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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release April 18, 1997
                        REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

11:24 A.M. EDT

MR. PRITCHARD: Good morning, Mr. President. We'd like to extend a personal invitation to you and the First Lady and Chelsea to come over to the Newseum. It's a highly interactive, interesting experience, and I'm sure you would enjoy seeing the headlines of history and how reporters have covered Presidents in the past.

Mr. President, earlier this morning, Vice President Al Gore was over here with us for the first part of this dedication, and he reminisced for us a little bit about his happy days as a reporter back in the Nashville Tennessean in the 1970s. You've had good and sufficient reason occasionally to be unhappy with journalists or reporters, and I wonder after you greet us if you might tell us what you think the role of a reporter and the role of the media is in this society today.

And, ladies and gentlemen, we'll now hear from the President of the United States.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Al and Charles and Peter. Thanks a lot for asking me an easy question that can only get me in trouble. Whatever I say I'll be behind the curve ball, which is, of course, where all of you try to keep me. (Laughter.) Nonetheless, I'm glad to be with you today.

And I am glad the Vice President was able to officially open the Newseum, and I'm glad he told you the stories that I hear about once a week about his days as a reporter. (Laughter.) He says he was always accurate, vigorous, and totally fair. (Laughter.)

Thanks to the technological wizardry that you've built into this wonderful Newseum, I'm able to join you on your video news wall for the grand opening. It's amazing to me that this is happening. You know, when I was growing up, I got my news from my local paper or watching the 6:00 p.m. news on my family's black and white TV, and I suppose I never imagined the incredible array of ways people would someday get their news and their information, from all-news radio and TV to the Internet and all the sort of "near-news" programs.

And I think that's why this Newseum is so important, because it will remind us that we've come a long way, but no matter how it's packaged or delivered, news has always fulfilled mankind's most basic need to know. And it also reminds us that democracy's survival depends upon that need to know and the free flow of ideas and information.

I congratulate you on giving our children and their parents an opportunity to learn about the role news media has in protecting our freedoms and helping us to build the most robust and open society in human history.

This Newseum is not only a tribute to the news profession, it's also a tribute to the men and women who have dedicated their lives to it, who know that, always, there are going to be people who will work hard to struggle, sometimes at real personal risks to themselves, to get the news and hopefully to be fair, honest and critical in their reporting of it. America is stronger and freer because of them and I thank them.

This Newseum is really a great addition to the Washington area. And I know it will attract a lot of visitors, not only from every state, but also from all around the world.

Now, the question you asked me is a fair one and a good one. I think that the fundamental role of the news media and the reporting today is what it has always been -- is to give people information in a fair and accurate way. But the context is far different. There are, first of all, more sources of news. There is more information that people have to process, and people get their news in more different ways. And as I said, there are all these sort of "near-news" forces bearing down on you and offering competition.

I sometimes wonder what it's like to put together an evening news program or a morning newspaper when the main story has been playing every five minutes on CNN for six hours, and whether you really -- whether that affects what you do or not.

I would say that from my perspective, the most important thing is that while we're being inundated with this glut of information, that we try to make sure that people have a proper context within which to understand the information. I think that the fact that we can have more facts than ever before is important, but if you don't have any framework within which to understand those facts, it seems to me it poses an enormous challenge.

The other thing that I think we have to do is to be careful, when we report the stories about things that might be true, not to say that they are, particularly if to say that they are or to imply that they are could cause real damage to people in their reputations and, indeed, in their own lives.

But I think that the competition to which your subject makes it more difficult both to keep down excessive hype in some stories and to take the time and the effort to put it in proper context. I think in some ways it is much more difficult to be a member of the news media than in years past. It's a great challenge. And all the benefits of this communications explosion impose new challenges on you to meet the old-fashioned duty of being accurate, thorough, tough, and fair.

Q -- once your off your crutches you and your family will come over and browse through the Newseum with us. Thank you very much, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: I'd love to do it. Thank you and bless you all. Congratulations. (Applause.)

END 11:30 A.M. EDT