Was asked at his press conference last...


April 24, 1995|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

PRESIDENT CLINTON was asked at his press conference last Wednesday night about the fact that "Republicans have dominated political debate in this country since they took over Congress in January."

He answered this way: "The Constitution gives me relevance. . . The president is relevant here." He read between the lines of the question. He saw that the real issue is the belief that Congress PTC not merely dominates but rules, for the first time in at least six decades.

The question was, in fact, related to journalism's apparent ignoring of the president. Two of the major networks didn't even carry his press conference, on the grounds that he doesn't make news. But it patently was news. It was was his first prime time press conference in more than eight months.

It is not just the television networks that have been ignoring the president. Newspapers have been, too. From Jan. 1 to April 18, the day of the Clinton press conference, The Sun and The Evening Sun carried 174 stories, editorials, letters and columns mentioning Bill Clinton, 314 mentioning Bob Dole and 575 mentioning Newt Gingrich.

So when President Clinton says he's relevant, is he just whistling Dixie? No. The Constitution and modern American political history make the president Numero Uno -- especially when important national issues hit the headlines and the TV screen. Double especially when there is a crisis.

Last Thursday, the day the papers covered the bombing in Oklahoma City, there were 21 stories, editorials and columns mentioning the president, four mentioning House Speaker Gingrich and two mentioning Senate Majority Leader Dole.

Not only was the president relevant and dominant in the news, those were also his people leading the investigation into the tragedy. He appointed Attorney General Janet Reno. He appointed FBI Director Louis Freeh. They and their agencies answer to him -- not to Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole.

The president of the United States will always be relevant. Even if the public is more intrigued by the personalities of a Gingrich or a Dole, even if the House of Representatives takes control of the legislative agenda, even if the Senate kills nominations, this is still a presidential government. And that doesn't even take into account the fact that the president is commander in chief.

* * * *

This is written on Friday, before any arrests have been made in the Oklahoma City bombing, but after Janet Reno said the U.S. would seek the death penalty.

Here is your chance to compete with great journalists! Enter the office (Ivory Tower Division) pool!

Whoever is convicted of bombing the federal building in Oklahoma City will be executed

1. Before Election Day, 1996.

2. Before Dec. 31, 1999.

3. Before April 19, 2005.

4. After April 19, 2005.

5. Never.

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