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Larry King Live

President Clinton Draws Laughs at White House Correspondents' Dinner

Aired May 1, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, here's Clinton! Everybody's talking about how funny the president was at this year's White House Correspondents' Dinner. Could his next job be hosting a comedy show?

Joining us in Washington: Tucker Carlson, writer for "The Weekly Standard" and "talk" magazine. In Orlando, Florida, the famed presidential historian Michael Beschloss. Also in D.C. is ABC News correspondent Ann Compton. And in New York, CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield. Plus, a special guest appearance by another potential sitcom star. Yes, he's here, White House press secretary Joe Lockhart and they're all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Saturday night at the Washington Hilton Hotel, they held the White House Correspondents' Dinner, the president spoke, Jay Leno entertained, and everyone in America is talking about the president's presentation and the use of a tape.

So before we talk to Joe Lockhart about his involvement and how this whole thing was put together and then assemble our panel. Let's show you a little bit of what that tape showed the dinner. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You might be interested to know that a film crew has been following me around the White House, documenting my remaining time there. This is a strange time in the life of any administration, but I think this short film will show that I have come to terms with it.

Could we see the film?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOCKHART: Well, with the vice president and the first lady out on the campaign trail, things aren't as exciting as they used to be around here. In fact, it's really starting to wind down.

CLINTON: There is bipartisan support for it in Congress. And it meets the principles I set out in my State of the Union. If they send me the bill in its present form, I will sign it.

OK, any questions?

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: Helen?

HELEN THOMAS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL: Are you still here?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Radio just doesn't capture the sadness, the isolation of it all. So I've just stopped reporting it.

CLINTON: Joe? Anybody home?

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: John? Maria?

(LAUGHTER)

TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS: What am I going to ask the guy? I have nothing to ask him.

SAM DONALDSON, ABC NEWS: He's yesterday's news. Who's next?

CLINTON: Hello, White House, hold please.

Hello, White House, please hold.

Hello, White House, White House, hello, hold please, please hold. No, Mr. Podesta is not here now. Would you like his voice mail?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've feel bad for him. It looks like he has nothing to do.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN PODESTA, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I'm a little bit worried about him. This morning, for example, he came into the Oval Office for our meeting. And I said, "Mr. President, is everything all right?"

And he said, "Yeah, what's the matter?"

And I said, "Mr. President, you're wearing your pajama bottoms."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really have nothing to say about that.

HILLARY CLINTON, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I wish I could be here more. But I really think Bill has everything under control.

CLINTON: Honey, wait, wait, wait, wait! You forgot your lunch!

ALBERT GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think his legacy is going to be the natural environment, improving the green spaces of our country. I've urged him to spend more time on that.

BETTY CURRIE, SECRETARY TO PRESIDENT CLINTON: The president's schedule is just as busy as ever. He's just doing different things.

DONNA SHALALA, SECRETARY OF HEALTH & HUMAN SERVICES: I feel really bad for him. I wish there was something that would cheer him up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: All right, Joe Lockhart, the press secretary, maybe this is the best press moment he's had in years; right?

JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Could be, could be.

KING: Who set this up? How did it happen?

LOCKHART: Well, there's a big team that works on these things. We have some people from the outside, and there are a lot of people from the inside. What we really wanted to do is. you remember at the beginning of the year, there was a spate of stories from the press about how, with the first lady gone and the vice president gone, the president was somehow all alone in the White House and looking for things to do.

The truth couldn't be further from the truth. He's been as busy this year as any time, and I can tell you because I have to chase him around and try to keep up. So we came up with this idea of, like any good satire, taking something that they think and taking it to a ridiculous extreme, and there we got the video.

KING: And then the idea of using the video rather than just doing material about how lonely he is, and then you use the people from the CBS show; right?

LOCKHART: Well, we had a group of people in the White House, just people who work on the speeches, we had a guy named Phil Rosenthal, who came in to sort of help us with...

KING: He did the...

LOCKHART: "Everybody Loves Raymond." A young guy named Mark Katz and a friend of mine from Peter Hutchins who works at a political consulting firm. So it was a whole group effort, and it was a lot of fun. And after some explaining of what we were trying to do, the president sort of jumped in with some gusto.

KING: Did you know it would be a hit? truth?

LOCKHART: No, but I knew that, with that crowd, I think the people out in the country might not quite get it, but with that crowd, people knew sort of what the feeling was, and I think most people deep down knew that the president wasn't sitting around doing nothing. So we took it to a completely extreme to make it sort of absurd, it would be funny.

KING: Now, also there was the cast of the "West Wing," and you did a bit with them.

LOCKHART: Right. I did.

KING: Let us watch, Mr. Lockhart's road to stardom. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALLISON JANNEY, ACTRESS: Good morning, everybody. I have a quick announcement. We've been asked to put together a short film together for the White House Correspondents' Dinner. Before taking your questions I'd like to say what an honor it is for us to be among such distinguished company, and we are very glad to have the opportunity to participate.

QUESTION: C.J., were you guys their first choice?

JANNEY: That's a good question, I'm assuming they asked the "Sopranos" first, but I will check that out.

QUESTION: C.J., is the White House concerned that the president may have already used his best jokes at the Radio and Television Dinner?

JANNEY: Well, I would be lying if I said we weren't, Steve. Any other questions?

LOCKHART: I've got a question?

JANNEY: Excuse me?

LOCKHART: I said I have a question.

JANNEY: OK, what's your question?

LOCKHART: Who are all these people walking quickly through the hallways?

JANNEY: Joe?

LOCKHART: I'm just asking.

JANNEY: All right, can we cut? All you guys take five.

You know, Joe, we're here doing a nice little film for the White House Correspondents' Dinner and you got to come in here and nudge me about the people walking too quickly in the hallways.

LOCKHART: I didn't come here to nudge you about people walking too quickly in the hallways.

JANNEY: The why did you come here?

LOCKHART: To be honest, the president would prefer if you guys didn't come to the dinner.

JANNEY: Didn't come, why? LOCKHART: The president has a problem with the show.

JANNEY: What?

LOCKHART: People walking too quickly through the hallways.

JANNEY: The president doesn't have a problem with the show. The president has never heard of our show. This is all you and your niggling complaints.

DULE HILL, ACTOR: Allison.

JANNEY: Hey, Dule.

HILL: What's going on?

JANNEY: Joe Lockhart says we can't do the correspondents' dinner because he doesn't like the people walking in the hallways.

HILL: You want me to kick his ass? Look, I'll do it. I'll kick his ass, Allison.

JANNEY: It is OK.

HILL: OK.

LOCKHART: Look, Allison, the White House Correspondents' Dinner is meant to honor serious journalists, a lot of people are really uncomfortable with the Hollywoodizing of government. and frankly no self-respecting White House press secretary would ever be publicly associated.

JANNEY: Hey, Dee Dee.

DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Hey, Joe.

LOCKHART: Dee Dee, I can't believe you are doing this. You worked at the White House, you worked for the president, why would you hook up with a Hollywood TV show?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, Miss Myers.

MYERS: Hey, Stanley.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your big bag of money.

MYERS: Thank you, Stanley. I got to go, Joe, I got a thing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Now what are you going to do?

LOCKHART: That was my first and last acting job.

KING: You didn't like it. LOCKHART: It was a lot of fun. They are a great group of people. They are actually very interested in what we are doing here, and I think the show is doing very well. But I think I will stick with my day job.

KING: And what will that job be at the end of all this?

LOCKHART: I don't know. I think this has been a great experience for me, helping and working with the president. What comes next? Nobody knows. Nothing can match this for pure excitement. Nothing can match it for pure torture of being away from home and things like that.

KING: I know this business, Joe, you are going to get an offer.

LOCKHART: We'll see.

KING: Thank you, Mr. Lockhart.

LOCKHART: Thank you.

KING: Joe Lockhart, the press secretary for Bill Clinton. Our panel will analyze all this. That's what we do in television and we'll be showing you more highlights of Saturday night at the White House Correspondents' Dinner right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": One of the things I most admire about President Clinton, he's the only president I ever heard of that went back to his high school reunion. To me, that is very cool. To me, that is the only reason I would want to be president, just so I could go back to my high school reunion. Just to walk up to that snotty cheerleader and go, oh, still too busy for the leader of the free world? Hey, how's your husband's Amway franchise? How's that working out? See that is very cool.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LENO: You know, I look at all these press people -- what have we got, 2,600 of them? -- and I wonder, who the hell is watching Elian? What is going on there.

Lot of controversy -- was the government right? Was the government wrong? Sixty percent feel the government did the right thing in taking the boy, 35 percent no, they disagree. But 98, 98 percent of the people want to know, what the hell was that creepy fisherman doing in the closet at 5:00 in the morning? Who is that guy? He's like the Latino Kato Kaelin. Where did he come from? What does he do?

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: And to add to your pleasure, before we assemble our panel -- I'll introduce them to you, and then we'll talk about all of this -- here is some more of that now-historic tape.

Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Yes!

Hey, there you are. Come with me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, Mr. P, ready to start?

CLINTON: Show me e-mail.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, let's light this candle.

CLINTON: I want to see eBay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, yeah, yeah, just like that. You're riding the wave of the future, my man. Now what do you feel like buying?

CLINTON: I want to buy a smoked ham.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excellent choice. Right, you're there. You're almost there. How many are you going to buy?

CLINTON: Wait a minute...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's the problem? Chicken...

CLINTON: What does it cost?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Name your own price, my man.

CLINTON: Well, we're stalking for a winner.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's do it.

CLINTON: Yahtzee!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, you did it, my man.

CLINTON: B-9.

GENERAL HENRY SHELTON, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: You sunk my battleship.

CLINTON: Yes!

I want to thank the academy for this tremendous honor. This may be the greatest moment of my life. I mean, ever since I was a little boy I wanted to be a real actor.

No, no, just leave your money in your pocket.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sweet.

CLINTON: Pretty good, huh? Get all you want.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We'll meet our panel and get their thoughts on all of this right after this.

Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: George W. Bush has got a brand spanking new campaign strategy. He's moving toward the political center, distancing himself from his own party, stealing ideas from the other party. I'm so glad Dick Morris has finally found work again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CLINTON: This is a special night for me for a lot of reasons. Jay Leno is here. Now, no matter how mean he is to me, I just love this guy, because together, together, we give hope to gray-haired, chunky baby boomers everywhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: OK, let's meet our panel. They're finally on.

Here in Washington, Tucker Carlson, staff writer for "The Weekly Standard," "Talk" magazine, escapee from Vietnam and CNN political analyst. In Orlando, Florida, is Michael Beschloss, the famed presidential historian, also an analyst for ABC news and commentator on "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer." Here in Washington is Ann Compton, ABC news correspondent who's been at these dinners for a long, long time -- chief Washington correspondent, by the way, of abcnews.com. And Jeff Greenfield, our own CNN senior analyst, he's with us from New York.

All right, Tucker, what do you make of this, good stuff?

TUCKER CARLSON, "WEEKLY STANDARD": It is good stuff. I mean, I think it's possible to appreciate Clinton on an aesthetic level while disapproving of him on virtually every other single level.

KING: Which you do?

CARLSON: Of course.

KING: Disapprove?

CARLSON: Sure.

KING: So do you feel like, wow, when you watch something like this? Do you say, give him some credit?

CARLSON: Oh, yes. I think it's a triumph of will for Clinton. I mean, I think this is a person to whom self-deprecation does not come easily. And I think he forces himself to self-deprecate at these things, and it's impressive, I mean, that he can make himself do something that clearly doesn't come naturally.

KING: Michael Beschloss, I guess we'll ask you historically, what do you make of this.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I've never seen anything like it, Larry. You know, you go back to Franklin Roosevelt who, when he met Orson Welles at a state dinner, the great actor and director, he told Welles, you and I are the two greatest actors in America. By that, Roosevelt meant that a lot of being president has to do with acting. But Roosevelt never did anything like this.

Later presidents did a little bit. You know, Richard Nixon in 1968 during the campaign, somehow his handlers had the odd idea that Nixon seemed too wooden. They got the idea that he should go on "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" on NBC, which he was on for about five seconds.

Gerald Ford at the beginning of the 1976 campaign went on at the beginning of "Saturday Night Live" to introduce Ron Messen, who was the guest host. He was his press secretary. But you've never seen a president do anything like this.

Bill Clinton took a risk a couple of nights ago, because it might have been the case that this might have been seen as something that might diminish him or diminish the presidency. But I think it was a 10 strike.

KING: Ann, you've been at all of these. Was that the best?

ANN COMPTON, ABC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: It was certainly one of the most fun, because everybody loves good humor, and under every good humor there's a little bit of real truth. But these barbs are not particularly sharp when it comes to himself. Jay Leno has said a lot worse, and a lot of deeper, a lot more painful things.

And the president is, I think, kind of trying to rewrite his resume, trying to reshape his image. You know, we talk about Elian, if he goes back to Cuba the kind of re-education he's going to get. I think President Clinton really wants Americans to remember him as the no-hard-feelings, I've survived this, when actually in tougher interviews, in substantive interviews, he betrays a great deal of bitterness about what he's been through. And I think this is a kind of way of reshaping the last six months.

KING: So it was smart?

COMPTON: Well, I guess it's smart. It's political survival. And I think if Bill Clinton is pleased with anything about the last couple of years, that he has emerged, maybe scathed, not unscathed, but he has emerged a survivor. KING: Jeff Greenfield, they used to attack humor in politics. Adlai Stevenson was knocked for it a lot. They used to criticize Lincoln for being funny.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Indeed, there's a famous cartoon during the Civil War of somebody saying to Lincoln, 10,000 dead at Shiloh or wherever, and Lincoln saying, that reminds me of a story -- that reminds me of a funny story.

What you're seeing here, I think, is the next stage of a gradual evolution. Michael alluded to Roosevelt. In 1944, I think it was, Roosevelt knocked the crowd dead with the story of his mock indignation at the attacks on his little dog Fala.

And in 1960, John Kennedy went to the Al Smith dinner, at a very important Catholic Church dinner in New York, where the tradition had been to give kind of political boilerplate speeches. And John Kennedy gave a hilarious set of one-liners. And from then on, every politician who has gone to the Al Smith dinner has felt compelled to be funny.

And here in New York, John Lindsay about 30 years ago started a tradition at a New York version of these dinners of actually doing a song and dance with a Broadway show cast, which is now part of the mix.

So I think what you're seeing here, though, the idea of a president of the United States doing schtick for 10 or 15 minutes is just a sign that, you know, we just move the bar.

KING: What does this do -- well, I'll ask in a minute what this does for future presidencies.

Here's some more of Jay Leno on Saturday night.

Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LENO: And, of course, President Clinton had some wonderful, wonderful international triumphs, such as bringing the Arabs and the Israelis together. Remember that day in the Rose Garden, remember when they were all in step? I have never seen -- show that footage.

Take a look.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: You know the clock is running down on the Republicans in Congress, too. I feel for them, I do. They've only got seven more months to investigate me. That's a lot of pressure -- so little time, so many unanswered questions. For example, over the last few months I've lost 10 pounds. Where did they go? Why haven't I produced them to the independent counsel? How did some of them manage to wind up on Tim Russert?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Pretty funny. Good timing.

Here's a little bit more of Jay Leno, then more of our panel.

Don't go away. Watch Jay.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LENO: Now if Al Gore has a problem, it's probably the fact he's not the hippest guy around. You know, he was up there in New Hampshire -- you saw him up there. He actually worked the phones himself. He got on the phones and called voters, but not always with the best results.

Take a look.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Hi, it's Vice President Al Gore.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Whassup.

GORE: Excuse me.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Whassup.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Whassup.

GORE: I'm not joking.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Whassup.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Whassup.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Tucker, will they all be using tapes in the future? We've got this electronic equipment. In the past, as Ann said, these weren't even telecast.

CARLSON: Yes, I think so. I mean -- I don't know. People make the argument that this diminishes the office. You know...

KING: Do you think so?

CARLSON: Well, I mean, with Clinton, I mean, it's already pretty diminished. I mean, this is hardly the most embarrassing thing he's done. I don't know. I think any time Clinton is amusing, it's good. I mean, it's better than a lot of other things. And so, yes, but I think this does set a precedent. And I think Clinton recognizes it's important for the press not to hate you. KING: The telecast is new, though, right? I mean, they weren't in the past?

COMPTON: For years -- for years -- they have three big press dinners a year, and for years they were all off the record so the reporters could go and could enjoy them as guests.

KING: And nothing was printed about them?

COMPTON: Well, no, things were...

KING: Other than who was there.

COMPTON: Yes, you know, notes are always telling it. But they weren't this funny, Larry. But what's happened now, they're using the politicians. And it was Nancy Reagan with her Secondhand Rose...

KING: Never saw that, though.

COMPTON: No. Hillary Clinton's done a couple of clever things. And the politicians who are using these kind of clever videos -- the reporters actually did one on themselves one year called "The Tapes of Wrath" at the radio and TV dinner. And Bill Clinton just earlier this year -- on our Web site we ran the clips he did, commercials for Al Gore's campaign, saying vote for Al Gore because Bill Clinton's such a good guy. And I've got to tell you, I got more hate e-mail from anti- Clinton people after running that than I have on any of the other newscasts.

KING: Jeff, do you think the public likes it?

GREENFIELD: I don't think the public is much into this. I think the point Joe Lockhart made was a good one, that this is really a much more ingratiating politicians with the press.

I certainly think, on a broader line, that up to a point voters like a politician with a sense of humor. I once called humor the nitroglycerin of politics: very powerful, very dangerous. A politician who can exhibit a sense of humor on a show like yours or Don Imus's, it's a way of saying, look, I'm not a stuffed shirt.

But as some former Cabinet members can tell you, if a joke gets out that you've told, and it's sufficiently offensive to different ethnic or gender groups, you're out of there. It happened to Earl Butz with a foul racist joke he told in 1976. It happened to James Watt, Reagan's Interior secretary...

KING: Yes.

GREENFIELD: ... when he made a rather sneering quip about minorities.

So the biggest thing I can say about a politician using humor is, yes, it's great unless you cross a line. And then you are in really bad trouble.

KING: Michael, do you think the public enjoys this or is it inside the Beltway?

BESCHLOSS: I think it's mainly inside the Beltway as far as the target of this. You know, Bill Clinton is using this very cleverly for some pretty targeted political purposes. You know, you played that clip about making fun of the investigations. Well, some of those investigations in the last seven years were about pretty serious matters, and he's not out of the woods yet. Those thousand, perhaps 2,000 people that were at that dinner may have to write and report about future investigations and future legal problems. So he knows that to cast this as all something that's in the past and sort of funny in a way puts them on the defensive, anyone who wants to write about this critically.

He's very much aware of the fact that humor can be used to defang a problematic issue. I think, for instance, Ronald Reagan, the second debate in 1984, he had been under great criticism. People were worried about his health, thought that perhaps he wasn't up to a second term. And in that second debate, he had a canned joke, saying about Walter Mondale: I won't exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience. It was mildly funny, but that one joke basically took the floor out from under that issue, and it was rarely mentioned again.

KING: We'll take a break, and when we come back, Wolf Blitzer, who had his share of fun on Saturday night, will join us as well.

This is LARRY KING LIVE, don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Tonight marks the end of an era, the after-dinner party hosted by "Vanity Fair." As you may have heard, it's been canceled. Every year for eight years the "Vanity Fair" party became more and more and more exclusive. So tonight, it has arrived at its inevitable conclusion. This year no one made the guest list.

Actually, I hear the Bloomberg party will be even harder to get into than the "Vanity Fair" party was, but I'm not worried, I'm going with Janet Reno.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LENO: You know a lot of people picked on Bush for not being sharp. And I think one reason why they thought that was that little incident that happened in the Texas primary. Well, show Bush voting.

Keep your eye on him here. Take a look.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Good morning, everybody. How are you?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Humor and the presidency. Our panelists, if you just joined us are Tucker Carlson here in Washington, Michael Beschloss is in Orlando, Ann Compton is in Washington with us, Jeff Greenfield is in New York. And we're joined by our very own Wolf Blitzer, the co- anchor of CNN's "THE WORLD TODAY," finished his show tonight, host of "LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER," and Wolf was a part of the scene on Saturday night as well.

And if you don't believe me, watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LENO: We've all picked on President Clinton. But how do White House correspondents behave? Like you see them out front there and they got the nice suit or the raincoat, and they are doing the little standup thing. But when you take a White House correspondent, you send them to California, suppose he doesn't know the camera is on him. Suppose he stopped by "The Tonight Show"? How would he behave?

I don't think we want to see Wolf get naked. OK, that's about enough of that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You're making a mockery of your profession, Mr. Blitzer.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I was indeed. That was digital video, totally somebody else, they put my head on that. You don't really believe...

KING: How did they get you to do that?

BLITZER: They didn't have to convince me very hard. It was a lot of fun. I went with my wife and my daughter.

KING: I saw you there. Is that when you did that?

BLITZER: That's what when we had breakfast at Nate & Al's. And the night before I was on, in the audience of "The Tonight Show." Before they warm up the audience they had a comedian that came out and he was getting these girls to come up. And then he said, you know, there is somebody sitting in the audience that a lot of people probably will recognize. And he introduced me, and I bowed and said hi.

And then, the band, The Tonight Show Band started playing some good dance music, these girls came up to start to dance, and they he said: You think we could get Wolf Blitzer to come up here. And the crowd started going: Wolf! Wolf! Wolf! And I was reluctant to go up there, but my daughter and my wife encouraged me.

KING: Did you know it would be used at this dinner?

BLITZER: I had a feeling it was going to be used...

KING: Did they tell you?

BLITZER: No, they didn't tell me, but I had a feeling that Jay Leno would use it at some point, either on the air or...

KING: Key question: Tucker, would have you done that?

CARLSON: I don't know, I'd like to watch Wolf do it, though. There is something appealing about watching him dance.

KING: Would you have done it, Ann?

COMPTON: Not in a million years.

KING: Not in a million years.

COMPTON: No, it's not me, it's not me.

KING: It's Wolf.

COMPTON: But Wolf makes a good point, at what point do the reporters become too much in part of those, and even sitting at those dinners, we toast the president, we stand when the flag comes and everything. I'm not sure about demeaning the presidency, but at what point do reporters just -- I mean, I get e-mail from people saying: You know, you are just buying into the whole act, you are on his side, you have always been.

KING: Jeff, what is happening is all of this? Are they meshing? Would you have done what Wolf did?

GREENFIELD: I don't have Wolf's sense of rhythm, so I probably wouldn't.

KING: What do you make of it all, it is kind of combining.

GREENFIELD: I will tell you something, Ann raises a really valid point. Because you know, if you make a point like this, you wind up like sounding like a stuffed shirt and as a former writer for "The National Lampoon" I think I have demonstrated that perhaps I have a different view of the world. But there is something in general about the idea that this fourth estate that is supposed to hold the powerful to account, you know, Monday through Friday, on Saturday night toasts and breaks bread and chuckles at each others' jokes.

I think there are people out there, not necessarily ideologues, who can raise some interesting questions about just how independent are you from the process of the powerful, when, you know, the competition for who has the most important guest at the table of those dinners can sometimes get pretty fierce. And I, you know, I have to cop to something, I have never been to any of these dinners.

KING: Really?

GREENFIELD: Yeah, never have. Because I live in the heartland of America, unlike you folks, I live in the Upper West Side of Manhattan in New York.

KING: Oh! GREENFIELD: I have always felt, I have to say, a little bit uncomfortable about these tribal anthropological rituals. They do bother me a little bit. If that is pomposity. well, make the best of it.

KING: Mr. Beschloss, do you think any of the ideologues will be complaining?

BESCHLOSS: Complaining about the dinner?

KING: Yes, you know, the press, this is all one big happy family, the Beltway.

BESCHLOSS: I think from someone from the outside who knows that at least in theory our American press is supposed to be zealously independent, and hold power to account speak truth to power, it doesn't create a great scene to see everyone sort of in this great pageant sort of rubbing each others' back. At the same time, you sort of look through the last two centuries, and you know, there is so much conflict in our history. People fighting with each other, it sure is true in Washington these days, and has been during the last 10 years, that in a way, if you look at it that way, at a time when senators, for instance, don't get along so well with each other anymore, especially with those across the aisle, you sort of think that it's nice that occasionally there is a ceremony that brings everyone together.

KING: Wolf, but fun is fun, right?

BLITZER: In defense of these dinners, it's not just liberal Democrats who are there or moderates, but there are plenty of conservative Republicans who are there, and they are having a good time.

KING: And conservative Republican presidents who are there at the time.

BLITZER: And we did the same thing during the Reagan administration, the Bush administration, now the Clinton administration.

KING: Nancy Reagan did the dance.

COMPTON: Nancy Reagan did a takeoff on herself, and it had a lot more political target to it than Bill Clinton's...

KING: And Tucker, humor is part of your shtick?

CARLSON: Well, I would just say, you know, there is a reason that the ritual evolved. I mean, politics is intense and people can, you know, get quite a head of steam going, and I think without the idea in Washington that after work people can have dinner and treat one another as human beings, without that, people would be stabbing each other on the subway. I mean, this is important.

KING: You don't have to hate these people; right? BLITZER: The whole purpose of this White House Correspondents' Dinner was you could invite a high-ranking official, a source, if you will, who come, you could spend an evening talking, having dinner, and perhaps that person would emerge as a pretty good source. And I have to tell you, in the seven years that I was a White House correspondent, I always brought a top White House official, and those officials wound up being pretty good sources during the course of my tenure there.

KING: Are you shocked that Jeff doesn't go?

COMPTON: I'm not shocked that Jeff doesn't go. But Jeff would be the best dinner partner, I'd want him to sit next to me.

KING: Yeah, me too.

GREENFIELD: Thank you very much. And I'll take you up on that next time I'm in town. You know, I understand what these folks are saying about the need for comity, for an alternative to the kind of politics of viciousness. I was always struck at the inaugurals, the one time in the four-year cycle when you look at the Capitol steps, and you see people of different parties embracing each other and shaking hands, and I have a real sense at inaugurals that there is that kind of feeling, that you know the folks that put this system together really knew what they were doing, and you have to have room for cooperation.

But I don't know where the line is. I don't pretend to know. There is something about the kind of hail-fellow well met that I get a little uneasy about. And so there goes my invitation to the next 10 dinners, which is fine.

KING: We'll be back with more, right after this. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Some of you might think I've been busy writing my memoirs, I'm not concerned about my memoirs, I'm concerned about my resume.

Here's what I've got so far. Career objective: to stay president. But being realistic I would consider an executive position with another country.

Of course, I would prefer to stay within the G-8.

I'm working hard on this resume deal, I have been getting a lot of tips on how to write it, mostly from my staff. They really seem to be up on this stuff. And they tell me I have to use the active voice with a resume, you know, things like "commanded U.S. Armed Forces," "ordered airstrikes," "served three terms as president." Everybody embellishes a little.

"Design, built and painted bridge to 21st century."

"Supervised vice president's invention of the Internet." (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Just as an aside, Tucker doesn't want to talk about it, Wolf, but he wasn't on your show yesterday?

BLITZER: We missed him because he was stuck in Vietnam. He was supposed to be on the show, he was supposed to return to Washington Saturday afternoon, he was covering John McCain's visit to Vietnam on the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon. But when their plane, their Lufthansa plane, was ready to leave, unfortunately the authorities in Vietnam said: Tucker, you are staying.

KING: Because he hadn't been stamped.

BLITZER: Supposedly, there was some discrepancy.

KING: You don't want to talk about it, right?

CARLSON: No, I mean, I just, wasn't that.

KING: They didn't stamp you, just so we know what happened.

CARLSON: They didn't stamp my visa. You know, they are not known for their sense of humor over there in the Vietnamese Immigration Department.

KING: No load of laughs there, huh?

CARLSON: There are really not.

BLITZER: I wasn't just that. I think it was in part payback to John McCain for having said the day before that the wrong guys won the war, and poor Tucker was the one who had to pay.

KING: Good to have you back, Tucker.

CARLSON: Well, thanks,

KING: Safe as well.

BLITZER: He's a better person for that.

KING: Here's another Leno moment from Saturday night -- watch.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LENO; Being a Washington correspondent is a very important, a very important job, but does the average American know who their Washington correspondent is? Do they even know the Washington correspondent. The other night, two nights ago, I took a camera, went out, we talked to real people. I brought pictures of some of the most famous Washington correspondents in the world.

Let's see if people knew who they are. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LENO: Ever seen him before?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wasn't he in "Independence Day"?

LENO: "Independence Day" the movie?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, Randy Quaid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know, she looks like Rosie O'Donnell.

LENO: Rosie O'Donnell.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She looked like Cathy Bates, but I guess it isn't.

LENO: No, not Cathy Bates, what do you think she does?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give people a hard time.

LENO: Gives people a hard time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, gosh, Jack Kevorkian, maybe.

LENO: Jack Kevorkian.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

LENO: Exactly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like Jack Hammond.

LENO: Who?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jack Hammond.

LENO: Jack Hammond?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The "Jurassic Park" guy.

LENO: The "Jurassic Park" you got it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there any black people in here?

LENO: No, no!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is Dan Ackroyd.

LENO: Dan Ackroyd?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that Harrison Ford?

LENO: Close, he wishes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: King.

LENO: Martin? Martin Luther King? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is that Linda Tripp?

LENO: Linda Tripp? yeah. You got it, you know your politics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Still no black people.

LENO: There might be some black people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ellen DeGeneres, no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: They got me right.

We'll be back with more. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LENO: One thing about Al, always trying to connect with the young people, always trying to connect. In fact, here's a product that was not particularly successful, but God bless him for trying. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look out, grenade.

ANNOUNCER: Hey, kids, if it's action you're looking for, go for the Gore. New Al Gore comes with a suit and debate podium, grip action.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look, he's ready to discuss foreign policy. Wow!

ANNOUNCER: Al Gore says up to 50 different things.

"AL GORE": We are the natural leader of the world, I don't think that is a chauvinist American statement. I think it's a statement of fact. People respect us as Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want it, Mom.

ANNOUNCER: The Al Gore action figure, it's easy to carry and can be brought on any trip.

"GORE": I think that a president must have a vision of the future that is compelling enough to bring people to the common effort.

ANNOUNCER: The new Al Gore action figure, available at all toy stores for Christmas, podium sold separately. Al Gore!

(END VIDEO CLIP) (END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: That's funny stuff.

Norwalk, Connecticut get a call in. Hello.

CALLER: Hey, there, Larry. First of all, I like the new glasses.

KING: Thank you.

CALLER: And my question for the panel is: Is Clinton -- do you guys feel Clinton is preparing himself for the speaker's tour? I mean, what is this guy going to do in six months?

KING: What do you think he's going to do? Jeff Greenfield first.

GREENFIELD: Ex-presidents really don't have to reach a very high level to be thrown great sums of money for speaking, believe me. No, I think the analysis of this is kind of a little bit of a payback for the exaggerated notion of a lame duck.

What Clinton's going to do when he leaves the White House, I'll pass. I haven't a clue.

KING: Michael, what do you think?

BESCHLOSS: I think it's going to be a combination of the way Richard Nixon spent his ex-presidency and the way that Jimmy Carter did.

In the Nixon case, I think Bill Clinton is going to first write a memoir and speak and do a lot of other things that are intended to erase the idea of him as a president who was impeached and embroiled in a lot of turmoil.

And on the Carter side, I think he knows how much Jimmy Carter has done for his reputation by doing good works around the world, negotiating treaties, helping to eradicate disease in Africa. I think Bill Clinton knows there are an awful lot of things he can do to elevate his stature.

KING: Ann?

COMPTON: You know, we talked earlier about with whether this demeans the presidency to do these kind of humor videos. And I think Bill Clinton knows that presidents before him have gone off and done big speaking gigs. Like, I think President Reagan got about a million dollars to go to Japan, and a lot of people found that demeaning.

I think President Clinton's going to break everybody's mold. He's not going to do what everybody else has done. All presidents kind of fade away -- former presidents fade away for about the first six months, but he's kind of a natural born teacher. I can see him doing university things, but I don't think you'll find him in the Senate spouse's club.

KING: How about "Bill Clinton Live" on CNN.

BLITZER: Oh, I think he could be. I think that -- I don't know about CNN, but I think that Bill Clinton has already said what he wants to do. He's said that for the last 20, 25 years, his wife was effectively the main bread winner. He says he's now going to go out and in addition to doing the Clinton Center from Little Rock, in addition to doing all the good things that a Jimmy Carter-like president -- former president, would do, I think he's going to go out and try to make a ton of money.

KING: Make money, OK.

BLITZER: And I think he will.

KING: Tucker.

CARLSON: I don't see it. I mean, avarice seems to be the one sin that he doesn't fall prey to. I think cable television is the answer. I think he's going to be all over...

KING: "The Bill Clinton Show"?

CARLSON: He's going to single-handedly prop up cable news. He'll be on the Food Network, he'll be on Home Shopping Channel. You'll be able to turn on...

KING: He'll be a regular here, right?

CARLSON: It's going to be unbelievable.

KING: He'll be a regular on this show?

CARLSON: And on everything else.

COMPTON: Would you invite him to co-host or substitute host?

KING: Sure, but if you get into the seventh year of it...

We'll be back with our remaining moments with our panel.

Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LENO: Actually, some of those debates between McCain and Bush were pretty exciting. There was one where McCain really, really lost his temper.

I'm going to show you three little clips from the three debates and, well, you'll see how these two men treated each other.

Take a look.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: They want reform. They want the government back, because the people of Taiwan and the government of Taiwan recognize that the provocation of China would only lead to...

BUSH: Let me say one thing about all this business, John.

MCCAIN: I told you, I pulled them all down.

BUSH: You didn't pull this ad.

MCCAIN: Yes, I did.

BUSH: This that ended up in a man's windshield yesterday?

MCCAIN: That is not by my campaign.

BUSH: Well, it says "paid for by John McCain.

MCCAIN: You know, it's interesting. You were talking about printed material that was mailed out. I don't know who is responsible for it, but I know that the attacks go on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: By the way, here's how the dinner ended. And we'll get a comment from each of our guests about it.

Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Power's not the most important thing in life, and it only counts for what you use it. I thank you for what you do every day, I thank you for all the fun times that Hillary and I have had. Keep at it. It's a great country, it deserves our best.

Thank you, and God bless you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Is that the best response you've ever seen at the end of a...

COMPTON: And when the reporters stand and applaud, it's to the presidency itself...

KING: Not...

COMPTON: Not so much the man.

KING: But weren't they also applauding performance here? Tucker, too?

CARLSON: I think everyone appreciates that he, you know, he reads a great cue card. He's talented. I think Clinton's at his best when he's being funny, the least depressing and the easiest to take.

KING: Wolf?

BLITZER: They were applauding...

KING: Did it move you?

BLITZER: The self-deprecation, the willingness to do that was very impressive. And I don't remember another president who would be willing to go that far.

KING: Michael, wasn't Lincoln self-deprecating a lot?

BESCHLOSS: He was, and it's one of the things that we and even school children today, all these years later, find so mesmerizing about Lincoln. You know, in hearing those words from Bill Clinton, Larry, it just made me wish that we had seen a lot more of that side of him over the last seven years. I think he would have done himself a lot of good.

KING: And, Jeff, the future now: Can the Adlais run? Can the Adlai -- can you run and be funny?

GREENFIELD: I don't think -- I think what we have learned from this is how much less important politics is than it used to be. I think if we were in the middle of a great wrenching war or a wrenching debate about racial justice or economic justice, you wouldn't be having this.

But -- in fact, it occurred to me that, you know, the president Martin Sheen plays in "The West Wing," this former professor turned president, would never have done this video. In "The West Wing," if they had asked him to do this, he'd say, no, no, presidents shouldn't do that. But the real president did it, and in part because it doesn't matter that much.

We don't put presidents on pedestals anymore, not in this age. We don't think they're making life-and-death decisions the way they used to. So why not? And maybe that's a good thing. But it is a very, very different kind of climate, and I think if things get serious in this country again, that's when you're going to see a more serious side, you know, of a president emerge again. But right now, I think people say, sure, what the heck? What does it matter?

KING: Well said.

Thank you all very much for being with us. It went all too fast.

Stay tuned for CNN "NEWSSTAND."

Tomorrow night, we'll talk about Vermont and gays and marriage.

Thanks for joining us and good night.

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