Getting the collar on today's top story Puppy: Press corps doggedly pursues president to learn the name of the newest White House resident.

December 17, 1997|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- It was a classic race for a news story, handled with the seriousness of war in the Middle East or an exploding campaign finance scandal. Reporters begged White House aides for the scoop. An initial news "exclusive" got the story wrong. The announcement, cloaked in secrecy for days, spurred leaks and demanded prime time in a presidential press conference.

And the subject of all this fuss? He'd rather be eating grass.

That would be Buddy, the previously anonymous chocolate Labrador puppy whose owner, President Clinton, finally named for the world yesterday. After much deliberation, the Clintons settled on Buddy in memory of the president's great uncle, Henry Oren "Buddy" Grisham, who died earlier this year at 92.

"I finally decided to name the dog after my beloved uncle," Clinton said at a press conference. "I'm going to call the dog 'Buddy' ... because of the importance of my uncle to my life, but also because my uncle raised and trained dogs for over 50 years."

In typical inside-the-Beltway style, Clinton vetted the name through a series of advisers (his family) and whittled down the choices to a short list of seven candidates, then three.

But nothing could be more Washington than the media frenzy over the dog's name. Everybody wanted it first. MSNBC announced yesterday morning that the dog's name was Luke. CNN later reported that choice had been axed at the last minute and that Buddy was the winner.

During a stake-out at the White House yesterday, with 20 minutes before the scheduled announcement, reporters clamored for a break in the story. But Clinton would only tease, insisting that the big moment be left for the press conference.

President Clinton: "Isn't he pretty?"

Reporter: "But what's his name?"

Clinton: "Press conference. Press conference."

Reporter: "His name is 'press conference'?"

Reporters didn't get much else -- although they asked for the dog's name six separate times in a few minutes. They did learn that the dog sleeps upstairs at the White House, seems to like eating grass, and may need some relationship counseling with a reluctant Socks, the Clinton cat.

At the press conference, a year-end roundup covering issues of national and international import, reporters continued hounding the president. A question about the dog's name was the second to be asked.

Before answering, Clinton quipped, "You know, President Truman said, 'If you want a friend in Washington, you need to get a dog.' "

A few minutes later, though, he revealed the choice of Buddy -- after listing some of the public's suggestions, including "Arkanpaws" and "Boots." In the end, he said, the decision about the dog's name was "a personal thing."

The entire cloak-and-dagger escapade was certainly a good introduction to Washington for Buddy. Even staffers at the Easton dog school where the pooch was trained felt compelled to lie to reporters to protect the dog's privacy.

"What would you expect?" asked trainer Greg Strong. "We were told that's the way it needs to be done." But, he added, the school had only the puppy's best interests at heart: "We were a little concerned someone would try to do something to the puppy, so we played dumb."

Since coming forward, Strong already has done interviews with People and Pet Life. Perhaps he should consider a new career. It's not confirmed, but we hear Buddy doesn't have a spokesman yet.

Pub Date: 12/17/97

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