Clinton fields questions on issues of the day

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs


Former president Bill Clinton fields questions in a conversation with Journalism Dean Orville Schell on the stage of Zellerbach Hall.
Noah Berger photo

06 February 2002 | Appearing both relaxed and informal, Bill Clinton shared his thoughts — on politics, the media, the environment and his eight-year duel with the American right — in an on-stage conversation following his speech at Zellerbach Hall on Nov. 29.

Asked why the right wing despises him so intensely, Clinton’s answer was plain and simple: “Because I won.

“They really thought there would never again be a Democratic president, that they had found a foolproof formula that would keep the White House in their hands forever,” the former president told a capacity crowd. “But we got in anyway, so they spent eight years trying to tear us down.”

Clinton was interviewed by Journalism Dean Orville Schell, who asked questions submitted in advance by the audience, in addition to his own.

“You have to have a high threshold for pain in that job,” Clinton said of the presidency and of attacks leveled against him during his term. “But it’s the most rewarding thing I ever did, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.“

Seated in a mock “living room” on the Zellerbach stage — featuring upholstered chairs on an oriental rug, set off by a vase of orange tulips — the two discussed the effects of industrialization on global warming.

“Some corporations believe they can’t get richer without putting more gases into the atmosphere, that it’s a choice between being poor or being toast,” said Clinton. But for global warming to be slowed, he said, the “link between environmental damage and economic growth must be broken.”

Business can make profits and protect the environment, Clinton asserted, citing the construction of energy-efficient homes in San Diego, a joint project between his administration and the National Homebuilders Association. The initial construction cost of these homes was higher than for traditional houses, he said. But the homes were more energy efficient, so that in the long run, money was saved on energy bills and the environment was protected.

The conversation shifted gears when Schell asked Clinton for his assessment of the media, a topic of keen interest to the many journalism students in the audience.

“It really depends on which media and what issue,” Clinton said. “With regard to Sept. 11, I think the media has generally done a good job at educating the public on the Taliban, terrorism networks and the history and politics of Afghanistan.”

But the proliferation of print, web, and broadcast media has made other issues more difficult for the press to handle, he added.

“When I was in college, there were just three networks, and for the most part they did balanced, thoughtful pieces,” said Clinton. “Now, by the time the evening news airs or the morning paper comes out, the news has already been washed over 50 times. So these organizations are required to spin it to make it worth absorbing.”

With tight deadlines and multitude of competing news sources, reporters often don’t have time to do a good job, he said.
“It used to be that reporters really cared about being accurate and fair,” Clinton added. “Now, they don’t have time to be.”

Clinton said the media, particularly television, could greatly improve the political process by offering free or reduced-cost air time for political ads. Raising the millions of dollars needed for television ads puts an undo hardship on incumbents, he said.

“These folks have to spend a lot of time fundraising so they can afford to communicate their ideas and answer critics. And this is in addition to all the work they must do as representatives,” said Clinton. “These people are exhausted, and it clouds their judgment. We need to take this burden off their backs.“

Following the conversation, an affable Clinton stepped to the front of the stage to greet audience members.

He then made a stop at Haas Pavilion, where students and others had gathered to watch a video simulcast of the event on the basketball arena’s big screens.


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