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Reno Meets Press in Friendlier Confines. U.S. Attorney General Addresses National Press Club Audience

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Reno Meets Press in Friendlier Confines. U.S. Attorney General Addresses National Press Club Audience

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U.S. attorney general addresses National Press Club audience

During the press conference following the catastrophic end to the standoff in Waco, Texas, U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno saw a change in the media she will never forget.

"I walked into a press conference in which television cameramen, commentators, reporters looked at me as if they were a bunch of hungry wolves," recalled Reno during a recent luncheon address at the National Press Club in Washington.

"Their questions came fast, furious, angry. Their faces were angry as they pounded the questions at me: |What spin do you think people are going to put on this? How will this be perceived? Is your job on the line?' They almost roared at me."

However, Reno said that about halfway through that press conference, she suddenly started looking at faces that had changed.

"The questions were still hard questions, but they weren't angry questions because it was almost as if we had become together, immersed in one horrible tragedy ....

"There was no longer competition between that press corps out there and me, but we were trying to understand together. We were trying to understand what each one of us would have done had they been standing in my shoes. We were trying to understand life and all its complexities."

Reno said she will never forget that afternoon, noting that she was encouraged by that spirit, which carried her through the spate of interviews throughout the rest of the day.

"We can ask the hard questions about life and about public officials' performance, and we can do it in a thoughtful and constructive way," she said.

A member of a family that includes a number of Florida newspaper people - not least among them both her parents, her brother and grandfather - Reno told those at the Press Club, "I know you. And I know that you care so passionately about your country, about your Constitution, about the First Amendment. But I know more than anything else ... that you care passionately about the people of America and how we reach the solution to the problems that we all face in this extra-ordinarily complex time," she said.

Noting that she doesn't "do spin," Reno said she wants "to try to be as direct and understandable as possible. Alphabet agencies, Roman numerals, jargons - the jargon of the appropriations process I'm still having trouble understanding."

She then told the NPC audience, "You haven't helped me very much."

Reno criticized the media for creating the "myth of this lady from the swamps" and called on the media to "make sure that you dispel the myth and engage in revisionist history before it gets too far down the line."

"You make it very difficult because too often you try to make somebody something they're not," she said, adding that the makeup and hair styling forced upon her when appearing on a network television program made her feel like "I can't go on their TV network unless I look good. …

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