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Jewish World Review / August 11, 1998 / 19 Menachem-Av, 5758

Roger Simon

Roger Simon Bubba's new secret weapon: the Marine Band

WASHINGTON -- It has become a delicate little dance, almost a ballet between president and press corps.

When the White House wishes the president to look strong and resolute, they place him near reporters -- who are kept behind ropes whenever they are allowed into the Rose Garden -- so that he can hear and reply to their questions.

Only Bubba and his buddies
could use patriotic music
as a weapon against democracy.
So on July 31, for instance, reporters were placed very close to Clinton in the Rose Garden, because the president's media wizards had decided now was the time for Clinton to look strong and resolute on the matter of Monica Lewinsky and his own upcoming testimony to the grand jury on Aug. 17.

The press corps shouted a number of Lewinsky questions, and Clinton responded with: "I am looking forward to the opportunity, in the next few days, of testifying. I will do so completely and truthfully. I am anxious to do it."

And then, he turned on his heel and walked into the Oval Office.

Last week, Clinton had a Rose Garden event at which he did not want to take Lewinsky questions. In fact, he did not want to take any questions, so he unveiled a new secret weapon: music. Loud music.

I am sure many politicians would like to be able to drown out embarrassing questions, but not many politicians command the Marine Band.

President Clinton does.

So the scarlet-clad band members were trooped onto the White House grounds next to the Rose Garden and seated on little chairs amid the greenery where they played "Stars and Stripes Forever" at an impressive volume.

White House senior aides, who spend endless hours mapping out presidential "stagecraft," worked mightily at keeping a stiff upper lip while throwing themselves into the task of presenting the image of a hard-working, undistracted, untroubled President Clinton to the public.

"I just want it to be over," a weary aide said, speaking of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation, "and I'm afraid it never will be."

Clinton's appearance did have a serious purpose: He called on Congress to extend the soon-to-expire "cooling-off period" required by the Brady gun law in order, he said, to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

But before and after his appearance, he had to engage in certain comic opera maneuvers to avoid running into the stray Lewinsky question.

Though a straight line, for example, is the shortest distance between two points, the shortest distance is not always the most desirable distance at the White House these days.

Rather than have the president stride directly from the Oval Office to the Rose Garden, a route that would have brought him close to reporters, Clinton followed a looping trajectory that took him so far away from the press, he barely could be seen through the foliage.

"We've avoided shouted questions before," senior adviser Rahm Emanuel said. But Emanuel also indicated the president had no hard feelings. Just the opposite, in fact.

"We want you to go on doing what you are doing," Emanuel said. "The press is playing exactly the role it is supposed to play."

I asked Emanuel if that role was to look like a pack of jackals to the American people.

"And you make it so easy," he replied.

After the band stopped playing at the end of the event, the president resorted to an even more classic tactic: pretending the press corps didn't exist.

Poised at the French doors leading back into the Oval Office, Clinton glanced ever-so-briefly at reporters, and ABC's Sam Donaldson took the bait.

"Mr. President!" he shouted, "Are you concerned about Lewinsky testifying today?"

Which was the cue for Clinton to turn on his heel and walk into the Oval Office.

Later, Donaldson complained to Deputy Press Secretary Barry Toiv about the stage management that deprived reporters of an opportunity to question the president.

"You've got this thing down pat!" Donaldson said.

"Thank you," Toiv replied.

Presidential appearances are designed to compliment the carefully crafted "message of the day," which the White House maps out every morning, and that morning the message was "busy."

"The president is very busy today," Toiv said and then outlined a hectic schedule of public events, campaign appearances and fund-raisers for Clinton in days ahead.

When asked why the press was given no opportunity to ask him questions at the Rose Garden event, Toiv dryly replied: "Well, you had the opportunity to ask him, but he chose not to answer."

Perhaps the clearest expression of the White House attitude toward the press came before the event, however.

As reporters stood in the Rose Garden and tried to peer into the Oval Office, a presidential aide came to the window, stuck his thumb to his nose and waggled his fingers at the press corps.


8/07/98: Has the presidency been reduced to a 'Leno' joke?
8/05/98: Tell the truth?
7/30/98: All ya need is luv...and to deny, deny, deny
7/28/98: 'Man-of-da-people,' huh?
7/23/98: Can frequent-flyer miles alone earn Bubba a Nobel Prize?
7/21/98: San Francisco: not only 'gay,' but happy
7/17/98: Why Bubba claims Y2K is US' biggest problem
7/14/98: Close Amtrak --- PLEASE!
7/9/98: Flag burning is for nuts!
7/7/98: Forget about his legal defense fund, buy Bubba shirts!
7/1/98: Wall-nuts
6/26/98: Perks and the press
6/23/98: There's a good reason Bubba wants gun-control...
6/19/98: Why Clinton can get away with going to Tiananmen Square
6/16/98: Maybe Big Brother ain't so bad after all
6/11/98: He claimed responsibility for Rwanda, so why isn't Bubba stopping Serbian genocide?
6/9/98: The Internet president?
6/4/98: You can call me ‘slick;' and you can call me ‘sick;' but never call me ‘Dick' .... as in Nixon, that is
6/2/98: Being a 'talkin'-head' is hard work
5/29/98 Pay the pol, pick the policy
5/27/98 A 'loo' in London
5/21/98Buba is back from Europe ... but what did he accomplish?
5/18/98Roses for Buba
5/12/98: Just who is "Mr. Republican" these days?"
5/7/98:"Why Clinton keeeps "going and going and going""
5/1/98:"Bubba v. Tabacka"
4/29/98:"You may ask, but should they tell?"
4/24/98:"McCurry and the kids from the ‘hood "
4/23/98: "NOW" should change its name to "THEN"
4/20/98: Freedom to be a jerk?
4/14/98: Bill is Hef's kinda guy
4/7/98: South African memories --- and a paradise not yet found
3/24/98: Bill's 12-day safari
3/20/98: Peace for Ireland?
3/18/98: Flat tire? Spare me
3/13/98: Latrell Sprewell's genius
3/10/98: On truth and reality
3/5/98: No, I'm not harrassing Hillary
3/3/98: The Unforgettable Henny Youngman
2/26/98: Grow up, boys!
2/24/98: Go get 'em, Bill!
2/19/98: My 15 minutes
2/17/98: The manic-depressive presidency
2/12/98: Drip, Drip, Drip
2/10/98: Clinton tunes out the networks
2/5/98: The flight of the Beast: America's love-hate relationship with scandal
2/3/98: Speaking Clintonese
1/29/98: What the president has going for him
1/27/98: Judgment call: how Americans view President Clinton
1/22/98: Bimbo eruptions past and present
1/20/98: Feeding the beast: Paula Jones gets the full O.J.
1/15/98: Let's get it over with: it's time to deal with Saddam, already
1/13/98: Sonny Bono is dead, let the good times roll
1/8/98: Carribbean Cheesecake: First couple has cake, eats cake
1/6/98: PO'ed: a suspected druggie jumps through the employment hoops
1/1/98: Cures for that holiday hangover
12/30/97: Buy stuff now
12/25/97: Peace to all squirrelkind
12/23/97: Home for the Holidays: Where John Hinckley, never convicted, will not be
12/18/97: Bill's B-list Bacchanalia: Press and politicos get cozy, to a point
12/16/97: All dressed up... (White House flack Mike McCurry speculates on his next career)

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.