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Wolf Blitzer: His days covering President Clinton in the White House

January 18, 2001
2:30 p.m. EST
Wolf Blitzer
Wolf Blitzer  

Wolf Blitzer is host of CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports. Blitzer served as CNN's senior White House correspondent, covering President Bill Clinton since his election in November 1992.

CNN Moderator: How did President Clintonís relationship with the press change over the course of eight years?

Wolf Blitzer: I was there from day one. I was in Little Rock during the transition, and I came to the White House on January 20, 1993, the day he was inaugurated. At first, he was relatively open to dealing with reporters. He almost always answered our questions and made time to see us. He even invited us to some private breakfasts or dinners. Over time, he became much less accessible, to the point that it was almost impossible to get a question to him during the 13 months of the Monica Lewinsky/impeachment investigation. After that, after his acquittal, he became a little bit more accessible.

CNN Moderator: During the various scandals, did you find the press secretaries to be dealing as openly and honestly with the press as possible, or did they seem reluctant to address questions related to Whitewater, Monica Lewinsky, the FBI files, etc.?

Wolf Blitzer: Usually, when a new allegation surfaced, they were on the defensive and reluctant to talk about it. But as the story escalated, they became more talkative. Of course, they were trying to put their best side of the story out front.

CNN Moderator: At what moments do you think the public saw the "real" Bill Clinton and not the politician, or is there even a difference?

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Wolf Blitzer: There is a difference. We rarely saw Bill Clinton's explosive temper in public. Several of his aides have talked about that aspect of him either in articles or in books. We rarely saw him explode in anger publicly. He seemed able to control that in a public setting. All of his aides insist that, yes, he did have a temper, but, he also managed to get over it very quickly and not hold grudges. He would vent his anger and move on. I don't think we saw that very much in public.

CNN Moderator: What was the mood in the White House when the Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress in 1994?

Wolf Blitzer: The mood was deeply disappointing, very sad. There was confusion, a lot of aides -- and I was there at the time -- really didn't understand what was going on, why the Democrats had been so publicly rebuked. Remember that it was shortly after the Republicans gained the majority in both houses that President Clinton turned to his old friend, the political consultant Dick Morris, for secret advice. It seemed he really didnít trust his own advisers in the White House after that political setback.

CNN Moderator: Critics of the president and the media contend that both Clinton and the news media are basically liberal, yet President Clinton felt that he had been treated rather harshly by the media. Was there any cynicism in the White House press corps toward President Clinton?

Wolf Blitzer: Cynicism is a tough word, but there was definitely skepticism. I know that many conservatives think that the news media is liberal and Democratic, but I think it is fair to say that the coverage of Bill Clinton, from day one, was about as tough and aggressive and even adversarial as it gets. I know that inside the White House, senior officials, including the president and the first lady, thought we were way too harsh on such issues as Whitewater, campaign financing and Monica Lewinsky. They often felt like they were in a bunker and we, meaning the national news media, were pummeling them with broadsides.

Quesiton from the chat room: Which other President do you think had the communication skills that Bill Clinton has, or that are often hailed in him?

Wolf Blitzer: I think Franklin Roosevelt was widely admired as someone who could talk directly to the American people with skill and panache. I think John F. Kennedy was also widely admired in that regard. Ronald Reagan, no doubt, had a brilliant ability to communicate with the American people.

CNN Moderator: What do you think will happen to Bill Clinton after he leaves office? There is much discussion as to whether he will face prosecution or at least disbarrment.

Wolf Blitzer: I think Bill Clinton's immediate priority will be to make some money. I'm sure he will sign a big contract for a book. He'll do some speaking. But, he'll also go about establishing his presidential library in Little Rock He will also be engaged in humanitarian, or so called do-good activities along the lines of former President Jimmy Carter.

Question from the chat room: Do you think George W. Bush will have to learn how to deal with reporters as he proceeded up in his political career?

Wolf Blitzer: The degree of scrutiny that a president has to endure is totally different than for anyone else, including the governor of a big state like Texas. George W. Bush will discover that he and his family will constantly be in a fishbowl with very little privacy, and he's going to have to better appreciate how he deals with that and reporters and photographers in the process.

CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Wolf Blitzer



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Bill Clinton's legacy

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RELATED SITES:
CNN.com In-Depth Specials - The Clinton Years
Office of the President

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