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The Hazards of the Book Tour
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Former President Bill Clinton is out and about these days on a book tour.  In a departure from the usual presidential fare, this one is a bit of a novelty; it’s a thriller written with the most successful author in America, James Patterson.

They’ve been touring the country, attending events in front of friendly audiences, moderated by fellow writers or associates.  Last week in Washington, D.C., they packed the Warner Theater, an 1800-seat venue, in an event moderated by former Clinton campaign strategist and White House staffer Paul Begala.  It was like old home week, the crowd peppered with former staffers, and many supporters.  There was nothing challenging about that event.

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But, as I’ve written before, when politicians (or former politicians) go on a book tour and do interviews with the media, they run the risk of being asked about current affairs, and on this particular book tour Bill Clinton has had to deal with questions from journalists, including PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff.

Viewer Tulay Luciano from Mansfield Center, Conn., complains:

“Judy Woodruff’s interview of Bill Clinton…and other approached to the level of tabloids, in my opinion.  I feel that he paid enormously for his sins: He was humiliated, and impeached.  It is over.  While President Trump still in power and nobody talks about his similar sins, showcasing B. Clinton on the venerable PBS seems very degrading for you and PBS Newshour.  The man was two terms of presidents, respected by worldwide and di many good things to the US and abroad.  At the height of midterm election cycle, such a character assassination was becoming you and PBS Newshour.”

I disagree. Ms. Woodruff was not the first interviewer who pushed Mr. Clinton on the Monica Lewinsky episode and how he views it in light of the #MeToo movement.  It’s legitimate to ask how he has reflected on that period, given how much has changed since the late 1990s. It’s also appropriate to ask a former Democratic president about this issue given how his own party has dealt with the new attitudes to harassment concerns. 

It was also appropriate to push him given his disastrous first response to this line of questioning from NBC’s Craig Melvin. 

I thought Ms. Woodruff was firm, but respectful, frankly as was Mr. Melvin.

Viewer Lori Freeman wonders why have Bill Clinton on at all?

“Very embarrassing for you that Bill Clinton still continues to be on a pedestal and has proven himself to be less than adequate for nearly any public office.  He is hurting for money now – please stop patronizing him as it on inflates and antagonizes an already overinflated ego.”

I disagree with Ms. Freeman, too.  When journalists have the opportunity to interview a former president or high-ranking administration official on a book tour, they should seize that opportunity. 

Mr. Clinton is not naïve enough to think that he won’t get asked about questions that aren’t all about the book. Indeed the range of questions over two nights covered a lot of ground, including the book itself.  It was the right mix.

Many Clinton supporters would like to remember the Clinton Presidency with fondness and prefer to forget the scandal that led to his impeachment.  I get that but given the current cultural moment it would be irresponsible not to ask him about it.

Clinton opponents would prefer never to see him again.  I get that, too, but any former president, regardless of party, is always worth interviewing and I’m glad that NewsHour did.

Posted on June 13, 2018 at 12:35 p.m.