Clinton Criticizes the News Media, Requests Further Debate with BrownBy Thomas B. Edsall
The Washington Post
Faced with mounting evidence that questions about his character put him in danger in next Tuesday's crucial New York presidential primary, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton Monday issued an anguished critique of the news media for the way they have covered his campaign and said he would take his case "directly to the people."
In an unusual step for a front-runner, Clinton called for a sharp increase in the number of debates with his remaining opponent for the Democratic nomination, Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr., because all that voters "have heard is bad stuff dumped on them about me." He charged that the media do not accurately report on his positions, and that "at least the people who watch the debate will hear them."
Clinton's advisers are also considering buying a half-hour of television time in New York to let the candidate answer questions directly from voters, a tactic he used successfully during the final week of the New Hampshire primary campaign in February.
"There is a limit to how much time I have," Clinton said as he campaigned here before flying to New York. Sounding uncharacteristically pessimistic, he said: "The sand runs out of the hourglass in eight days."
The cumulative effects of allegations about Clinton's marriage, draft status and business dealings were underscored in a poll released Sunday night by WABC-TV in New York. Asked whether Clinton has the "honesty and integrity" to be president, the poll of 700 voters in the state found that 57 percent said `no' while only 29 percent said `yes.' Even among Democrats, a 51 percent majority said he does not have the requisite honesty and integrity, and among city voters the figure shot up to 62 percent.
The survey results indicated greater damage to Clinton than a national Washington Post-ABC poll conducted about two weeks ago. That poll found that a plurality of voters, 46 percent, does not believe Clinton has enough honesty and integrity, while 41 percent said he did.
As part of a new strategy devised in a series of meetings of his senior staff members Monday, Clinton will try to schedule other events besides debates that will make him appear open to inquiry from voters, and launch new television ads designed to give voters positive information about Clinton's background and record as governor.
"He's got to give a more complete profile of who he is and what he stands for," said James Carville, one of Clinton's senior strategists. "People can't react to information they don't have."
In his comments about media coverage, Clinton seemed to single out the New York City press, whose tabloid newspapers have give prominent display -- with typically colorful headlines -- to negative stories about Clinton, but made it clear that they applied to newspapers, magazines and television elsewhere as well. "I have been a punching bag in New York and all across this country. How can people think anything different?" Clinton said, when asked about the doubts voiced by New York voters about his candidacy.
In an almost plaintive speech to black churchgoers in Queens after returning to New York, Clinton referred to the coverage he has recived and said: "I have seen myself turned into a cartoon character of an old-time southern deal-maker by tabloids and television ads, a total denial of all my life's work."
The WABC survey was conducted before Clinton acknowledged on Sunday that he had experimented with marijuana while he was a Rhodes scholar in England in his early 20s. He had said in an interview with the Daily News last week that he had "never broken the laws of my country."
If the disclosure becomes a political liability in New York, it seems most likely to result from Clinton's use of a technicality to avoid answering the question before he was forced on Sunday by a television interviewer to say whether he had ever violated another country's law.
Asked Monday whether he should have been forthcoming when he has been asked about drug use in the past, Clinton said: "No. In 1987, I said what I believe in. I think there is a limit to what people ought to have to say. But I am running for president now. People finally asked me a direct question. I gave them a direct answer."
Clinton advisers fear that the way Clinton's drug use became public could contribute to doubts about his credibility. "Our problem in New York is not that they think he's a dangerous hippie who experimented with pot," said Paul Begala, a campaign adviser. "It's that people don't trust him."
Clinton vowed to continue the fight for the Democratic nomination no matter what the outcome is in New York. "This thing is going to go all the way through to California and New Jersey," he said. "I'm going to try to win them all. The ones I win, I'll be grateful for. The ones I don't, I'll get delegates in."
He also sought to deflect media scrutiny toward Brown, citing a Washington Post article Monday that described how many of Brown's public comments and campaign themes echo the language used in a book proposal written three years ago by political consultant Patrick Caddell.
"If you look at the (Washington Post) story," Clinton said, "he (Brown) absolutely lifted the whole announcement speech out of Pat Caddell's transcript. He (Brown) just recreated himself for this campaign ... . We now know he even had to lift his announcement speech so somebody could tell him what he believes in for this election."
Clinton advisers said the debates with Brown, coupled with Clinton's ads attacking Brown's flat-tax proposal, were designed to put the former California governor on the defensive. "He (Brown) has to have the mike in his face," Carville said.