An Interview Coup
By Howard Kurtz
President Clinton grants his first, world-exclusive post-apology interview, and it goes not to Larry King or Barbara Walters, not to Dan Rather or Tom Brokaw, not to the New York Times or Time magazine.
Instead, the journalist ushered into the Oval Office was Trude Feldman.
"She bugs people incessantly until someone breaks down and says yes," an administration official explained.
An eccentric reporter who has been hanging around the White House pressroom on and off since the Kennedy years, Feldman successfully pitched the idea of a Yom Kippur interview with Clinton, parts of which were excerpted yesterday in The Post's Outlook section.
The questions, as the White House expected, were not exactly scathing: "How will you strive to be a better president as well as a global leader?" "What good do you envision will come out of your present predicament?" "What would you say now to the children around the world who admire you and look up to you as a role model?" Clinton said he was trying, "insofar as humanly possible, to keep the state of mind that the Jewish people try to achieve on the Day of Atonement every day." There were no direct questions about Monica Lewinsky.
Feldman lobbied for a place in the press pool when Clinton recently met with Jewish leaders, then pressed Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles for some face time with the boss. "Erskine has always had a soft spot for her," the administration official said.
Described by Bush White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater as a "short, pleading little old lady in a floral print dress," Feldman has been driving her rivals nuts for decades. A 1979 Post article had journalists carping about Feldman's frequent access to President Carter and "her say-nothing-but-nice-things brand of journalism." She interviewed both Ronald Reagan and George Bush on their last days in office, and Clinton for his 50th birthday.
Feldman, whose work is widely syndicated, said she wanted to stay out of the limelight. "Let the article speak for itself. I don't need the publicity. I did it as a special for the Jewish holidays. I thought I asked good questions. . . . I'm very, very humble and bashful. I have nothing whatsoever to do with the scandal. It was on repentance only."
Asked about the end result, press secretary Mike McCurry said: "It was more enlightening than most interviews with Bill Clinton."
Being personally denounced by President Clinton may not be bad for business. Newsweek's Michael Isikoff has signed a six-figure deal with Random House's Crown imprint for an account of his role in the White House sex scandal.
Isikoff, you may recall, broke the Kathleen Willey story, and was on the verge of breaking the Lewinsky scandal he was the first reporter to hear the Linda Tripp tapes when his magazine held the piece. Isikoff says the book "will tell a lot of the war between Clinton and his political enemies, but even more about the way reporters grapple with the difficult issues of public conduct and private character."
Crown wants the book out by next summer, but Isikoff admits to "a little disagreement between me and the publisher. I need an ending, right? Their view is, let's get it out right away. Well, I have to write it first."
The sex scandal doesn't hold the same attraction for some foreign journalists. A German newspaper recently ran two essentially blank pages to signal its interest in Monica culture. And a group of Portuguese news organizations has agreed to carry no more detailed coverage of Clinton's personal life. Don't look for that trend to catch on here.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company