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Awkward moment:
Hear George W Bush's gaffe in Stephen Sackur's report
 real 56k

Wednesday, 6 September, 2000, 19:07 GMT 20:07 UK
US networks relish Bush's gaffe
President Clinton laughing at a joke about Bush's gaffe
Clinton: Enjoying someone else's embarrassment
By BBC News Online's Virginia Gidley-Kitchin

It was meant to be a whispered aside, but it proved a gaffe that presidential hopeful George W Bush may find hard to live down.

In Illinois on Monday, unaware he was speaking in front of a live microphone, Mr Bush whispered to his running mate Dick Cheney: "There's Adam Clymer, major league asshole from the New York Times."

Adam Clymer
Adam Clymer: Disappointed in the governor's language
Television, always on the lookout for a good sound-bite, seized on the bawdy insult with relish.

It was the lead story on the main networks that evening, and was rebroadcast every 10 minutes on cable television.

Newspapers were divided over how to react, with New York tabloids such as the Daily News leading with the story, but more serious papers, including Mr Clymer's own one, playing down the incident.

I said what I said. I'm a plainspoken fellow

George W Bush
Some, like the Washington Post, wondered self-deprecatingly whether abusing a journalist might actually increase Mr Bush's popularity.

That appears to be the hope of the Texas Governor himself. He refused to apologise, telling NBC: "I said what I said. I'm a plainspoken fellow."

He did go on to say that he was sorry he had been overheard.

Roared with laughter

Or as he put it: "I regret that a private comment I made to the vice-presidential candidate made it through the public airways".

In general, television appeared to make more of the incident than most newspapers.

But it certainly became the political joke of the moment - perhaps because it is every politician's nightmare.

Bush and Cheney on the campaign trail in Illinois
Bush, before he realised his gaffe
One of President Clinton's aides, John Podesta, tapped a microphone at a Rose Garden press conference, saying pointedly: "Is this mic on? You can never be too careful these days."

Mr Clinton, who has endured more public embarrassment than most US presidents, roared with laughter.

A spokesman, asked if Mr Clinton had ever made a similar remark about a reporter, teased: "Not in front of an open mic."

'Fair and accurate'

Mr Clymer himself, suddenly famous after the insult, responded with dignity: "I'm disappointed in the governor's language."

The New York Times was quick to defend its reporter. Executive editor Jospeh Lelyveld said: "His work is both fair and accurate. The Times has never heard from the Bush campaign about him."

The paper's Washington bureau chief was quoted elsewhere as saying that the paper welcomed complaints "by phone, fax or e-mail, but not generally by open mic."

But the paper itself buried the story in its campaign coverage.

It reported merely that Mr Bush "used an obscenity to describe a New York Times correspondent."

Still, the New York Post devoted two pages to the incident.

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