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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 10, 1996
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
                        OF THE VOICE OF AMERICA
                            The Oval Office

4:54 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Fifty-four years ago, just a few months after the United States entered World War II, the Voice of America went on the air with these words: "The news may be good. The news may be bad. We shall tell you the truth." VOA lit Europe's darkest night with a bright spotlight of truth and then became a key weapon in the war of ideas we waged and won against communism.

Today, VOA beams America's voices to nearly 100 million listeners in every corner of our planet every week. The news it delivers -- reliable, authoritative, objective -- is more important than ever. There are millions and millions and millions of people around the world who are hungry, indeed starved, for accurate information still and for the insights it gives them on how they can organize themselves to change their own lives for the better.

Under Geoff Cowan's extraordinary leadership, the VOA has developed innovative new shows that examine how institutions of democracy and free markets work. It has moved from what Director Cowan calls monologue to dialogue, with call-in programs in a dozen languages. We were just talking before we came in about a call-in program that the First Lady did where she got calls from all over the world, including some surprising places. The VOA has increased coverage of human rights issues. It has used the best available technology, like satellites, to deliver better programming to better people.

I thank Geoff, who has been my friend for many years now, for so ably carrying on a family tradition. His father, Louis Cowan, was the VOA's second director. And most of all, I thank him for his service to our nation and to the community of nations.

All around the world new democracies we have worked so hard to support are taking root. But they remain fragile and we must nurture and defend them. The free flow of information is the life blood of democracy. And it is very important that the mission of the VOA continue.

I can think of no greater life force for the free flow of ideas and for VOA's future than its new director, whom I have the honor of naming today, Evelyn Lieberman. Her strong, unique voice has reverberated throughout the White House from my first day in office -- (laughter) -- I see from your laughter that you know I have not overstated that -- "reverberated" is the operative word -- first as Assistant to the First Lady's Chief of Staff, then as Deputy Press Secretary, most recently as Deputy Chief of Staff -- the first woman ever to hold that job.

Evelyn has a special talent for cutting to the chase and getting to the truth, as just about every member of the press corps and the White House staff, including the President, know from first-hand experience. As Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, she did make the trains run on time. But more than that, she made them run straight and true because of her steely determination, her extraordinary integrity and her great, good heart. We will miss her skill, her passionate personality, which could warm even the coldest room here at the White House.

Now Evelyn will bring her talent and her energy to the VOA and return, as she told me she wanted to do, to her career-long love -- communications. Before her White House years, Evelyn was Press Secretary to Senator Joe Biden, Director of Public Affairs for the Children's Defense Fund, Communications Director for the National Urban Coalition. Her extraordinary breadth of experience will help VOA continue the remarkable work Geoff Cowan has done to meet the challenge of change.

As Secretary of State designate Albright said of Secretary Christopher, Evelyn Lieberman will be hard pressed to fill Geoff Cowan's shoes with her heels. But she does have the experience, the leadership skills and the drive to do the job, to do it very well and to carry on VOA's unique mission of spreading truth and hope around the world. I am very pleased that she has accepted this appointment and ask her now to say a few words.

MS. LIEBERMAN: For the last four years, I have had the great privilege of serving you, Mr. President, in an extraordinary moment in history. In the First Lady's office, then as Deputy Press Secretary, and then as Deputy Chief of Staff, I have had the honor of working in a dynamic and energetic White House. To all my bosses, Maggie Williams, Mike McCurry, and Leon Panetta, and to my colleague Harold Ickes, I want you to know how much I admire and have learned from each one of you. To Hillary, thank you for your friendship and so much more throughout the years.

To all the hard-working men and women who make the White House shine, whether answering phones or processing mail, mowing the lawns or moving the furniture -- my personal favorites -- (laughter) -- you are the unsung heroes of this place, and I thank you all for your service and dedication.

When the President first raised the possibility of appointing me to the Voice of America several weeks ago, I was honored and excited. I could say words failed me, but the truth is just the opposite. As the President suggested, my voice is not known for its frailty, and I can't imagine a better privilege than to lead the Voice of America, to combine my experience in communications and my passion for public service with the opportunity to project our nation's voice to listeners around the world.

As the President said, the Voice of America has a critical role to play in an ever-changing world. As a lifeline of reliable reporting, a wellspring of culture, and a tool for education, the Voice of America is the voice of democracy. I look forward to working with the talented men and women who make the agency so vibrant.

Mr. President, thank you for the honor you have given me today. And with the continued support of my beautiful husband Ed Lieberman, who has been with me every step of this fantastic journey, and who reminds me every day of what's really important, I welcome the chance to serve you and the nation as the Director of the Voice of America.

Thank you, everybody. (Applause.)

Q Mr. President, are you going to do anything about Prop 209? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: I thought you were going to --

MS. LIEBERMAN: My role model. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: I thought you were going into the radio talk show business.

Q Not quite.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say I have not yet received the final recommendations from the Justice Department and the Counsel's Office. They're working back and forth on that. As all of you know, I opposed publicly and strongly 209. I thought it was bad policy for the people of California and a bad example for America. Whether it is unconstitutional is a different question, and our people are working very hard there to work through the legal and constitutional issues to give me a recommendation about what we should do and how we should do it.

And I am eager to get their recommendation. They're just working very hard on it and looking at all the aspects of the argument. I expect to have a recommendation soon and then to make a very speedy decision after that.

Q Mr. President, now that you've filled the VOA job so happily, can you tell us anything about your decision on the Attorney General's job?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I'm making these appointments, you know, in an orderly fashion and making these announcements. I haven't even been able to meet with all the members of my administration yet, and we're doing it in a regular fashion. We will do it and announce them as we're ready.

Q Have you met and talked with Janet Reno about this yet?

THE PRESIDENT: Not about this appointment, but we'll meet soon. I expect by -- oh, in the next several days I expect to have met with all the rest of the members of the Cabinet and the senior administration officials with whom I have not yet met. There are still a few, and we're working through that as we work through more announcements as well.

Q Mr. President, metaphorically speaking, you are the voice of America. (Laughter.) I can't help but make the link now --

THE PRESIDENT: Except for a few days ago. (Laughter.)

Q I can't help but make the link to Eastern Europe and the Serbia situation. What would you say to Mr. Milosevic?

THE PRESIDENT: That elections should be respected and that the voice of the people should be heard, and that the human, political, and civil rights of the people should be respected. The United States has made its statement and its position clear. Neither we nor anyone else would seek to interfere in the internal events in Serbia, but our sympathies are always with free people who are struggling to express their freedom and want to have the integrity of their elections respected.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 5:04 P.M. EST