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 to Clinton when she buttonholed him at a ceremony for Israel's 50th anniversary. Parts of the interview 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 said she had sent Clinton a copy of a Yom Kippur interview she had done with Jimmy Carter, and later asked Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles to arrange 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 repeatedly scooped her better-known rivals. A 1979 Post article had journalists carping about Feldman's frequent access to President Carter and what was called "her say-nothing-but-nice-things brand of journalism." She conducted the final interviews with Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush as they were leaving office, and chatted up 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." Barnicle's Last Column All Mike Barnicle wanted was a chance to say goodbye. And he was willing to pay at least $20,000 for the privilege.
The ousted Boston Globe columnist submitted an Op-Ed piece to his old paper, giving his side of the controversy that led to his downfall. Editorial Page Editor H.D.S. Greenway made some suggestions and seemed interested in running it, but Globe Publisher Benjamin Taylor vetoed the idea.
So Barnicle and his wife sold some stock, cashed in a savings account and asked to buy a full-page ad in the Globe. No dice -- and no reason given.
"I was stunned," a weary-sounding Barnicle says. "The past two months have been an incredible nightmare. I feel odd saying anything negative about the Globe. I still love the place, despite what I think was done to me unfairly."
Says Globe spokesman Richard Gulla: "We refused the ad on the same basis we refused the Op-Ed piece: It didn't add anything new to the issue." In the 1995 column that led to his firing, Gulla says, "he quoted people he never met and never talked to."
Barnicle, 55, felt partially vindicated when he finally tracked down Patricia Shairs, the Maine woman he had written about in 1995. He had said that a wealthy white family had become friends with a struggling black family while their sons were hospitalized with cancer, and the black family received a touching letter and a $10,000 check after their boy died.
It turned out Barnicle had never talked to either family, relying instead on a nurse's aide who was in training at the hospital. Yet he managed to re-create vivid scenes and quote the 10-sentence letter verbatim. Globe editors were appalled at the shoddy reporting. And the details turned out to be quite different: The Shairs family is white, not black; they received $5,000, not $10,000; their son was 5, not 9; he died in 1987, not 1994; and the cause was heart disease, not cancer.
"There are several inaccuracies in it, no doubt about it. . . . Clearly, in retrospect, I wish I'd done some legwork," Barnicle says.
In the rejected Op-Ed piece, he writes: "It was simply a true story, flawed in the re-telling. . . . However, today, reconstructing dialogue and being unable to instantly source' a 1995 column is a failure to abide by present standards of journalism. The punishment for my mistake is permanent banishment from the place where I've spent most of my adult years, the Globe. My penalty is to have my reputation, my work, my life -- private and professional -- savaged. But I am still standing and proud of what I produced over a quarter century. . . .
"I used my memory to tell an honest story. . . . Clearly, this cannot be done any longer in a business intent on weaving a one-size-fits-all suit of standards."
Gulla says that while Barnicle didn't fabricate characters, like former Globe columnist Patricia Smith, his offense was nearly as grave. "Mike still believes what he did was not so bad. . . . The sooner we get this behind us, the better off everyone will be. I can't deny that's part of it."
But Barnicle says most of his readers don't really know what happened, and that even Smith was allowed to write a farewell column. Now he can't even buy one.
"Stop asking me in the supermarket if I'm coming back," he says. "Stop honking at me on the street. I ain't coming back. I'm not going to be there ever. There's nothing I can do. They own the paper. They buy the ink." Isikoff Inc.
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.