Lyndon Johnson, I.F. Stone once observed, wasn't content to be commander-in-chief of America's armed forces; he wanted to be editor-in-chief of the nation's newspapers, as well. It's a common Presidential affliction. John Kennedy complained he was "reading more but enjoying it less," and canceled the White House subscription to an unfriendly daily. No one needs to be reminded of Richard Nixon's profound antipathy toward the press, or Ronald Reagan's, or George Bush's. And now Bill Clinton, sounding like a Bush clone, is bellyaching about "the knee-jerk liberal press." There's something about working in the Oval Office that seems to thin the skin.
What tripped Clinton's trigger was a question posed by Bill Greider during an interview for Rolling Stone magazine. Greider, the author of Who Will Tell the People, last year's outstanding book about U.S. politics, asked about the depth of Clinton's commitment to the principles he professed to believe in. The President objected to that as "a highly critical, personal statement ... a very personal attack." And he volunteered that he was sick and tired of such comments.
"I have fought more damn battles here for more things than any President has in twenty years," Clinton said, "with the possible exception of Reagan's first budget, and not gotten one damn bit of credit from the knee-jerk liberal press, and I am sick and tired of it, and you can put that in your damn article."
Well, now. It all depends, we suppose, on one's perspective, and the perspective from the White House isn't very reliable. To begin with, despite the fulminations of Rush Limbaugh and his right-wing ilk, there isn't much of a "knee-jerk liberal press" - or any other kind of liberal press - out here in America. Except for Rolling Stone and a few other magazines, the field belongs to two kinds of conservative media: those that call themselves "moderate" and those that don't. If Clinton believes that there is a "knee-jerk liberal press," that tells us more about the company he's been keeping than about the media.
For another thing, the President has been getting a free ride or something pretty close to it. To be sure, he came under heavy media criticism last spring, when it seemed his new Administration could get nothing right. There was the silly business of the $200 haircut, the botched appointments to the Justice Department, the other fumbles when it came to filling high-level...