For months now, I have been asked how, as his press secretary, I
would advise President Clinton. My answer is based on the premise that I
would have given him the standard advice to come clean when he first
became embroiled in allegations. Any self-respecting adviser could only
have said: ’If you don’t tell the truth, you could end up in very
serious trouble indeed.’ Having thus done my duty, I would now feel
obliged to resign. There would be nothing more I, or anyone else, could
do to restore the president in the eyes of the responsible world.
It is good news for the public relations industry that his current press
secretary, Mike McCurry is serving out his notice. Too little has
perhaps been made by our trade of his impending departure or of the
public criticisms of Clinton by two former press aides, George
Stephanopolous and Dee Dee Myers who understandably said: ’He’s lost
me’. They feel let down. They are not the only ones.
Yet, as the American crisis entered this crucial week, no one
underestimated the possibility that ’Slick Willy’ would somehow manage
to hang on to office, if not necessarily to power.
If he does, the cost to the United States in terms of global respect
will be incalculable. How to repair the damage to its democracy will
launch a thousand theses. These eggheads could usefully start by looking
at the American media. For me the question is not why it has come to
this, but why it has taken so long to do so.
An explanation was to be found in last week’s Daily Telegraph. Ambrose
Evans-Pritchard, who has made it his business to investigate the
Clintons, contrasted Clinton’s media treatment with President Nixon’s 25
years ago like this: ’It was a media putsch that toppled President
Nixon. This time the great metropolitan newspapers and the television
networks have been dragged kicking and screaming to the story.
Republican sin is fair game. Democratic sin is a ’private matter’.’
The partisan nature of the ’liberal’ American media has long been
accepted as a fact of life in Washington. Britons over there have felt
able to adopt a somewhat superior tone. ’With our media,’ we have said,
’Clinton would not have lasted two years.’ Certainly, that is what I,
having experienced the media’s bloodlust during the Thatcher years and
seen the venom of Major’s time, genuinely felt even six months ago.
But the Blair honeymoon has gone on and on and the longer it has
lingered the more we have had to modify our tune. We are now not so
sure. Too much of the British media seems to have double standards. Mr
Clinton’s travail carries a warning for us all.