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Foreign Journalists Panel

Speakers: Mohammad Wahby, Washington Bureau Chief, Al-Mussawar, Martin Walker, European Editor, The Guardian, and Paulo Sotero, Washington Correspondent, O Estado de Sao Paulo
October 15, 1998
Council on Foreign Relations

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Let me introduce—and we’ll hear from the respective speakers, and I’ll just go in the line that they are here. First is Paulo Sotero, Washington correspondent, O Estado de Sao Paulo, Brazil, and later, Mohammad Wahby and also Martin Walker. We’ll begin with Paulo Sotero, who will talk first, five, six, seven minutes, and then each of them will speak. And then I’ll have some questions and then I’ll come to you to engage them as well. Paulo.

Mr. PAULO SOTERO (Washington Correspondent, O Estado de Sao Paulo): Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here. And I hesitated a little bit in accepting the invitation because of the subject; the idea that I would have to talk about the distraction, which is, I find, a very sad story as a journalist. I come from a country that has a special, I think, view about the United States. We are, in Brazil, probably the only country in the world that can look at you as a mirror, because we are a big country. We are a new country. We are a country of immigrants. And we have the possibility, at least we’d like to think about it, of repeating some of the very good things you have done here. And we have become—and our view of you is obviously influenced by our view of ourselves. We have become a much more self-assured country lately because we got our self-respect back when we got a handle on inflation and we started to do the things that will probably make Brazil a viable country.

As you may know, and those of you who are informed about the economic situation, there is a major challenge right now. We are in our moment of truth, where we are going to have to face, finally, the fiscal problem that we have always postponed to face. And we are very dependent on the US right now, not on the US goodwill and the US understanding that we have common interest in this. We cannot fail, and you cannot fail supporting us, because you’re going to have problems if we fail. And I think there is a clear understanding about this in Washington, as you see this, because of the speeches from Mr. Rubin and others.

Now, unfortunately, we have to deal with this in this climate that is dominated in Washington by this current event that sort of poisons everything. Brazil and the United States have had much better relationships lately, in part because of our attitude towards ourselves, towards the world. We had some misgivings about some strategies of the United States. For instance, in the so-called commercial diplomacy that you started with the Clinton administration, you apparently got something from the Bush administration and accelerated it without having support in the United States for it. Witness your failure to approve fast track. You don’t have support for FTAA in the United States. And at some point, that got very—big tensions between our two countries.

But coming more to the focus of the meeting here, I talked to some friends in Brazil before I came here and in Latin America to see how they’re seeing it from there about this event—this thing that you are doing to yourselves. It is perplexing to everybody. People don’t understand what it is. And there are two levels for this. There is one level of the general population. And the general population sees the United States as a serious country, as a mature country. And, suddenly, there is this idea that, well, maybe you are a part of the countries that we also consider the folklore countries, you know, like we see ourselves.

You may remember some years back a Brazilian president that was in a carnival parade that was photographed with a lady in a kind of daring circumstance there. And it was in the front page of all papers in the world. The Washington Post had a front-page piece saying that Brazilian image hits bottom—something like that. Well, compared to what is going on in Washington, this was nothing. No banana republic in the world could have ever dreamed of producing this story. Garcia Marquez would not be able to do this.

So at the popular level, there’s this perception, and you become sort of, you know, one of those countries about which you make jokes, and that’s bad. At the more informed side of the public opinion, I think there are doubts. This episode raised questions about institutions in the United States. How can you produce this monstrosity? You create—What?--an inquisitor, a general that I compare—a friend of mine in Brazil compared this to what we used to have in Latin America, the minister of war. It’s a guy that has total power over the presidency. He’s sort of—the president is there, but this guy can condition the president’s move. And it’s worrisome. It’s worrisome because it shows—you know, the debate in Latin-America with the United States is about something called the second generation of reform, which is institutionalization, institution changes. And at this moment, you see the United States in a situation that we cannot understand, why do you have to humiliate your president the way you’re doing? What is the explanation? We all know the nature of the subject. We don’t need to talk about it.

There is also in this more—better informed side of the public opinion in Brazil. Something I discovered about your political life—the sad, poor quality of it; the fact that there is nothing noble about what’s going on, there is nothing of a redeeming value about this thing. People tend to compare to Watergate. No, there was some nobility in Watergate. There was some acts of greatness. Politicians act with greatness, with focusing the interest of the country. There was—you know, the public opinion—and I’m talking about journalists, about people in government whose view of the United States was very much influenced by Watergate, by the Vietnam War, by the civil rights movement. And in those three episodes, you have positive things about the United States. You have the United States in the Vietnam War, and I tend to have this vision. You know, if I were an American at the age, I would probably have been called to go. And I was here as a student at that time.

The American people has something so distant about it that when it realized that the war was unjust, it ended the war here. And it takes a lot of courage to do that. In Watergate, as I said, there is something substantive about Watergate. There was something pedagogic to the world about Watergate, the self-examination that you did. There is also in the civil rights movement—that is something—no other country in the world did what you did, the kinds of experiments that you did that may work, may not work. But the fact that you have the courage to face those things is very important. To us, for instance, in Brazil, in the matter of race, it’s a very important message.

But we see this. I keep watching this, and I just keep seeing this from Brazil and say, ‘What will come out of this?’ Nothing. There is nothing positive coming out of this. Either you’re going to have an impeached president or you’re going to have a weakened president. And this is not good. This is not good for you; this is not good for us.

So another thing that I wanted to say as a journalist, just to conclude, is that another institution of the United States that comes out very badly—and this is very bad for us—is the press in America. We learned a lot. Watergate made the US president an example to the world. And the way the media in general here is reacting to this global world, this connection between media and entertainment—you know, the fact that the aspects of this stuff is discussed seriously in those TV shows—and I’m not talking about his TV show that is one of the best. His and Jim Lehrer are the only two that I watch—but the fact that this is taken seriously, you know, when this is about private behavior, and there should be some way, institutionally, to resolve that without exposing a country like that.

Now my question—and that’s a question that everybody asks, I think—the better-informed side of opinion asks, you know, ‘Why are you doing this? Is that because you feel so secure of your power that you can act with this kind of foolishness and it’s not going to have any consequence to you?’ I have doubts. You know, I am a person—I have been here for a long time. I love this country. I have kids here, kids in college. I have a 12-year-old daughter. And I’m worried about this, because the United States is, indeed, a special place. I think you have the right to, because of your history, consider yourself something special. But this episode sends a signal to the rest of the world, or at least that’s the way we understand it in Brazil, that you don’t know what to do with your prosperity, that you don’t know what to do with your power and that you have now, you know, sort of—there’s this collective psychoanalysism that’s going on in the country. When serious things are happening, serious opportunities are being missed. The relationship between Brazil and the United States and the United States and Latin-America could be much more advanced right now. And so we are perplexed. And I think that we are as perplexed as you are, probably, from what I read here, with the differences that—you know, we don’t understand. We don’t understand why you are subjecting yourselves to this, and what kind of institutional framework allows this to happen? And this is going to be every time now.

In Brazil, we talk about reform. You know, reform of the judiciary is a very important reform in Brazil. There is actually an effort by US federal judges and Brazilian federal judges—it’s a cooperative thing, going on right now, to help us reform our judiciary in Brazil. People start raising questions about this because they look at you and say, ‘What is this all about?’ I’ll stop here. Thank you.

ROSE: Thank you, Paulo. A couple of points that I failed to make. One is that this is on the record, and secondly, that we’ll have the Q&A, which will begin hopefully right around 6:30. So it’ll give us a full 30 minutes. We’ll end promptly at 7:00.

Mohammad.

Mr. MOHAMMAD WAHBY (Washington Bureau Chief, Al-Mussawar): Good evening. Well, we in the Arab world are a bit different from America and from Brazil only in one sense; that perhaps we do the same thing, but we don’t publish about them. So that’s a big thing.

Anyway, I’ll try now and deal with the problem. Actually, the subject which we find in the Arab world to be important, interesting and even exciting, not only because of the dimension of the scandal but because how much this scandal has impacted the US image and the US role—this, for us, is very important. And we think that right now, while we are sitting here, the US role is being tested right now in Washington and, to be exact, to be specific, in the Wye Plantation.

You know, we all know that President Clinton called both Arafat and Mr. Netanyahu to have this summit here, and we think that this is definitely being impacted by what has happened recently in Washington. But let me also deal with how we in the Arab world have seen this scandal, in a way, because for the last nine months, almost—what we call the (foreign language spoken) of Monica, the scandal of Monica, has almost dominated foreign news in most of the Arab world. Sales of our newspapers have almost doubled in some instances. More surprisingly, the Starr report has been published in its entirety in Arabic without omitting one single word. In a few days, more than 60,000 copies of the Starr report was sold only a few days, actually, after the report itself was published here. This was quite a feat. Now two prestigious publishing houses are publishing different editions—I mean, one edition after another. It’s incredible, the impact this has had.

Just to give an idea—I mean, one of our editors said that the Starr report is almost now replacing “One Thousand & One Nights” in its salacious aspects. Another made sort of his own survey and came out with a very interesting thing. He said that he found that the Monicagate has affected even the daily vocabulary in Cairo’s famous cafes. People now talk about things that they never talked before.

But leave this aside, and we’ll say, ‘Why is this? Why all this importance in that report that’s being attached to the Starr report and to this scandal?’ and so on. Well, we ask ourselves very easily had it been the president of Micronesia or the president of Indonesia, nobody would have cared, no question about that. And it is true that in no other country, you have such freedom of the press. I was in England, by the way, for many years, and even in England, you don’t have that freedom of the press, but you have it here. You don’t have the Freedom of Information Act in England. Also, you don’t have a division of power in a way that you have here in the United States. But this is not what is the cause of the problem as we see it. We think that the US press has become virulently free—not only free but virulently free, and that division of power in the United States has led to such a polarized political situation that it is almost paralyzing the United States.

And then there is another aspect which is very important to us, and that—the president of the United States is not only the president of the United States; he is the president of the only superpower in the world. Frankly speaking, we in the Arab world also are not quite happy about this. We’re not happy about having only one superpower in the world because we think that this makes for a lack of balance in the world. And in our case, this lack of balance is even exacerbated by the fact that we have a Congress in the United States which is totally lacking in balance in as far as we are concerned.

So it’s two different levels. First, one superpower acting as it wants, more or less freely. We all know now how the United States is acting in the United Nations. But also because the Congress, which wields an incredible power in this country, is totally lax in the balance in as far as we are concerned. So that is again—and this has been emphasized also by what has been happening over the last nine months.

Then I can say that we in the Arab world have almost become obsessed by the United States. We talk a lot about the United States, because if it is not the peace process, it is Iraq; it is Sudan; it is Libya. And these three Arab countries have been attacked militarily, and they are still subjected to sanctions—heavy sanctions, as a matter of fact. So, again, that is why the obsession. So it’s not only the peace process but also these factors. All the time, we are talking about the United States. So whatever affects here affects us.

Another aspect, and that is the peace process. How has the peace process been impacted by what is happening now in the United States? We find that exactly at the time when President Clinton has decided to take a more firm attitude towards Israel, exactly at that time when he called Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington, it’s exactly at this time that the Monica Lewinsky scandal had erupted—exactly at that time. So what happened? The president of the United States was paralyzed. Prime Minister Netanyahu acted and felt that he was almost the president of the superpower and not President Clinton, frankly speaking. And you went back home with that feeling—you ask any Israeli, ask any journalist here in this town. He went with that feeling, that he was victorious in the test of wills which was in Washington.

And then after that, what happened after that? Secretary of State Madeleine Albright came out in January with the US initiative to break the deadlock on the Palestinian-Israeli track. The Palestinians accepted it; Prime Minister Netanyahu didn’t. He sent Dennis Ross, who never gives up going there—he always comes back by saying, ‘We have narrowed the gaps, but there still is a lot to achieve.’

Anyway, Dennis himself was fed up. Madeleine Albright was fed up. So she sent a conditional invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu. And that conditional invitation was considered by Israel as an ultimatum. Did it affect him? Not at all. Again, because of the scandal here, because the situation of the president has become much weaker—nothing. He didn’t care. He did not care.

Again, at one stage, she said, ‘OK. No need for ultimatums. I’ll announce, I’ll make public the US initiative to break the deadlock,’ because until now, the United States was keeping the initiative secret so that a given idea to give a space to give Israel an opportunity to change whatever it wants to change in the initiative. So she threatened Prime Minister Netanyahu, ‘I am going to make public the initiative. And not only that, but I’m going to also make public who is obstructing the initiative.’ What happened? She literally swallowed both the ultimatum and the threat of making this public—has not been made public at all. And in the meantime, they left Arafat—poor Arafat, you know—face to face with Netanyahu. And Dennis Ross did not go for the first time to the Middle East for four full months, leaving almost the lamb dealing with the wolf, literally. So he had to accept finally quite a number of changes. Perhaps later, we can talk about what changes have come into the initiative.

But I’m just giving you how this has impacted us, has impacted the area. But having failed—not just having failed in the peace process; it has affect its own interests. In one sense, the United States now cannot act tough with Saddam Hussein because it does not have the very same support that it used to have in the Arab world before. That’s a very important thing. And, you know, you must have all heard about how everybody is accusing the US administration of softening its attitude towards Iraq. It is exactly because of the fact that it could not get anywhere with the peace process. And this has disillusioned many people in the Arab world.

Another perception—and I think the word ‘perception’ is extremely important—because of all that has been happening in the United States, there is a perception in the Arab world that there is a moral degradation in the United States which has traveled from the bottom up. And the fundamentalists has used this to their advantage, and that’s a danger, you know?

Something silly also has happened in that respect. You know, in the Arab world, followers of the conspiracy theory are many. So immediately, you have, especially among the fundamentalists—they said, ‘What has happened in the United States must be a conspiracy. And the conspiracy is having Monica as a sex bomb being placed next to this particular president, who is known for so, so, so, so, we see. Why?’ They said, ‘In case he does not maintain the correct line that he has had vis a vis Israel, then we can fix him down.’ Again, that’s very prevalent, by the way. I am not saying about people who are just ordinary people. I am talking about some important writers in the Arab world.

But now having said all this negative things about the impact, there is also one positive aspect of this scandal, and that is, no one in the Arab world has missed the significance of the fact that even the most powerful man in the world, and that is the president of the United States, is not above the law. So is not above the law a situation which was still aspire where we’ve seen in the Arab world are still aspiring to achieve. Thank you.

ROSE: Thank you. Martin, we’re going to try to limit this so I can get to the Q&A with everybody involved as much as...

Mr. MARTIN WALKER (European Editor, The Guardian): Well, ladies and gentlemen, I bring you thanks from the grateful Europe. The newspaper sales have never been so good. The French are ecstatic. It’s been a long time since they’ve been able to feel both more sophisticated and so superior at the same time. The British are really delighted that you’ve finally taken the salacious spotlight off our royal family. We can’t begin to compete. The Germans are really very grateful, too. They’ve found out all these wonderful new things that people can do in offices.

Having spent nine years as The Guardian’s bureau chief here in the States, to go over and become European editor was a major change. And people keep asking, ‘What do you miss about Washington? Or what is the big difference between Washington and Brussels?’ And I normally say, ‘Well, there’s three things that I really miss about Washington. One of them is aircraft carriers—the fact that there is a real power that can be projected. The second one is think tanks. And Europe has yet, really, to understand just how important think tanks like this one are to enable great institutions and great nations to hear themselves think aloud. And the third thing I miss, of course, is bimbos.’ And I was saying this at a dinner party recently, and the French ambassador took me aside over the brandy and he said, ‘My dear young man, you have to realize that we, too, in Europe—we have our bimbos but, you know, we dress them better.’

‘We look after them better. And, above all, we conceal them better.’ The European obsession with your president’s sex life has been extraordinary. When Anne Luzzatto rang me up and asked me if I could do this, I did a very quick computer search of three of the European newspapers that I read a great deal: The Frankfurter Allgemeine, Le Monde and El Solier of Italy. And between September the 12th and October the 10th of this year, I got 152 stories about Monica and Bill from those three papers, which is more than two a day for all of them. The overall tone, as you can imagine—the French describe the entire idea of getting rid of a president for this kind of thing ‘stupefiant.’ That was the word used by Le Monde. Frankfurt Allgemeine said, ‘We thought we understood the Americans, but how different we really are.’ And they had one glorious leader at the time of the IMF world bank meetings which they said, ‘Oh, if only our finance minister were as well known in the world as Monica.’ Le Monde also came up with the glorious concept of sexual McCarthyism, a new kind of witch-hunt of the president.

But if there has been one consistent theme throughout the European press—and I’ve seen it in the British press and I’ve seen it in the French, the German, the Italian, the Spanish, the Belgian—it is that we are not particularly worried now after this week about the lack of American leadership. After all, we have just had Kosovo resolved very much through American leadership informing the rest of NATO allies in the traditional American way, ‘This is what we are going to do, isn’t it?’ We have also had the Americans showing leadership in getting this Middle Eastern summit together in Wye, showing that although the rest of the world may have said the Oslo process was dead, the Americans don’t agree and can prove that it isn’t quite dead yet. We have also seen the Americans start to really take very seriously the international financial crisis. I see from today’s newspapers that it’s confidently expected now that the Congress will authorize the $18 billion for the IMF. We have actually seen the Japanese, in the course of the last 10 days, come up with the massive bank restructuring package that Robert Rubin has been pressing them to do for the last few months.

So there may be a problem in the White House, but there is no problem with American leadership that we can see. There may be a problem in the Oval Office, but the institutions of American foreign policy and of American financial diplomacy and the financial leadership seem to be in place. Whatever Mr. Clinton cannot do, Madeleine Albright, Dick Holbrooke, Alan Greenspan and Bob Rubin seem to be managing on their own, thank you very much.

In other words, the republic itself and its institutions are in pretty good shape. However, there are two great American institutions which are scaring the pants off us Europeans. Well, one of them is scaring the pants off Europeans like me, and that is, what on earth has happened to your media? What on earth has happened to the seriousness of The New York Times, which has sunk to the level of a tabloid in some of the kind of stories it produces and writes? What on earth has happened to The Washington Post? Have they taken leave of their senses? Have they lost all sense of proportion?

The second thing that really worries Europeans is, what in the hell has happened to your Congress? We Europeans remember the great period of bipartisanship with Senator Bandonberg and so on that produced the Marshall Plan, that produced the NATO era. And what we see now is a Congress which seems to many of us as though the South won the Civil War.

Let me just sort of cite very briefly one or two remarks that were made in the Italian newspaper El Solier, which has taken this exceedingly seriously. Well, I’ll just quote very briefly. (Italian spoken.) “In many parts of the country, the entire Republican Party is now dominated by the evangelicals. This evangelical group has now come to run not just the Republican Party but Congress itself and is imposing its ridiculous attitudes upon the nation.” We have a similar article by Le Monde, which says much the same thing.

Let me just sort of conclude this remark by quoting what I think was a very striking article by Le Monde. (Foreign language spoken.) ‘Hence forward, there is no more mystery. The right wing is purely giving the appearance of a political offensive whose real goal, with dark purpose, is not just to destroy a man, but it is, in the course of doing so, to undermine a democracy.’ It is that worry about Congress, not just in what the Congress is doing to Clinton but also in particular in what the Congress is doing to foreign policy that is really frightening us—this ridiculous delay in authorizing the IMF budget expansion, this petty delay about authorizing or approving the nomination of Dick Holbrooke to the job to which he is just shown himself once again remarkably fitted to hold; it is the way in which Senator Helms is allowed to exert such a putrid authority over American foreign policy; it is the way in which this Congress seems to have forgotten that it does have a responsibility beyond that to its own pastors and its own voters. It’s got a responsibility to the planet which, more than any other institution, it helps to run.

All of these things scare us, but we have been reassured by the fact that America does still seem to be capable of leadership and that this particular president does still seem to be completing the really significant work of his first term, which was to realize that at the end of the Cold War, it was no longer America’s role to be the leader of a military international coalition. And what Clinton, I think, then began to do was to reshape America’s global role into becoming the guarantor and the linchpin of the global economy. And, at last, the Clinton administration seems to be getting very serious about its job in fixing that. And I’m very pleased to hear it looks like it’s starting with Brazil, Paulo. And so—but apart from that, really, the French are so pleased that you have reacted according to type.

ROSE: Thank you. Very good. Very good. Let me just go right to this audience. Win.

Mr. WINSTON LORD: First, let me explain to the panel that I am a centrist. I voted for Clinton twice. I worked for him for four years. I think he’s done some very good things as president. So please don’t put me among the right-wing conspirators.

I appreciate your candor, but I’m astounded at your trivializing what is going on in this country, and I’d like to pose a question you. Would the leader of each of your country survive and would your media ignore the following events? Let’s take your president or prime minister being serviced by a 21-year-old girl in his office, going on national television and lying about it to your people when, if he had told the truth, this thing would have been open 24 hours and all the problems you seem to have with our society would never have arisen; when, for eight months, he turned this country upside-down; when he lied under oath and clearly and de facto, if not de jure ways, has tampered with witnesses and obstructed justice. Would this not be considered a significant event by your media? I know something about Asia. I don’t know of any Asian leader in any democracy who would have lasted two weeks. This is not to say the president should necessarily be removed from office. It does suggest we have more serious issues than this panel has suggested.

ROSE: Who wants to pick up on that? Mohammad? Paulo?

Mr. SOTERO: Well, I would say something. That’s why I said that...

ROSE: Take Brazil.

Mr. SOTERO: ...at the beginning, that this is a very sad episode. The president should have acknowledged it at the beginning and this thing would have been over. Still, I think that there should have been some type of political understanding, given the nature of the thing, to allow for some agreement early on, to not allow to drag the country through this, because this will not—I don’t see—I would like to see this proving that the institutions are working, but I don’t see that. I would love to see that happen, that this is going to prove once again that America has great institutions, has a system that works and that will punish and reward, but I don’t see that. That is—the substance of this story’s so sad, so poor, and the president has responsibly. He acted irresponsibly in every instance of this episode. Don’t want to excuse President Clinton for anything of this, but I think in our countries—with all the hypocrisy that may be involved in my answer, I think there would have been a more practical solution to this.

ROSE: Mohammad.

Mr. WAHBY: I don’t think that I have trivialized it at all. As a matter of fact, I was emphasizing the serious aspects and how much it has impacted us in the Arab world. What is happening here, I don’t think I have to trivialize it at all. I mean, I tried to be as serious as I could in my talk. And I dealt with the repercussion that you are having in the Arab world. I mean, it is enough, I mentioned, how much the fundamentalists, who’s really quite a force now, are using this is just enough to look at the newspapers, you know, or attend the meetings, and they are making a huge, big hullabaloo about what is happening in Washington now as a sign of decadence and how can we align ourselves with this power and so on and so forth. So I hope I have conveyed that message in that way.

Mr. WALKER: Well, I would simply try to speak to the remitch that we’ve been asked to discuss, which is: What is the impact of this upon American foreign policy and the American image overseas? Rather than the actual what happened or didn’t happen inside the Oval Office and how President Clinton lied about it.

ROSE: When? I mean, give us one example of where you think, because whether it would have had the impact you suggest in other countries and a leader would not have remained in power in another country, where you think there’s been serious consequences in the execution of American foreign policy because of the investigation of the president.

Mr. WALKER: What?

Unidentified Man: Winston Lord, this is a different issue, but I think there have been consequences. I think the Egyptian panelist who, by the way, I did think addressed this with more seriousness than his colleagues, has pointed out, one, where—I think backing off from Netanyahu was one. I think hesitation on Iraq and hesitation on Kosovo for a long while has. But I agree that the more upbeat presentations, I think we are regaining our footing, and I think that’s good, however one feels about this scandal.

ROSE: OK. Right here, but please identify yourself as you stand up so that we can know who you are and...

Ms. ALICIA SIEBENALER (Council on Foreign Relations): Hi. My name is Alicia Siebenaler, and I’m with the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Sotero, in your presentation, you mentioned institution and you said, and I quote, “You don’t know what to do with your prosperity.” I’m assuming that you mean the American people, you, or do you mean the judicial institution or the institution of the press? Because you had just mentioned in response to Mr. Lord’s question that you’re astounded at the way the media has sort of taken over this and they should have shown more restraint and that the country should have done something about it, and I guess that it sort of just punctuates the problems with a free press and a constitutionally sanctioned free press.

Mr. SOTERO: Hold on. I don’t want to support restriction on the press. It’s just the way the press has approached the trivialization of this, if there is trivialization of the process. I think the media is responsible for this. The first for every detail of this that the American people say doesn’t want to hear about. And when I think that what—that’s a question, that in people I talk to in Brazil and myself, it arises. Subjecting the country to this pain that—as I insisted talking to Ambassador Lord, I don’t see the value of this. I don’t see what good will come of it.

The question that is being asked there—you know, the United States is in a very unique position of power and prosperity. And instead of using the opportunities, instead of exploring the possibilities, instead of really taking its energies towards paying out its dues to the UN, it’s in this black hole.

ROSE: Yeah, but wouldn’t you argue that that same paralysis might have been there in the first term before this scandal erupted—certainly about UN dues, certainly about some of the other issues? So, therefore, is it the scandal that is causing whatever paralysis or inability to use its prosperity?

Mr. SOTERO: No, the problem that I don’t like is that the scandal just makes the president of the United States less respectable, and I don’t like that concept. You know, I think that the president of the United States represent that is something much bigger than the person that occupies that office. And that is what bothers the people in my league that are the guys that try to explain to the United States and Brazil, for instance.

ROSE: Let me get a lot of people in this one. Please keep your questions—identify yourself—keep your questions short in the interest of time.

Ms. THERESA A. HAVELL (Havell Capital Management): Theresa Havell, Havell Capital Management. It’s our turn to beat up on you, Mr. Sotero. You mentioned the American press and their pernicious curiosity with the affair, and you also mentioned at the same time, you know, that Brazil was on an uptrend and that the low point of Brazilian politics was the appearance of a scantily clad woman on the cover of The Washington Post. But just a few years ago, your presidency experienced some scandals also with ex-President Collor, who was exposed having an affair with his brother’s wife, I believe. And he was exposed by his own brother for corruption and for the affair, and he was removed from office. And I look at Brazil today and think what a strong country it has become.

Mr. SOTERO: We removed him from office and he’s been pardoned. He still has his political rights, but he cannot run for anything. But I don’t know what the question is, but if that is your concern, it’s—no, we faced that and we are learning. I don’t know what to say.

Mr. SUMIT GANGULY (Hunter College): Sumit Ganguly, City University of New York. My question is for Mr. Walker. Apart from introducing this element of levity, which I quite enjoyed, on the other hand, I was wondering if you’d provide us a little bit of more serious historical perspective. Would you compare the current scandal with the John Profumo-Christine Keeler-Stephen Ward scandal that rocked the United Kingdom about 30 years ago? I’m sure even if you didn’t live through it, perhaps you have some historical sensitivity towards that issue.

Mr. WALKER: Well, the Profumo scandal was in 1963, which I recall the British poet Emma Blocken once said that, ‘Sexual intercourse began in 1963, and somewhere between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles’ first LP, it was a little late for me,’ she went on. The Profumo affair was a prostitute, or a lady of easy virtue, called Christine Keeler, who was sleeping at the time with our secretary for—our minister of war, John Profumo, and she was also simultaneously sharing her favors with Captain Yvalo of the Russian embassy, which was felt to be a bit tricky at that particular time, with the Cold War.

And this wouldn’t have come out, except she was also sharing her favors with a West Indian drug dealer called Lucky who, doubtless in the throes of jealousy, began firing a handgun—which was pretty unusual in Britain in those days—into her mews house, or into the street of her mews, and so it all began to sort of come out. And Mr. Profumo, the minister then, lied to the House of Commons and said he was having no such illicit affair. Then, of course, it came out that he had lied and he had to resign, and he spent the next 30 years working, or doing good works, in the slum districts of London, and finally, the queen received him again, which goes to show that virtue has its own reward.

The remarkable feature of scandals is that French scandals, in the end, are always about money and British scandals are always about sex. I guess you always get into the most trouble for things you think you’re not getting enough of, like that. What’s—precisely. Can for a moment put aside this levity, which is so distressful—what really strikes me about this entire affair with Clinton is that it is not a one-off. Throughout my life as a mature journalist, I have not known an American president who wasn’t being battered and weakened by one damn scandal after another. Nixon was battered for his Watergate. Ford was pilloried for having pardoned Nixon. Carter was pilloried for Bert Lance. Reagan had his Iran-Contra affair. George Bush had Iraqgate and was, I think, the first president ever to be questioned on national television live and actually asked, ‘Have you or have you not had an adulterous affair?’

What are you doing to your presidents? I mean, I sometimes think, on the good side of this, that you have found a modern form of what the old Roman emperors had as they rode into the streets of the ancient city and having their triumph. There would be a little slave standing behind them in the chariot saying, ‘Remember, you are only a man.’ This seems to be what you are doing with your presidents and with your scandals. It’s as though it’s—you cannot get to the White House now without having this ball and chain around your neck, and perhaps it’s almost become a status symbol in Washington to have an independent counsel of your own. How many people have got out of that city without $100,000 or more in legal bills? I don’t know what you’re doing to yourselves.

ROSE: Martin, thank you. Let me move over here so I can get as many people as I can in a diminishing time.

Mr. RIORDAN ROETT (The Johns Hopkins University): Riordan Roett, Johns Hopkins. Les, let me congratulate you on one of the most chaotic meetings I’ve been to in decades and one of the most interesting. Let me pose the question: There are many of us in this room who believe Bill Clinton should resign because, quite frankly, he has destroyed his presidency. If he did so, what would the image be in your respective countries about a succession—which, in our Constitution, is legal and, indeed, has taken place before—to remove the scandal and to move on to a new agenda in 1999?

Mr. WALKER: I think it would be applauded as an honorable and wise act by Mr. Clinton. I don’t think that he’s the kind of person who will ever resign, not until they—pries that White House from his cold, dead fingers.

Mr. WAHBY: Yes. Well, actually, in Egypt and in most of the Arab world, again, they think that it might be better for the rest of us to just put a decisive end to this chapter and move on to something else because of so many problems in the world, and not only in the Middle East. I mean, quite a number—I mean, this impending financial, economic problem which would be all-facing—how can you have a president who has been impeached, not to speak of him—he’s not going to be removed, but he will be impeached, most certainly. So how can you have him lead the world at such a perilous stage? So, I mean, there is that tendency there that you have. But put an end to this one. Move on. You are a great power. You have tremendous responsibility in the world, and it is very important that the United States president should be strong, should be active, should be decisive. That’s all.

ROSE: All right. Harry.

Mr. HAROLD EVANS (US News and World Report): Harold Evans, US News and World Report. Is there anything comparable in any of the countries you know to the inquisitorial engine of the independent counsel? And is there any intelligent comment on the US Constitution and the arrangements that have permitted that?

Mr. SOTERO: I can think only on the times of the dictatorship in Brazil, where the guys would do anything they wanted. There is no limit to what they can do. That’s the only comparison. That’s why I called some friends in Brazil, and the analogy they could come up with in Brazil was the minister of war, which, to us, is absolute power, you know? And that’s what it seems to me. And when I talk about institutions in the United States, it’s particularly that one that seems to be a new power in the United States.

Mr. WALKER: Most countries, Harry, have got provisions for getting rid of an unpopular political leader. They’re called elections. And what is interesting about this is, here we have a president who was elected twice by the American people, and America—or, a Congress and a chattering class in Washington appears to be on a very different course from what the American public tell us, in opinion polls, they actually want. And I find this difference between heartland and all of—the mass of America and this political class in Washington to be extraordinary at the moment, and that has provoked a lot of rather thoughtful comment in the European press. And there has been some comment about the constitutional provisions and that America as an institution will continue if Clinton does have to step down, or whether he—freely or required. There is a vice-president. We know how the succession will work.

ROSE: Let me get—a moment, I’ll be right back to you.

Mr. IAN MURRAY (Wyper Capital Management): Ian Murray, Wyper Capital Management. Although I know this whole scandal has provided a lot of entertainment value, I’m wondering if your respective presses has relayed the seriousness of the charges against Clinton adequately so that people in your countries understand how serious the charges are, and it’s not just this little sexual episode.

Mr. WALKER: Oh, I think certainly everybody knows, you know, that the Repub—that the House committee has proposed 15 charge—the House committee’s lawyers proposed 15 charges. Starr himself had a whole range of other charges apart from the sexual. There is no sexual charge, in fact. There is no—nobody is saying to Mr. Clinton, ‘You are being charged with having had an illicit sexual affair inside the White House.’ It is all what came out of that—the cover-up, the attempts to lie and to commit perjury and to deflect the story. I think people know that.

Mr. WAHBY: In our case, actually, the serious newspapers have dealt with it very, very nicely. I mean, they had emphasized that it’s not about sex; it is about someone who has lied continuously, about someone who has also, I mean, not only tampered with witnesses but also—of course, a number of our writers—it also—he actually also misused the office of the presidency, you know, by covering up for such a long time. I just wanted to say one thing, actually, regarding the question earlier about—in our case, we don’t have, of course, an independent counsel. Our presidents either die in office or are assassinated. So that’s why I ended my presentation by saying we look up to the United States in this respect, that no one is above the law.

ROSE: That’s right.

Mr. WAHBY: Very important here.

ROSE: One last question.

Mr. PETER TALBER: Thank you. I’m Peter Talber. I must have some sort of privilege here in that I was Gary Hart’s speech writer who quit the morning before Donna Rice arrived. I think there’s something we are missing, and it’s sort of astonishing, like a dead rhinoceros in the living room, and it’s part of a figure-ground illusion, and that is, the distinction between Watergate and Watergate II, which is actually sort of stunningly ironic—and that is, in the first case, it was journalists and the people telling truth to power. In this case, we are seeing the people of the United States with the courage to tell the truth to themselves about power, and that is, we are ignoring Congress, ignoring the media and we are accepting that there’s a certain amount of hypocrisy and necessary lies in public life that make political life and private life tolerable, bearable and doable.

And I want to say without stooping to irony that there’s a deep sense in which Bill Clinton may be the most honest man in politics right now, in that he has declined to avail himself of this opportunity to make this into the Armageddon that it is between the forces of personal liberty and the forces of religious reaction, and he is simply taking the hits like St. Sebastian. And I wonder whether this doesn’t finally—to tie this into the main theme here—this doesn’t really represent the great transition of the United States and that we are now showing our maturity as a civilization and that in spite of our passions and our follies, our people seem to be the great ballast of our society. And I wonder whether, to make the point of what Martin was saying, that this isn’t really Bill Clinton’s great gift, that he is shepherding us to this new sense of the US as a mature power.

ROSE: OK. Let me just get one last question here, and I’ll take that as a comment. Right here. Right over here. And I think I’ve had a chance to touch everybody that raised their hand. Yes?

Ms. SUZANNE SPEARS (Council on Foreign Relations): Suzanne Spears, Council on Foreign Relations. To my mind, the absence of women on this panel is rather reflective of the generalized silence in the United States, at least from women in the feminist movement and also in the press. And I was wondering if, in other countries, because there—I think in this country, the feminist movement is a little bit between a rock and a hard place, so to speak, because to a certain extent, Clinton has been the friend of the women’s movement on policy issues. And I was wondering if, in other countries, that has been so much the case or whether there had been a little bit of a dialogue in the press from feminist thinkers.

Mr. WALKER: Well, yes, certainly one of the better-known feminists in Britain, writing in my own newspaper, when she—recounting her reading of the Starr report, got into that section where Ms. Lewinsky first brought the pizza and then proceeded to adjust her dress in a revealing way. And our feminist thinker said that she thought Mr. Clinton had grounds to bring a suit for sexual harassment. We do take these things flippantly, don’t we? And I think Peter Talber is actually quite right, and I think that—I wouldn’t say that Clinton is acting as the Moses, leading you through to the Promised Land of honesty and sexuality. I would simply say that he’s become a catalyst; he’s become an occasion rather than a cause—Americans realizing just how much most of your own society has changed and how most of them realize it’s very difficult to grow to adult years and be able to say—and I certainly can’t—that one has, throughout one’s life, told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about sex.

Mr. WAHBY: In our case actually, it’s very strange. About 45 percent of all people working in newspapers and magazines are women. Eighty percent of those working in television and radio are women. But each one of them was vying with the other about how virtuous they are and how terrible this Monica is except one, a very strong feminist woman in Egypt was being very daring. She said, ‘What I object to is his taste. What kind of woman does he choose? Come teach us about that woman.’

ROSE: OK. On that note, of taste, thank you for coming.

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Transcript

The Future of News

Speakers: Jan Schaffer and Tom Rosenstiel
Presider: Megan McArdle

Jan Schaffer and Tom Rosenstiel discuss the future of the international news media, including the proliferation of media outlets, their...

Video

The Future of News

Speakers: Jan Schaffer and Tom Rosenstiel
Presider: Megan McArdle

Jan Schaffer and Tom Rosenstiel discuss the future of the international news media, including the proliferation of media outlets, their...

Audio Speakers: Jan Schaffer and Tom Rosenstiel
Presider: Megan McArdle

Jan Schaffer and Tom Rosenstiel discuss the future of the international news media, including the proliferation of media outlets, their...