Out of the West: Pool stories dry up as Clinton goes on the run

Washington - The following exchange, by no means as trivial as it sounds, took place during the daily White House press briefing on Monday.

Reporter: 'George, the President went jogging without the pool this morning. Is this something he plans to do as a regular matter, or go out on other jaunts without a pool?'

George: 'I got the pool report after I got in this morning. I saw that he left around 6.03, and the pool is supposed to be there at 6.00. I mean, I think that might just have been . . .'

Reporter: 'No, reporters were there but there was no one to take them.'

Another reporter: 'Nobody called until 6.25.'

George: 'I'll find out about it.'

'George' is George Stephanopoulos, Bill Clinton's chief press spokesman. A 'pool' is the small group of reporters, most from news agencies and television networks, which accompanies a president on his public appearances.

Even a novice can divine two facts from the transcript extract above. The first is that Mr Clinton is running (no pun intended) things rather differently from his predecessor; and second, in these early days, that all is not sweetness and light between him and the White House press corps.

Maybe it's just a case of beginners' nerves. At moments during these last few days, the Keystone Cops might have been in charge at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. 'We need an owners' manual in the glove compartment here,' one neophyte was heard lamenting over the White House public address system on Friday, 48 hours into the Clinton era.

no one knew anyone else's phone extension, or which office they were in. The in-house computer network was semi-disabled: its back-up disks had been subpoenaed by a special prosecutor investigating possible involvement by Bush officials in the notorious search of the Clinton passport files. Ah well, you say, a week or two, and all will be in order. The new lot will learn the ropes, and the mighty White House news machine will be back on track. But then again, perhaps not.

Judge by that easy smile, the 'aw-shucks' manner and alarming propensity to shake every hand in sight, and you would imagine Mr Clinton never happier than with his arm around a reporter's shoulder. The difference between image and reality is the measure of his PR expertise. Already, there have been a host of signals that specialist White House correspondents will have a harder time of it. Least of them is the spat over the unobserved jog.

Every president has a right to privacy. The system whereby reporters tracked George Bush at prayer, at golf, and at table during his odd forays into local restaurants was a waste of time. When the press operation itself goes private, however, it's another matter.

Ever since JFK's time, reporters have been allowed to wander up to the press office, now Mr Stephanopoulos's kingdom. Since last Wednesday, however, guards and locked doors bar the way.

'Even in the worst days of Watergate,' recalls Helen Thomas of United Press International (UPI), who has covered the White House for more than three decades, 'we were able to get to the press office. But now, all of a sudden, where we've always trodden freely, we're intruders.' Her complaint is not sour grapes. In the pressure cooker of the White House, such access has been a safety valve. Small wonder the lid has suddenly looked like blowing.

The Clintonites intend to do exactly what they did in the campaign - bypass the national media, which caused such grief over Gennifer Flowers and the draft, and carry the gospel directly to voters. Overturning another hoary tradition, they have cunningly thrown the briefings open to the television cameras.

So, glasnost at last? Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. In fact, the spokesman controls these daily jousting sessions; among viewers in Middle America however, the ritual will come across as little more than bear-baiting by the mob. And as that very cool customer Mr Stephanopoulos is well aware, this is a nation of animal- lovers. Public sympathy will not be with the reporters.

Not for the first time, Mr Clinton's model for his press relations is the Great Communicator himself. He plans slightly more formal press conferences than Ronald Reagan, and far fewer than Mr Bush. The electronic town-hall, where the President meets the voters via satellite, will be his preferred means of communication.

If Mr Stephanopoulos is not popular in the White House press room, then so be it. No spokesman was more amiable and accessible than his predecessor, Marlin Fitzwater. And look what happened to his boss, George Bush.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'