As the former director of the White House Travel Office, I feel compelled to respond to the article "The White House Press Corps Diet," which ran on the front page of the Aug. 4 Food section. In it, Charles Babington describes treatment of the White House press corps by the current Clinton Travel Office that is similar to that for which I was severely criticized and vilified by the same Clinton White House in 1993.
A so-called "audit" team from KPMG Peat Marwick dispatched by the Clinton staff questioned me extensively about the "lavish services" my staff and I were providing to the traveling White House press corps. It was clear from the team members' accusatory tone and leading questions that they, representing the White House, did not approve of our accommodating treatment of the press. When the FBI was brought in to try to justify our firings, this was an area it investigated.
During my 11 years as director of the Travel Office, my staff and I tried very hard to hold down the travel costs of the press corps on presidential trips. Each time we were in a press center for at least five hours, every effort was made to have food and beverages available that members of the press could purchase themselves. On those occasions when this was not possible, we would have sandwiches, potato chips or cold cuts brought in, for which I would pay on behalf of the traveling press corps. I have personally purchased Big Macs, pizzas, doughnuts, soft drinks, ice and chips for the press center at fast-food establishments and supermarkets. This food was all paid for with press corps money, part of which the FBI accused me of stealing for my personal use.
Are the things Mr. Babington outlines in his article the kind of things Hillary Clinton had in mind when she criticized my staff and me on nationwide television shows, saying she had concerns about the operation of the Travel Office? We were described then as being too friendly to the press because of the services we provided them.
During my years as director of the White House Travel Office, I had many discussions with the White House Correspondents Association on ways we could hold down travel costs. It is hard for me to understand why the association still allows this lavish catering of the press centers and why news organizations are not questioning these costs.
This looks like one more example of the double standard the Clinton White House practices -- one for itself and another for those it opposes.
BILLY R. DALE
The writer is former director of the White House Travel Office.