You have right to know and maybe the need

ROGER SIMON

January 31, 1992|By ROGER SIMON

I would like to begin by apologizing for my life and career.

I would like to apologize for being a newspaperman, surely one of the most wretched professions on this earth.

In fact, it is not even a profession, not even a calling, hardly a job. It is more in the nature of a knack, like juggling chain saws.

I know this because for the last few days I have been reading an all-out assault on the press.

Naturally, this assault comes from members of the press.

(Generally speaking, members of the press have two attitudes toward what they do for a living: no reaction and overreaction.)

Some very respectable journalists are purple with anger that other respectable journalists have made public the accusations of Gennifer Flowers, who says she had a 12-year love affair with Bill Clinton, the governor of Arkansas and a Democratic candidate for president.

Clinton says that Flowers' accusations are not true and that Flowers was merely "an acquaintance, I would say, a friendly acquaintance."

Flowers, who sold her story to a supermarket tabloid, released tapes of her conversations with Clinton. The story, if not the tape transcripts themselves, appeared in just about every newspaper and on every TV station in the country.

And this has upset some journalists very much.

They have called it a "cancer on presidential campaigns," a "degradation of democracy," "frightening," "shabby" and "outrageously unfair."

Clinton aides, appearing on major TV shows, have denounced the press for carrying the story because the tapes, they say, were altered, doctored, spliced and edited.

And this is why I find so fascinating Clinton's reaction the first time he was called to confirm or deny something he allegedly said on the tapes.

In one part of the tapes, Clinton and Flowers discuss Mario Cuomo, the governor of New York. Clinton calls him a "mean son of a bitch," and when Flowers says she wouldn't be surprised if Cuomo had "Mafioso" connections, Clinton says: "Well, he acts like one." Then he laughs.

When Cuomo heard about this he became very angry, not only on his own behalf but also on behalf of the millions of Italian-Americans who are tired of being thought of as criminals just because their names end in vowels.

"If you say this casually about Italian-Americans, what do (you) say about blacks, what do [you) say about Jews, what do you say about women . . . what do you say about all the other groups who traditionally become the scapegoat?" Cuomo said.

I expected Clinton to respond in the obvious way: The tapes are phony, doctored, sliced and diced.

Instead, Clinton "apologized" for his comments.

"I meant simply to imply that Governor Cuomo is a tough and worthy competitor," Clinton said.

Of course, he did. And surely this is another example of Clinton's candor and honesty. Cuomo did not think this was much of an apology. Even when Clinton added: "If the remarks on the tape left anyone with the impression that I was disrespectful to either Governor Cuomo or Italian-Americans, then I deeply regret it."

But if Clinton felt that part of the tape was accurate enough to apologize for, what about the other parts?

What about the part where Flowers tells Clinton that her apartment was broken into and Clinton immediately gets worried.

"You think they were trying to look for something on us?" he asks on the tape.

"I think so," Flowers says, "Well, I mean . . . why, why else? Um . . ."

"You weren't missing any, any kind of papers or anything?" Clinton asks.

"Well, like what kind of papers?" Flowers says.

"Well, I mean did . . . any kind of personal record of checkbooks or anything like that? . . . Phone records?" Clinton asks.

You may believe this is a normal exchange of "friendly acquaintances." But me, I have a wife and I have other friends who are women with whom I talk on the phone. And if one of them called me and told me her home been burglarized, I would not respond: "You think they were trying to look for something on us?"

Nor would I, as Bill Clinton does on another tape, sign off by saying, "Goodbye, baby."

Is any of this a smoking gun? Proof of adultery? Nope.

Is any of this at least a little bit suspicious? I think so, though you may not.

But is it a story? Something the public might need to know about a man running for president? Yes, it is.

If you want to ignore it or dismiss it, that is fine with me.

But you have a right to know about it.

And all those members of the press who think their job is to conceal rather than reveal, I suggest they go into another profession.

Like politics.

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