[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1993, Book I)]
[April 1, 1993]
[Pages 379-383]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Question-and-Answer Session With the American Society of Newspaper 
Editors in Annapolis
April 1, 1993


    Q. Mr. President, I support your vision and am grateful to be here 
for this historic speech. As a journalist and a citizen I am deeply 
anguished over the reports from Bosnia: deliberate, premeditated rape, 
the shelling of innocent civilians, families forced from their homes, 
children crushed to death in desperate attempts to escape. I'd like to 
ask two brief questions. Do we have a national interest in checking the 
spread of greater Serbian ethnic cleansing in the Balkans? And are we 
losing our credibility as a nation as this horrifying aggression in a 
sovereign state continues without your unrestrained, forceful, and 
public condemnation of it?
    The President. Yes, we have a national interest in limiting ethnic 
cleansing. I disagree with you that I have not given a forceful and 
public condemnation of it. I think the issue is whether you think the 
United States is capable of doing what Europe has not in somehow forcing 
its will upon Bosnia and the former Yugoslavia. Since I have become 
President we have dramatically stiffened the embargo on Serbia. We have 
hurt them very badly economically, but the war continues. We do not have 
the votes in the United Nations at the present time to lift the embargo 
on arms to the Bosnians. If we did, it would endanger the humanitarian 
mission there carried on by the French and British, who oppose lifting 
the embargo, and they have kept many people alive.
    I decided that I would support the Vance-Owen peace process when it 
was clear that that was what our European allies wanted to do and that 
that was the best vehicle for a potential peace. Now, the Bosnians and 
the Croats have signed on to that, the Muslims and the Croats in Bosnia. 
We are waiting to see whether the Serbs will. If they do not, we will 
then have to contemplate where we go from there. But I would remind you 
that when I became President the situation there was already grave. We 
had a policy through the United Nations which I think was of limited 
effectiveness, which I have tried to stiffen as well as I could.
    But the United States has many commitments and many interests, and I 
would just remember that the thing that I have not been willing to do is 
to immediately take action the end of which I could not see. Whatever I 
want to do, I want to do it with vigor and wholeheartedly. I want it to 
have a reasonable prospect of success. And I have done the best I could 
with the cards that I found on the table when I became President. If you 
have other ideas about what you think I ought to do that would minimize 
the loss of life, I would be glad to have them.
    Q. Sir, do you condemn it here today?
    The President. Absolutely. I condemn it, and

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I have condemned it repeatedly and thoroughly. And I have done 
everything I could to increase the pressure of the international 
community on the outrages perpetrated in Bosnia by the aggressors and to 
get people to stand up against ethnic cleansing. The question is what 
are we capable of doing about it from the United States. If you look at 
the responses that have been mustered so far from the European states 
that are even closer and that have a memory of what happened when 
Hitler, who was not shy about using his power, had hundreds of thousands 
of people in the former Yugoslavia and even then was unable to subdue it 
    I think you have to look at what our realistic options are for 
action. The question is not whether we condemn what's going on. Ethnic 
cleansing is an outrage, and it is an idea which should die, which 
should not be able to be expanded. The question is, what can we do?
    Now, I have said that the United States would be prepared to join 
with a United Nations effort in supporting a peacekeeping process that 
was entered into in good faith. If the Serbs refuse to do that, then we 
will all have to reassess our position. But we must be careful not to 
use words that will outstrip our capacity to back them up. That is a 
grave error for any great nation, and one I will try not to commit.

Freedom of the Press

    Q. This is--[inaudible]--he is one of the leading editors at 
Izvestia, Moscow--[inaudible]--I hope you will take a question from him. 
My question, Mr. President: His newspaper in Russia has had deep trouble 
because of its criticisms of Parliament and Parliament's reaction to 
that. You in this country have taken some hits, some heavy hits in the 
campaign and as President from a critical, probative, intrusive, at 
times abusive press. I wonder if you could give us your feelings, 
perhaps, words of philosophy as to how you view press freedom given its 
critical and at times abusive nature?
    The President. If you have in a democratic society any freedom 
enshrined in the Constitution, it is as certain as the Sun rising in the 
morning that the freedom will be abused. Think of any freedom enshrined 
in the Constitution. They are all capable of abuse, some in different 
ways than others. The freedom of speech is abused every day in the 
country. The freedom of the press, of course, can be abused. Other 
freedoms can be. People can claim to be practicing religion when perhaps 
they aren't. That is the price we pay for freedom, and we are stronger 
because of it.
    I think that no one has done better for 200 years than Thomas 
Jefferson did when he said--and Thomas Jefferson got a pretty rough 
press, too, from time to time if you go back and read how people worked 
on him. My consolation is no one remembers the people who falsely 
blasphemed him in print. [Laughter] But Thomas Jefferson said that if he 
had to choose between maintaining the Government and the freedom of the 
press, he would choose the freedom of the press because democracy could 
not exist without it. And I agree with that. And Government restraint in 
the face of criticism is in some ways the most important test of a true 

Trade Negotiations and Russia

    Q. I wish to welcome you to the Free State of Maryland. Four times 
during the term of your predecessor the leaders of the Group of Seven 
industrial democracies assembled in early July, and each time they 
pledged their personal prestige to a GATT agreement, the new world 
reform of trade regulations. Each time they failed. My question is this: 
When you go to the Group of Seven summit in July, are you going to renew 
that pledge? And secondly, and this is pertinent to what you've been 
talking about, if we don't have a new GATT agreement, is there any way 
Russia will be able to enter the world trading system in a way that will 
lead to its evolution from its present situation?
    The President. Well, as you know--first let me answer the first 
question. Yes, I will renew the pledge, and I will hope to do it without 
having the international press corps laugh since they've now heard it 
four times. We got an agreement on agriculture, so-called Blair House 
accord, which I hope will stand up in the wake of the recent elections 
in Europe. If it does, I am frankly optimistic that we will be able to 
proceed to a GATT agreement. There are other outstanding issues, but on 
balance the United States would be much better off with it.
    We need to maintain a commitment to global economic growth in ways 
that are good for the wealthy countries of the world. As I said in my 
speech, one of the great challenges is for a wealthy country not only to 
maintain its technological lead and its capacity to generate

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growth but also its capacity to generate jobs.
    In the 1980's Europe had at least two significant economic 
recoveries and generated no jobs. That's the thing that's bothering me 
now. This recovery allegedly started a long time ago, but the 
unemployment rate is higher than it was at the depth of the recession, 
and that's because we are now finding some of the same difficulties. So, 
I think the GATT agreement can help that, and I will do what I can to 
get it.
    The answer to your second question is not so simple. I believe 
Russia would be better off if it could be brought into the international 
trading system with a new GATT agreement, but the leaders of the G-7 
this year obviously are the Japanese. This is Japan's turn to lead, and 
the Government of Japan has issued an invitation to President Yeltsin to 
attend the G-7 meeting. And as you know, on April 14th and 15th the 
foreign ministers and finance ministers of the G-7 are meeting in Tokyo 
to talk about what we can do in multilateral ways to help the process of 
Russian reform.
    So, I believe a lot can be done even if there's no new GATT 
agreement. Indeed, I would argue that for the kinds of things which need 
to be worked out for Russia to really benefit from trade and for the 
rest of us to benefit from it, involve more either ad hoc relationships 
between businesses and governments dealing with Russia or changes within 
Russia itself relating to property rights, privatization, the 
reliability of contracts, the freeing up of the ability to contract in 
the energy area, and things of that kind.
    I should have let you answer that question.
    Q. Mr. President, I am absolutely sure that millions and millions of 
Russians would be really proud to listen to the words you have just said 
about my country. Unfortunately, we have not a lot of politicians who 
are able to do the same. Let me just add one thing. Russians are not 
just settling from new changes. There are millions and millions of young 
people who don't care about communism at all, and they enjoy new freedom 
and new situations. Many of them don't know who was Stalin or who was 
Lenin, but they do know who is William Clinton. And so here is my 
question: If a future friend shows once again that the great majority of 
Russians are committed to democracy and free market economy, can we 
expect this year your visit to Russia?
    The President. If I gave you the answer that I want to give you, 
half of my Cabinet would have a heart attack--[laughter]--simply because 
I haven't discussed it with anyone. Let me say that I think I should 
follow the same practice I always do. I can't commit to a specific date, 
but if the process of reform stays alive in Russia, I want very much to 
go back there.
    I had the honor to be in your country, briefly, 3 days before Boris 
Yeltsin was elected, as a completely anonymous citizen who was invited 
to come just for a few days. So I was able to walk the streets, to talk 
to people, to observe what was going on. I was immensely impressed. I 
had not been in Russia for over 20 years. Everybody in America now knows 
I went to Russia. We found that out in the Presidential campaign. I 
enjoyed that trip, too. [Laughter]
    I would very much like to go back, very much.

Ross Perot

    Q. I'd like to head back to the domestic front, if I could. Ross 
Perot spoke to us yesterday, and he said as he travels around the 
country he finds his supporters asking him about and upset about two 
recent events in Washington. I'd like to ask you about both of them. One 
is the dismissal of Jay Stephens as District attorney as he was pursuing 
the Rostenkowski case in the postage stamp for cash case. And the other 
was the story about the general who was supposedly told at the White 
House that he should leave quickly because the White House staff was not 
comfortable with uniformed military personnel. Could you comment on both 
of those?
    The President. I will, and then I want to ask you a question. First 
of all, the United States attorney in Washington, DC, was not dismissed. 
They were all replaced, and they will all be replaced just like the 
Republicans replaced them all when President Carter was defeated by 
President Reagan. And in fact, many of them got, including the United 
States attorney in Washington, DC, got to serve extra time because of 
the difficulty in getting a new Attorney General. We did not replace any 
of them until we had a new Attorney General.
    There is a provision now for appointing interim U.S. attorneys from 
people who are of long service within each office. There is no reason to 
believe that any particular case will be pursued in a different manner. 
But I think you could make a very compelling case that that

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United States attorney and others served longer than they would have 
normally because there was not an Attorney General confirmed on the day 
I became President. Everybody else in my Cabinet was confirmed. So to 
say that that person was singled out is absurd.
    The real flip side is some of the people in the other party are 
saying, why didn't we leave him in there all by himself because this is 
the most important case in America and no one else can pursue it. I just 
dispute that. I just don't agree with that. There is no evidence to 
support that. We followed a uniform policy that was exactly like the one 
followed by previous administrations, except we started later in time.
    Secondly, the other story, like all those military stories, was an 
abject lie. And thank God some people in the press have finally started 
pointing it out and have even expressed some shame that they were guilty 
of printing those kinds of rumors. Some of the press have begun to print 
letters from people at the Pentagon who have been disputing some of 
these specific stories like the lieutenant general that was allegedly 
told by someone on the White House staff that she didn't speak to people 
in the military. Those kinds of stories, they are all just made up out 
of whole cloth. And people who run them based on gossip or people who 
talk about them from podiums ought to be ashamed of themselves, without 
knowing they're true.
    You know, Mr. Perot came to Washington the other day and attacked my 
Chief of Staff as not being a real business person, and he had to call 
him on the phone and personally apologize the next day. I mean, people 
can say anything from the podium. I'd be more interested in why my 
economic program, which is 85 percent what Ross Perot recommended in the 
campaign, except we raised taxes less on the middle class, more on the 
wealthy, and don't have unspecified health care savings, hasn't been 
endorsed since it's almost identical to the one he ran on.
    I don't think we ought to be out here rumormongering myself. I think 
it does very little to support the public interest.

Public-Private Partnership

    Q. Mr. President, in your speech you alluded to a global economy and 
also to the Marshall plan in the days in which this country stood alone 
as an economic power without competition. What, sir, do you feel is your 
responsibility and that of the Federal Government in assuring that this 
country's industrial might remains competitive in an intensely 
competitive environment in which competitors enjoy a different and more 
supportive relationship with their government?
    The President. Well, I'm trying to change that in this country, as 
you know, by changing the whole nature of the relationship between 
Government and business. I want to have a Tax Code which rewards 
investment more. I want to have a strategy of partnership in the new 
technologies which will produce the lion's share of the jobs for the 
21st century.
    I think that it is imperative. If you look at what works, if you 
look at the high-wage, high-growth economies, Government must be a 
partner with the private sector. There should be limitations on the 
partnership. The Government can't pick winners and losers, but there are 
plainly some functions that if not embraced by Government will not be 
done properly.
    And I might point out that most of the countries of the world with 
advanced economies are governed by what would be called their Republican 
Parties, if we used the Democratic-Republican parlance in other 
countries. And yet, every one of them has a more aggressive public-
private partnership than we do when it comes to educating and training 
the work force, when it comes to investing in civilian technologies for 
jobs for the 21st century, when it comes to maintaining competitive 
policies that will guarantee at least that they'll have a chance to 
generate high-wage, high-growth jobs. And I think my responsibility is 
to try to implement an American version of that kind of policy.

Media Coverage

    Q. Mr. President, how would you assess the coverage of your 
administration by the Nation's news media, particularly newspapers?
    The President. Good. [Laughter]
    Q. It doesn't have to be that short an answer. [Laughter]
    The President. Well, first of all, it's different in different 
places, but let me say on balance I think it's been remarkably fair and 
thorough. The only frustrations that I feel since I've been President 
relate far more to what I would call almost the commercial imperatives 
that are on the press that have nothing to do with anybody trying to be 
unfair in their coverage. If I might, let me just give you one example.
    I saw a survey recently that was reported

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somewhere, I'm embarrassed I don't remember where. They were asking the 
American people, this survey, is the President spending enough time on 
the economy, is the President spending enough time on health care, and a 
bunch of other questions. Only half the people said I was spending 
enough time on the economy even though that's what I spend all my time 
on. By two to one the people said I was spending enough time on health 
care. Why is that? Because the effort of the health care task force, 
chaired by my wife, to come up with a health care program is the subject 
of intense speculation because it hasn't been presented yet. So, given 
the propensity of people in Washington to leak, there's a new story 
every day about some little paper or another that's come out and all 
that. And then they have these public hearings, so there's a lot of 
    The economic program was announced one month into my Presidency, and 
then I went to work on it in Congress. And what really is news is sort 
of around the edges; is he losing this or winning that or whatever. It 
becomes a process debate, and the American people tend to lose sight of 
what is the major focus of my every day, which is how to pass that jobs 
program and the economic program. That is simply a function of the way 
the news works.
    The other thing I think is different about the news today than maybe 
20 years ago, particularly for the coverage around Washington, is this: 
Because of CNN and others who now give virtually continuous direct 
access to the facts of whatever is going on to wide numbers of people, 
there is even more pressure than there used to be on everybody in the 
media to find an angle to the story, a unique angle, an insight, you 
know, a twist. And sometimes that's good, and sometimes it's not. But it 
always presents a different challenge to me than perhaps the President 
might have had 20 years ago in trying to keep the focus of the public on 
the big issues that I'm trying to deal with.
    But I say that not as a criticism but simply as an observation. That 
is simply the way things are. On balance we're better off. People are 
getting more information more quickly than ever before, but it's changed 
the dynamics of how we relate to each other.
    Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:07 p.m. in Dahlgren Hall at the U.S. 
Naval Academy.