Serene news conferences for Clinton may be numbered

May 05, 1998

An excerpt from a Friday Orange County Register editorial.

THERE was an air of easy calm in President Clinton's press conference performance Thursday. Even the questions that probed, however tentatively, the familiar charges of official impropriety drew responses that were relaxed and confident, if unilluminating.

For part of the explanation, one need look no further than the stock numbers parading across the bottom of the CNBC-TV screen as Mr. Clinton spoke. When the economy is buoyant and shares rocketing upward, the latest advance in one of the longest and boldest bull markets in history, the details of this or that political scandal lose their sharpness; the gauzy warm light of prosperity softens the scene.

Mr. Clinton would not give straight answers to questions about White House efforts to stall -- through dubious claims of privilege, among other strategies -- investigators who are asking legitimate questions about potential lawbreaking.

Thursday's indictment of former Clinton Justice Department official Webster Hubbell, along with his wife and two associates, is itself an allegation about deceit and secretiveness potentially linked to furtive White House activity.

Mr. Clinton's resistance to openness in the face of legal inquiry must suggest to the open-minded that he has something to hide. If he does not, he risks bringing debilitating suspicion on the presidency for no worthwhile reason.

For now, the economy shields him from greater public accountability, but it might not always do so -- and, in any case, the pace and ultimate results of legal investigations are not set by the Dow Jones industrial average.

The days of the sunny press conference may be numbered.

Pub Date: 5/05/98

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