Clinton should make a gesture to the New York press

Mike Royko

April 07, 1992|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

If I were Bill Clinton's political adviser, I might offer him this strategy to use today, the day of the New York primary.

He would call a press conference and when the flesh-eaters from the tabloids had gathered and the cameras were rolling, Clinton would say:

"I have a very brief statement to make to the New York media and to the voters of this state, particularly this city."

Then he would jerk his arm upward with the middle finger extended.

And with a smile, he would say: "In case you miss the message, up yours. So farewell, New York, New York. I'm gone."

That might cost him one primary, although you never know. It might be something New Yorkers would understand and appreciate.

But even if he lost, so what? The gesture would enhance his standing in every other part of the country.

Fun is fun. And beating up on politicians has now supplanted baseball as America's favorite pastime. But in New York, they've turned it into a journalistic orgy.

And they're proud of it. Columnists have been thumping their chests about how their professional mission is to mug Clinton.

One of them wrote that it is "our God-given right to spend two weeks torturing candidates to the best of our ability."

Nah, God doesn't read New York tabloids. That right was bestowed by the large corporation that owns your newspaper.

Another wrote: "It is my stated purpose in this primary to run Bill Clinton back to a segregated golf course."

That, coming from a city where one of the favorite pastimes of young men is committing racial mayhem. Clinton may have played nine holes at an all-white country club, but he didn't bash anyone in the head with his putter.

The editor of one of the tabloids said that the New York press is simply making up for the soft time Clinton has had elsewhere. Until he got to New York, this editor said, Clinton hadn't really been scrutinized.

Let's see: There was the sleazy business about the blond floozie, which was carried live on TV and appeared in every paper in America. Plus the hooker who said he fathered her child. Plus the Miss America contestant who hinted, then denied, that she was bedded by him.

There were the thousands of questions about his marriage -- questions that if asked in a Chicago bar, would get a reporter a broken nose.

Then there was the whole flap about his looking for a way to avoid getting himself killed in Vietnam, which a goodly number of practicing New York journalists also did.

Teams of investigative reporters have been up one side of Arkansas and down the other, looking for any kind of misconduct on his part.

All of this before he came to New York and without guidance from the New York tabloids, which were busy exploring the sex habits of the New York Mets.

Actually, the biggest contribution made by the New York media to our understanding of the life and times of Bill Clinton has been to finally drag from him the confession that, yes, when he was a student in England, he did take a few puffs on a marijuana cigarette.

Oh, wow, what a shocker. Somebody who is now in his mid-40s once tried the weed? Who would have thunk it?

But as the New York press explained, the significance of this disclosure was not merely that he had once tried marijuana. It was that he has been asked about marijuana use hundreds of times, but he never came clean. So this proves he is a slippery character.

No, all this proves is that the same pointless question about marijuana was asked hundreds of times by reporters who were too dumb or lazy to ask about something more relevant. Who cares if he took a few hits on a joint in an era when everybody his age was trying the drug of their choice?

It's not as if tipsters have been calling newspapers and saying that they were at a dozen parties with Clinton where he was popping pills, smoking doobies, snorting coke and bouncing off the ceiling -- as some New York journalists have been known to do.

The problem here isn't that Clinton is as slick and devious as the New York press is trying to prove. The problem is that the New York press reflects the rest of New York. And it is the nature of New Yorkers to be miserable and to want everybody else to share their misery. Consider this: Woody Allen is considered to be the funniest person in New York. So he makes movie after movie about how unhappy he is.

It was best summed up by the character who played the mayor of New York in the movie "Ghostbusters II," when he was told that a river of evil glop flowed beneath the city and it was energized by the mean spirits of New Yorkers.

He said: "Being miserable and treating people like dirt is every New Yorker's God-given right."

So give them the finger, Clinton, and tell them to check out their sewers.

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