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Public Papers - 1991 - October

Remarks in a Teleconference With the Associated Press Managing Editors


The President. Thank you, Ralph. Thank you very much. Thank you for the plug for the Texas Rangers. It's nice being introduced in Detroit by a fellow Texan. It's also nice to see Lou Boccardi again. He's on the corner of my screen, about half of Lou is there. But let me just say I am very sorry I couldn't join you for today's lunch, especially since it's miserable, rainy, and cold here, and I'm sure it's nice and sunny out there.

Let me open with an apology. I know that many of you depend on Washington to provide grist for news stories. And I know that we just haven't held up our end of the deal. In recent weeks, things around here have been just plain dull.

Actually, I appreciate this opportunity to speak with you. I'd like to get a couple of gripes off my chest. First, can you get the delivery people to stop throwing our paper in the shrubs? And I know you love it when people ask about that.

Second, and I know you're tired of hearing this one, but couldn't you focus on the good news for once? You know, there's a great Anne Murray song -- I'm a country music fan -- Anne Murray of Canada, a song called ``A Little Good News.'' And let me recite for you one verse, one nice verse:

``I came home this evening. I bet that the news will be the same. Somebody takes a hostage, somebody steals a plane. How I want to hear the anchorman talk about a county fair, how we cleaned the air, how everybody learned to care.''

Well, I think that's a great idea, not exactly what your work is about, and I understand that. But I've just about had it with all the bad news about lawyers, and bankruptcies, and strikes, and business seizures, and stock splits, and profit-sharing, and wars, and bitter personal feuds. Just once, just once, I'd like to see you limit the sports pages to scores and standings.

Today I want to talk about a subject that many of your papers discuss regularly: our administration's domestic policy. And I've talked with audiences around the Nation about our initiatives on crime, on education, on energy, transportation, and many other matters. But today let me focus on an issue of great concern in Detroit and, as a matter of fact, throughout our Nation: economic growth. And let me start with some good news. I cite this recognizing that a lot of people are still hurting. But the trends, the economic trends, look good.

Industrial production, for example, has risen for 5 straight months. Housing starts have risen 26 percent since January. The unemployment rate in September fell to 6.7 percent, down three-tenths of a percent in 3 months, and the lowest rate in nearly 5 years [months]. The Index of Leading Economic Indicators has held steady or increased for 7 straight months, and it's jumped 5 percent since January.

*5 months

Inflation, now, this is solid good news, it's fallen a 2.7 percent annual rate. Mortgage interest rates have dropped to the lowest level since 1977. And over the years, our administration has promised a series of initiatives that would stimulate economic growth and make our economy much stronger, initiatives that would instantly restore much needed confidence in our economic progress. Congress generally has chosen to avoid these proposals, either by preventing votes or changing the subject.

Maybe you're tired of hearing me talk about this, but the capital gains tax offers a case in point. Against the argument that the cut raises questions of fairness, let me ask you to judge. The capital gains tax effects future wealth, not present wealth. High capital gains rates discourage investment in untried products and services. They make it difficult for people with ideas to get the capital they need to make a difference. Historically, when capital gains rates fall, revenues increase, and the rich assume the lion's share of the tax burden.

Let me read you a quote about capital gains, ``The tax on capital gains directly effects the ease or difficulty experienced by new ventures in obtaining capital and thereby the strength and potential for the growth of the economy.'' John F. Kennedy said that.

A capital gains cut will set off an explosion of small business formation, which means that your ad people will have new clients, and you might be able to give your reporters a pay raise after all. In short, a capital gains cut would give our economy a much-needed boost. It would raise real estate prices and cut the overall cost of the savings and loan cleanup. It would help people of imagination and drive.

As I've said a number of times, the capital gains tax is a tax on the American dream. And nevertheless, in 3 years congressional leaders have not permitted one single up or down vote on our capital gains proposals. If they were convinced that this is a tax break for the rich and would be unpopular across the country, they ought to at least let it come to a vote.

Consider other items in our growth package. We proposed a comprehensive banking reform legislation. And Congress has the opportunity to make America's banking system more efficient and more competitive internationally. But it has got to act now. It's hung up on the House side, incidentally, the House of Representatives.

Only comprehensive legislation which addresses the fundamental problems facing the banking industry will strengthen our banks and support economic growth. We've offered proposals to ease the credit crunch that affects lenders nationwide, lenders who, for instance, make it possible for newspapers to build new presses and plants, purchase new equipment, and improve their fitness in the incredibly competitive media business. We've promoted incentives for savings, investment, entrepreneurship. We've proposed increasing Federal expenditures on research and development. And we've advocated a permanent R D tax credit.

We have worked aggressively to open foreign markets to American goods and services. And we continue to press for a successful conclusion to the Uruguay round of multilateral trade talks. This is a very important thing. And then, as you all know, we've begun negotiating a North American free trade agreement, which would create a unified market consisting of the United States, Canada, just across the river from you, and Mexico.

We've pursued the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative, which promises to encourage economic growth throughout our hemisphere and build ties of mutual interest. We've promoted tort reform. And this is an important one, and I sure would like to ask your support. We have promoted tort reform to cut down on needless litigation and the costs that that imposes on every single industry. And we've fought against regulations that produce red tape without improving the quality of American life. We've still got a ways to go there, I will admit.

We've worked to build a more intelligent, flexible workforce through our America 2000 education strategy. It's a little longer-range, but very, very important. And, finally, we've worked to maintain the fiscal discipline established by last year's controversial budget agreement.

When people say that we have no domestic agenda, they simply have not seen the facts. We have a good forward-looking agenda. Congressional leaders just won't act on it. This is one of the great problems of a divided Government, where you have the President of one party and both Houses controlled by another.

I know that you will spend two sessions discussing economic issues tomorrow. And I'd also like to encourage you to think about ways of improving the coverage of economic issues. They're not the sexiest. They're not the most vital. They aren't the most interesting, but they are the most vital.

Urge your reporters to take a hard, fair, informed look at these policies and then at the congressional alternatives. Ask them to study the history of capital gains cuts. Ask them to discuss banking reform proposals with leading bankers in your town. Ask them to dig deeper and deeper for the facts and to treat sweeping generalizations and slogans, whether they come from me or somebody else, with proper skepticism. Well, since you're editors, I suppose you could tell them, not ask them.

A free press truly can serve as a guide to good public policy, but only if reporters and editors take seriously their duty to inform the public in a comprehensive, balanced manner. I am very sorry that I couldn't join you today in Detroit. But I am glad that we have been able to get together by this video hookup, and I wish you all the best in your meetings over the next 3 days.

May God bless our great country. And now I'll be glad to take a couple of questions.

Q. Mr. President, many of the people in this room feel that the American people didn't receive an entirely complete or timely report on the Persian Gulf war because of the requirement for press pools in virtually every situation, not just situations where independent reporting was physically impossible. One particularly sensitive issue was prior review of stories and pictures. Right now, a group of editors is talking with Pentagon people about those feelings. Without prejudging what they come up with, I wondered if you think it's possible to restore the kind of aggressive and independent reporting that characterized American newspaper reporting of World War II and Korea and Vietnam, rather than this somewhat pool-driven, briefing-driven coverage of the Persian Gulf war?

The President. Yes, I think there can be room for improvement. I thought some of you all's people were going to meet with Dick Cheney on this. It is my understanding that the final decision on whether to go public with disputed material really rested at the hands of the outlets.

Let me address myself to the broader question. I do think that the pooling worked to some degree. I don't agree with you, and I have to tell you this -- and I expect I'm the only one. I don't know how many people you've got in the room, but the vote will be overwhelmingly against me -- I think that the American people felt that they got very strong, intrusive coverage of the war. I really believe that. I also believe, and I think you might agree with this one, that there must be discipline. There cannot be everybody strolling around in a hostile environment. And I think when we saw some taken prisoner, that was pretty good evidence that there was some reason to have some kind of pooling mechanism.

But, look, I can't argue with you that it was perfect. I do think the American people feel they got good, thorough coverage, and that's a credit to every single person in the room there and many, many more in other media forums all around the country. But I'd like to think we could improve it. The Desert Storm, the rules for this are not locked in concrete. They were tailored for this particular operation that had long logistic problems.

I also would like to, and I may be on weak ground here, but I thought that in World War II -- and I'm old enough to remember some of it -- that there was real censorship of all these dispatches. I know my mail was censored, for example, as a little guy flying or floating around on an aircraft carrier. And I think that if you look back, you'll find that there was an awful lot of pure censorship there that was not anywhere near matched by what went on under the Desert Storm arrangements.

But let me just offer you a spirit, having defined some differences here, of cooperation because we do want the best, most intrusive coverage possible, and that can be done with the safety of everybody in mind and the national interest in mind. I say ``national interest'' because I'm still reminded of the ``Saturday Night Live'' program. I don't know whether any of you saw that, about the guy getting up, ``Now, could you please give us the code words that would help Saddam Hussein understand what he's up against?'' Or, ``Could you give us directly the place that you plan for the Marines to land? Would it be this on the map or that?'' And it went on and on and on. I showed this to a couple of people, and it hit, with all respect now -- [laughter] -- it hit a familiar chord with some.

We don't want to go to one extreme or another. And if we need to do a better job of finding the balance, we'll sure try. I think in Dick Cheney we've got an extraordinarily reasonable man, and I know he's already trying to improve the whole pooling concept and the restrictions that did cause you understandable concern.

Q. Thank you.

Women's Issues

Q. Mr. President, one of the most disturbing issues that emerged from the Thomas hearings and confirmation process was the whole issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. Do you think that your support of Judge Thomas, the continuing perception of the ``old boys' network'' in Washington, DC, and in Government, your positions on abortion, all cause you a problem with women as you approach your reelection? And related to that, what are the things that you're thinking about doing that, in the words of Judge Thomas, can help heal the wounds that have emerged from the hearings, the great divisions of race and gender and class?

The President. That's a very broad, penetrating question. Let me try to respond. And the answer to your question is no. To begin with, I don't think that I have, as a result of all this, an increased problem with women. I go back -- if you want to put it in a -- and I think you put it in a political context. But I noticed on the surveys that everybody lives and dies by that women supported Judge Thomas overwhelmingly. Women activists, feminist groups might not have, but women overwhelmingly supported Judge Thomas as did men, as did the entire country with minority Americans, Afro-Americans supporting him even more than the national average. When you've separated out the Afro-Americans, support was even stronger there.

So I don't start from the defensive posture on having nominated this good man to the Court. And I also believe that he will be an independent Justice. And I believe that he is going to surprise some who think they know exactly where he stands on every single social issue.

Now, in terms of discrimination, sexual harassment in the workplace, I have a civil rights bill before the Congress now. You haven't heard much about it because they just keep beating me over the head to pass their civil rights bill, I'm talking about the Democratic leaders. Ours is the only one, I believe, that addresses further the question of sexual harassment in the workplace. And we have a good policy on this as it is in the executive branch. And I think everybody should take it very, very seriously. And maybe even though a lot of it was deeply offensive to American families across this country with its graphic detail, maybe something good will come out of it. And by that, I mean a sensitizing of the populace to the problem, the legitimate problem of sexual harassment.

Having said that, I wish that the country had been spared some of the detail that I think should have been assigned to the Congress. Anita Hill, as you remember, she didn't want to bring out this graphic detail. And had that graphic detail not been out there, I think the hearing could have been properly done. Her charges could have been properly heard in some executive session. And I don't think the people would have been denied anything that they had a right to know about. I think sometimes when you get to subjects that are that sensitive, it is well to delegate to your elected officials.

So, I was troubled. I was thinking of my little grandchildren hearing some of the graphic sex allegations. And yet, setting that aside for a minute, I do think there was something sensitizing about the question of sexual harassment. The problem is, there was also something sensitizing about the process itself, where a good man, on the eve of confirmation, had a last-minute charge raised about him, a charge stemming back from 10 years before. And this troubled the American people, and I think that's one of the reasons support for Judge Thomas, about to be Mr. Justice Thomas, increased as the hearings went on.

So, let's hope -- you know, I think you also mentioned, I didn't write the notes down properly here. I think you also mentioned what Justice Thomas said -- maybe you didn't, but I've been doing a series of interviews here -- what he said about healing and getting on with it I think makes a good deal of sense.

I will be coming out, in answer to part of your question here, next week with some suggestions, not in anger, not for partisan political gain, certainly not assailing the Congress in which I once served. But hopefully, making constructive suggestions as to how we can avoid in the future that which the American people, I think rather unanimously, think has been a kind of a messy situation.

It's been very interesting here. Everyone, including me, have been glued to our television sets. We saw some ugliness. We saw some good things. We saw some people that wanted to bring this man down for reasons having nothing to do with sexual harassment. But we also saw the prevailing wisdom of the American people.

So I don't think that these -- what I think of is the women's groups, feminist groups that were on the television every day berating those that voted the other way, voting for Thomas -- I don't think they speak for all the women in this country.

And I might say something I hope you don't think is too controversial. I don't believe that the civil rights leaders all speak for the American people on a matter of this nature. If they did, how come support for Judge Thomas would have been so strong among black Americans?

So, I've learned a lot. I'm still, as you can tell from this rambling answer, trying to sort it out, and I will be for the next few days. Then I'll have some constructive suggestions. And I expect half the people in that room, maybe more, will criticize and the other half might see some merits to what I suggest. But we're a strong country, and we can get beyond the ugliness of all of this. And let's hope something good comes out of it. And I want to do my part to heal whatever wounds do exist out there.

Mr. Langer. Thank you.

The President. Well, thank you all very much. Ralph, thank you, sir.

Mr. Langer. Thank you, Mr. President.

The President. Over and out.

Note: The President spoke at 12:15 p.m. from Room 459 in the Old Executive Office Building to the 57th annual convention of Associated Press Managing Editors, meeting in Detroit, MI. In his remarks, the President referred to Ralph Langer, president of the Associated Press Managing Editors; Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney; President Saddam Hussein of Iraq; Clarence Thomas, who was confirmed by the Senate on October 15 as Supreme Court Associate Justice; Anita Hill, University of Oklahoma law professor, who testified against Clarence Thomas before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing on October 11; and Louis D. Boccardi, president and chief executive officer of the Associated Press.

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