The Press and the Modern Presidency: Myths and Mindsets from Kennedy to Clinton

By Louis W. Liebovich | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ELEVEN
BILL CLINTON'S BAD IMAGE

If a public relations expert in 1993 had set out to rebuild nationwide confidence in the personal values of the presidency, Bill and Hillary Clinton would have been one of the last couples he or she would have hired. Bill Clinton did for presidential moral leadership what Al Capone accomplished for good government. Even before he took office, questions about Clinton's sex life and his and Hillary's business dealings dominated the news. Reporters accorded Clinton no presidential honeymoon, and he offered them no olive branch. Unlike Bush, Clinton had a clear agenda and a dogged determination to pursue it, but each serious policy initiative and each national and international issue was bestowed secondary coverage in favor of fresh stories, and sometimes not so fresh ones, about the Clintons' personal conduct.

Contentiousness dominated between press and president, between president and Congress, between public and press. Presidential-press contact was almost nonexistent, mirroring the atmosphere that existed during the most antagonistic days of Watergate. Allegations about the Clintons' personal shortcomings and the president's aborted policy initiatives only escalated the verbal warfare. Voters reacted with a growing restlessness, and eventually both political parties suffered.

Given the post-Watergate mood of the press corps and the public, the 1990s was the wrong decade for such a controversial president. Through it all, Clinton fought back cleverly and with resolute determination. By the end of his first term, it was clear that both journalists and political Washington had underestimated his acumen and his political gamesmanship. Yet though he survived, Clinton's trials had implications far beyond the 1990s. Like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon before him, Bill Clinton may have

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