Clinton tries to cool heated words against Jackson Candidate explains reaction after getting false report.

February 28, 1992|By Boston Globe

DENVER -- Gov. Bill Clinton says that things are "fine" between him and Jesse Jackson after he angrily said the civil rights leader had committed "a dirty, double-crossing, back-stabbing" act.

Mr. Clinton lashed out at Mr. Jackson late Wednesday evening, after being told erroneously by a Denver television reporter that Mr. Jackson was going to endorse another Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa.

During an on-camera appearance, Mr. Clinton made cautious remarks to the effect that he wanted more information before commenting fully. But after being told the camera and microphone had been turned off -- which they were not-- Mr. Clinton turned to an aide and said softly: "It's an outrage, a dirty, double-crossing, back-stabbing thing to do. . . ."

"For him to do this, for me to hear this on a television program, is an act of absolute dishonor," the Arkansas governor continued.

Mr. Clinton said yesterday that he had reacted so sharply because Mr. Jackson, who is influential with a substantial segment of the black electorate, had privately assured him that he would not endorse any of the Democratic contenders anytime soon. A senior aide said Mr. Clinton spoke to Mr. Jackson by telephone late Wednesday but did not apologize; rather, the aide said, he "explained" that he had responded to incorrect information.

Asked about the episode during a press conference in Atlanta yesterday, Mr. Clinton said, "It's fine between us and there's no point spending any time on it during this campaign."

Mr. Clinton hopes to fare very well in black communities during Southern primaries in the coming week and a half, and he presumably feared a Jackson endorsement of Mr. Harkin would deprive him of much of that support.

The episode threatened to explode into another major controversy for Mr. Clinton, and likely would have if Mr. Jackson had decided to make more of an issue of it. But Mr. Jackson apparently decided to keep the temperature low.

"I am disappointed with his overreaction without verification," he said in an interview on CNN yesterday. "I am disturbed by the tone of the blast at my integrity, my character. I feel blindsided by what I saw and heard him say."

Though those first words were fairly harsh, Mr. Jackson proceeded to issue a written statement acknowledging Mr. Clinton had acted "rather humanly" based on "false information." He added that he did not want the presidential campaign to be diverted "onto these side issues."

Meanwhile, another of the presidential contenders -- former Sen. Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, who is in a war of words with Mr. Clinton -- zeroed in on the Jackson episode. Mr. Tsongas said Mr. Clinton's outbursts showed his true character.

"I think the American people want a president who is cool under fire," Mr. Tsongas said. "I think that outburst gave the American people a pretty good look into what a person does under stress."

Mr. Tsongas criticized Mr. Clinton for apparently judging "the worth of an individual" based on whether he won that person's endorsement, calling that a "very narrow-minded view."

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