Sunday, February 07, 1999

Are Clintons protecting or using Chelsea?




BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        So, are you angry with People magazine? Have they savaged the first daughter? The White House is officially “profoundly saddened.” President and Mrs. Clinton's reaction instantly elevated a rather unremarkable story to national news.

        “There was nothing special about it until the news hit,” says Dan Kuntz, division president for United Magazine. The spokesman for the largest distributor for the region calls this an unexpected newsstand windfall.

        “Now I'm sure we will sell a lot more magazines.”

Selective photo op
        People's managing editor, Carol Wallace, responded to the White House rebuke by saying, “We feel that because she is an eyewitness to the family drama and historical events unfolding around her she is a valid journalistic subject.”

        The president and first lady offered up their daughter for a photo op during the 1992 presidential campaign. And placed her dead center of their hand-in-hand walk to the helicopter on the way to Martha's Vineyard after the Lewinsky scandal broke.

        Clinton biographer David Maraniss says, “There's a certain hypocrisy here. For the most part, they try to protect her. But when a political situation requires using Chelsea, they will.”

        They used her, and it backfired. Or did it?

        It seems peculiar if the Clintons were so opposed to this story that their friends were willing to be interviewed for it. ABC's Dr. Nancy Snyderman, diplomat Richard Holbrooke, Chelsea's step-grandfather Dick Kelley and Hillary's former press aide Mary Ellen Glynn are quoted, along with several other friends, in the largely adoring People magazine story.

        “Hillary's true priority has always been Chelsea,” Susan Schindehette wrote, “as was evident whenever she wore — over conservative business attire — the gaudy, plastic-beaded necklace that her little girl had made.”

        And, “Bill kept a child's desk in plain view for Chelsea” in his office in Little Rock.

        This is pretty appealing stuff.

Strategic weasel
        We like Chelsea. Even people who despise the Clintons will say grudgingly that they've done a pretty good job with their kid. But, truth to tell, she's not a kid anymore.

        She'll be 19 this month. And she is, by all accounts, an accomplished and poised young woman. She is just two years younger than Monica Lewinsky was when she started making pizza deliveries to the Oval Office.

        So, it's a little hard to work up sympathy for Mr. Clinton and his ideas on protecting young women from media jackals. It's also very hard to take anything that comes out of the White House at face value.

        I have the unworthy thought that perhaps the intention of the Clintons' prepared statement is to draw attention to this story, coached by, say, a Dick Morris-type strategic weasel. Maybe this is a brilliantly manipulative political arabesque.

        The Clintons can demonstrate their concern for Chelsea's privacy while at the same time publicizing a story that glorifies them as parents. And the icing on the cake is that everybody can hate the media for it.

        Slick. Very slick.

        Laura Pulfer can be e-mailed at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.

        Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com

PULFER ARCHIVE