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Top Clinton Staffers Speak

McCurry, Carville Discuss Media's Coverage of President

By Amita M. Shukla

Addressing issues from campaign finance reform to President Clinton's temper, two top Clinton officials and two IOP fellows held a lively panel discussion at the Institute of Politics (IOP) ARCO Forum last night.

White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry and James Carville, senior political advisor to the president, spoke on the Clinton presidency and its coverage in the media.

"People should understand that most newspapers now have multiple reporters covering this," McCurry said, adding that the Washington Post has about 16 reporters on its White House beat.

One of the panelists, Richard L. Berke, an IOP fellow and national political correspondent for The New York Times, asked McCurry and Carville to address current hot topics in Washington--campaign funding and campaign finance reform.

McCurry said the White House tries its best to provide the public with the information that is available.

"The president instructed us to answer questions, get information out there and be candid and forthcoming," McCurry said.

At the same time, he added that coverage of issues such as the current questions on Clinton's campaign funds, comes at the cost of coverage of other important work being done by the Clinton administration.

"There are a lot of interesting things happening that you are not hearing about because of this," McCurry said.

"There used to be some real demarcation between campaigning and governing," McCurry said. "There's some damage in always covering the White House as a political beat."

Carville, whose sneakers and jeans stood in marked contrast to the more formal attire of the other panelists, said that, unlike McCurry, he is free to speak more bluntly on many of the issues.

"I decided that I wasn't going to ask anyone's permission," Carville said. "I'm 52 years old," he added to audience laughter.

"The defenders of the president and the president are held to an entirely different standard than the attackers of the president," Carville said. "I am not going to shut up and they aren't going to shut me up."

The panelists also discussed the role of foreign affairs and international coverage in relation to the White House.

McCurry said the White House plays a significant role in the determining the coverage given to international affairs, and said he believes that Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will help to increase the profile of international stories.

"One of the things Secretary Albright said she will do is make more vivid the role of the U.S.," he said.

At the same time, Carville said both political parties have similar positions on foreign affairs issues.

"Except for Vietnam, since World War II, there has not been much disagreement between the parties on issues of foreign policy," Carville said.

Although addressing issues such as campaign finance reform is important, McCurry said that Clinton's efforts are still heavily focused on education, health care and other such national issues.

"That's what his legacy will be and that's what his responsibility must be," McCurry said.

The panelists also discussed instances of leakage of news stories to the press and the role of government officials in the process.

"One obligation we have in government is to force more people to attach names to their comments," McCurry said. "We've tried at the White House, as much as possible, to keep people on the record".

McCurry said that the president has accepted that his coverage in the media will consist of a mixed bag of stories.

"I read in newspapers how frustrated, exasperated and angry the President is, but he's not," McCurry said. "He just knows he's going to suffer a lot of untrue and unfair coverage."

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