries, and political
advisors. Some were far more candid on camera than others.
The result, I believe, is a revealing look at Bill Clinton and his
presidency from inside the real "West Wing." The perspective is meant to be an
insider's view; we deliberately avoided pundits and other outsiders. "The
Clinton Years" is not a definitive historical account of Bill Clinton's
presidency; it is a retrospective look at how "the Comeback Kid" survived, and
sometimes thrived, in more than eight years of living dangerously.