THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT RADIO AND TELEVISION CORRESPONDENTS DINNER Washington Hilton Hotel Washington, D.C.
8:30 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. Lochman, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I cannot tell you how happy I am to be here tonight on the 50th anniversary of the TV dinner. (Laughter and applause.)
I was a little disappointed that the entree wasn't Salisbury steak or chicken pot pie. (Laughter.) But I really am delighted to be here. If you believe that, I've got some land in northwest Arkansas I'd like to show you. (Laughter and applause.)
I want to congratulate you on 50 years of TV and radio coverage of our national politics -- 50 dinners, all the way back to 1945. I thank you for letting us know that Helen Thomas was at the first one. (Laughter.) I don't know if she thanks you for letting us know that.
But tonight, I want to play the journalist. I'd like to ask you, Helen: After 50 of these dinners, why? Why? (Laughter.) I love Helen Thomas. How would you like to start every morning jogging with Helen in your ear? (Laughter.) The other day, after we had the incident in Bosnia, she said to me, as I was running, trying to wake up, fighting off the allergies of the springtime: "Yeltsin's mad at you." (Laughter and applause.)
Well, anyway, I'm delighted to be here with you, Brian, and I appreciate your inviting Garrison Keillor to join us this evening, because, as he described in the fabled Lake Wobegon, we also like to think that all the kids who work at the White House are slightly above average. (Laughter.)
I'm really glad to see, also, that in spite of the dominance of C-SPAN, that Cokie Roberts is sitting with us tonight at the head table. At least it looks like the head table. (Laughter and applause.) Actually, I know it's the head table; Rick Kaplan told me it was. (Laughter.)
You know, since this is your 50th dinner, we should acknowledge that over these last 50 years, radio and television has witnessed some of the greatest moments in political history. And if you believe that, I've got some land in northwest Arkansas I'd like to sell you. (Laughter.) But just think of the highlights you've seen. Remember this: Your impact actually goes back before your 50 dinners, going back to radio.
In 1922, when President Warren Harding utters the first words ever spoken by a president on the radio: "Gergen, come here. I need you." (Laughter and applause.) And your association's first year, 1944, Franklin Roosevelt delivers more of his fireside chats over the radio. It's not much different today, except today you insist that the President sit directly on the logs. (Laughter.)
Following a reliable source, just hours after the polls closed in 1948, network news airs the very first televised interview with President-elect Thomas Dewey. In 1952, Eisenhower says he will go to Korea, and the first question from the press is about the seating arrangements on the plane. (Laughter.) In 1960, researchers discover that people who watched the Kennedy-Nixon debate on television thought Kennedy won. People who listened to the debate on radio thought: "When in the hell am I going to get a television?" (Laughter.)
In 1972, Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern concedes a 49-state, 23-point landslide election. The press demands to see records of his losses. (Laughter and applause.) In 1974, two crusading young journalists take on a president for abuse of office. And to this very day, Evans and Novak still have not forgiven Richard Nixon for price controls. (Laughter.)
In 1981, Dan Rather replaces Walter Cronkite. Soon after, an impressionable Jim Leach purchases his first sweater. (Laughter and applause.) In 1982, the introduction of the first Saturday morning political cartoon: "The McLaughlin Group." (Laughter.) In 1988, a well-meaning network news producer whispers in the ear of a Dukakis advance person: "Why use a Jeep when you can put him in a tank?" (Laughter.)
In 1994, Senator George Mitchell goes live on CNN to withdraw his name from consideration for the United States Supreme Court, fueling speculation that he would rather argue with George Steinbrenner than Justice Scalia. (Laughter.)
I can only imagine how wonderful your future will be when there are 500 channels to fill all the airwaves. (Laughter.) Anyway, you do have a proud history. Now, my history with you is another matter altogether. (Laughter.) Some say my relations with the press have been marked by self-pity. I like to think of it as the outer limits of my empathy. (Laughter.) I feel my pain. (Laughter and applause.) People say to me, remember Harry Truman: "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen." It's the only room in the house I never want to leave. (Laughter.) In fact, I've been trying to get Kathleen Sullivan interested in Whitewater.
I think history, actually, in spite what all of you think, I think history will show I had a very good relationship with the press. And if it doesn't, I'll complain like hell to the historians. I do want to say something about my strong views on the question of privacy: They're none of your business. (Laughter.) I do think you're entitled some inside information tonight, however. After the dinner -- we had this wonderful dinner -- Hillary consulted with Speaker Foley about the spawning prospects in Washington, and she has recommended that all of you purchase salmon futures tomorrow. (Laughter and applause.)
I do want to remind you of one thing. It's three days before April the 15th, and most of you have spent a lot more time on my taxes than your own. (Laughter and applause.) Many happy returns. (Laughter.) I do want to complain that, amid all this disgusting media frenzy, the many terribly important accomplishments of this administration have gone unnoticed or grossly underreported. For example: Just since I have been your president, the United States government has raised $21 million in back taxes from people with nannies. (Laughter.) And we're not even through with audits in the West Wing yet. (Laughter.)
Consider this: Millions of Americans now feel better about how they look in jogging shorts. (Laughter and applause.) And there is a hugely increased awareness of the information superhighway. Today, 72 percent of all Americans are in favor it, provided the rest stops are clean. (Laughter.) Not only does our administration look more like America, it changes jobs at the same rate other Americans do. (Laughter.) We have the first administration to have the same senior advisor make the cover of both Time Magazine and Teen Beat. (Laughter and applause.) We've got the first smoke-free back room in political history. And my Vice President has made enormous strides in his first and most daunting assignment: Reinventing Al Gore. (Laughter.)
We've created 2.3 million new jobs, almost 50 percent of them in the health insurance lobby. (Laughter and applause.) You can see more things like this in the years to come. This administration doesn't know the meaning of the word "surrender." We don't know the meaning of the word "timidity." And with such limited vocabulary and self-awareness, I think we've done right well. (Laughter.)
I was asked tonight before I left for this august dinner: Why do you keep going to these things? They still keep beating your brains out. And I said, because I still believe in a place called "Help." (Laughter.) I also came because I love radio and TV. I've been called "the first President to grow up in the television age." I guess that's true; we got our first TV when I was nine or 10. Before that, I listened to the radio, doing my homework to baseball games. Then I saw the radio news. I got our television in time to watch the 56 Democratic and Republican conventions from gavel to gavel. I've watched the debates, the election returns, all the news since then. The fact is, the electronic media has changed my life and changed how we all see the world and how the world sees us.
The media's changed, too. You have more information and more programs and more channels, more competition and more time to fill than ever before. Last night, we celebrated the last day of the year celebrating the 250th birthday of Thomas Jefferson, the man whom all of you know said if he had to choose between a government without a press or the press without government, he would unhesitatingly choose the latter. I might point out that he said that before he became President of the United States. (Laughter.)
But if you think about what Jefferson and the other founders did, they had this uncanny sense of what it would take to preserve a republic, a democracy. To permit government enough power so that its exercise could keep us together and moving forward, but to limit its abuse and to keep it accountable to the people. The power was limited by the Bill of Rights and divided -- Executive, Legislative and Judicial, national, state and local -- in a brilliant way.
And if you think about the fabric of our national life, there are only two places where power is arguably unaccountable. One: in the Supreme Court and its lower courts, where people have lifetime appointments, where they have a limited unaccountable power because there are some great questions on which someone must have the final say in order to permit us to go on with our lives. And the second: in the area of the press, because there is no practical way to limit the free expression of ideas and opinions, painful though those of us in authority might find them from time to time.
Mr. Jefferson understood so long ago these things that carry us through to the present day. But I must say, tonight as we come here, Hillary and I, to pay tribute to you in this business, your business is more difficult, more challenging, more daunting than ever before. And the burden of carrying the responsibility that goes with that sort of unlimited freedom is greater than ever before. I appreciate it, and I'm glad, at least on occasion, we all have the chance to laugh together about our common efforts to advance the common good.
Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END8:45 P.M. EDT