Monday, June 21

Clinton's revealing interview offers its listeners an interview with former President Bill Clinton that was held on election day, 2000 [click on the image of Clinton to hear it]. Clinton had called the Pacifica radio station without prearrangement to plug Gore for 2-3 minutes to a progressive-minded listenernship and ended up speaking for approximately 30 minutes.
Two things struck me about the interview. The first is simply that Clinton is a well-rehearsed speaker who had his hands on more facts and figures in 30 minutes than Bush has been able to muster in three-and-a-half years. Clinton defends his positions admirably (even if one finds reason to disagree with him on certain points). After years of being exposed to an incompetent, inarticulate, failed businessman running the nation's affairs, I was reminded, by this stunning contrast, of what political leadership can be.

The second thing was disturbing. Amy Goodman, the lead interviewer, asked a series of critical questions, making the most of her unscheduled access to the president. This is what anyone would expect from a journalist, I would hope. Nonetheless, a few minutes before the interview was over, Clinton lost his temper and unfairly asserted that Goodman and her co-host were asking "hostile and combative" questions:

Clinton: "You started this, and every question you've asked has been hostile and combative. So you listen to my answer, will you do that?"
Anyone who listens to this interview, I think, will conclude that none of the questions, nor the tone in which they are asked, can be described as "hostile and combative."

Things got worse. As Amy Goodman explains,

After the show, I got a call from the White House press office. A staffer let me know how furious they were at me for "breaking the ground rules for the interview."

"Ground rules?" I asked. "What ground rules? He called up to be interviewed, and I interviewed him."

"He called to discuss getting out the vote, and you strayed from the topic. You also kept him on much longer than the two to three minutes we agreed to," she huffed.

"President Clinton is the most powerful person in the world," I replied. "He can hang up when he wants to."

The Clinton administration threatened to ban me from the White House and suggested to a Newsday reporter that they might punish me for my attitude by denying me access-not that I had any to lose. White House spokesman Elliot Diringer said, "Any good reporter understands that if you violate the ground rules in an interview, that is going to be taken into account the next time you are seeking an interview."

First of all, we hadn't agreed to any ground rules. Clinton called us. Second, we wouldn't have agreed to any. The only ground rule for good reporting I know is that you don't trade your principles for access. We were treating the president not as royalty, but as a public servant accountable to the people.
What I find particularly ironic about this tactic of threatening to limit access and disparaging critical questioning is that it has become the hallmark of the Bush Administration. One of the questions Amy puts to Clinton is whether or not the two major parties are not consistently bowing to corporate demands, to the detriment of citizen voices. What Clinton says, of course, is that the differences between the parties are enormous (and he does make some convincing arguments for this). But his accusatory, dismissive, protective reaction, including that of his spokesperson who threatened to ban Goodman from access to her executive representation, reminds one of the sort of corporate door-shutting that always greeted Michael Moore in his "The Awful Truth" episodes, where he would try to confront corporate big-wigs in their offices. In short, despite Clinton's willingness to call and speak for thirty minutes, Clinton's actions said: "This is my territory. You have to play by my rules and if you don't, I'm going to have you removed."

This, to my mind, is the language of private corporations, not of government by, of, and for the people. As I said, I find this disturbing. And how about you?