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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 June, 2004, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
What the Papers say - The Clinton Interview

In an exclusive interview for Panorama, David Dimbleby quizzes the former President on his record, his political passions and how his public and private lives clashed.

Independent on Sunday - July 18
"Days after Bill Clinton was angered by questioning from David Dimbleby on Panorama about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, the former president pulled out of an interview with Mr Dimbleby's brother, Jonathan. The official line from the Clinton camp was that there was not enough time. But The Independent on Sunday has learnt that Clinton had already verbally agreed to be interviewed for Jonathan Dimbleby, ITV's weekly political programme. An insider said: "They pulled out after the Panorama programme because they were worried. You might say that they knew they would have got more tough questioning on our programme and so they went for the easier option."

Maureen Dowd - New York Times - June 27
"Interviewed by David Dimbleby of the BBC, Clinton angrily turned questions about his Monica Lewinsky dalliance into a self-justifying denunciation of the press: "People like you always help the far right 'cause you like to hurt people, and you like to talk about how bad people are and all their personal failings" - instead of, Clinton said, referring to himself, "whether the Bosnian people were saved and whether he brought a million people home from Kosovo."

Ranting, he said the press didn't care "a rip" that Kenneth Starr "sends a woman like Susan McDougal into a Hannibal Lecter-like cell and makes her wear a uniform worn only by murderers and child molesters," but merely about getting a juicy story. Of course, Clinton is peddling his book by telling a lot of juicy stories in interviews with the press and dishing about his personal failings, but that's different, I guess."

Jasper Gerard - Sunday Times - June 27
"Sure, it was injudicious of Bill Clinton to describe the Monica Lewinsky affair as a "stain" on his character when the intern's dress had been inspected for less metaphorical stains. But that hardly excused David Dimbleby's grubby little interview with the erstwhile president on Panorama last week: Even Ruby Wax would have shown more discretion.

Clinton had admitted the affair. What fact had not already been stripped bare? Long ago we had even been told what he had done with his cigar. Dimbleby may as well have leered "So Bill, was she good in bed?" It was pure prurience. As Dimbleby's own marital meanders have attracted headlines it is odd he was not more forgiving of personal frailties.

The BBC is sending hacks for "re-education" (how wonderfully Stalinist in the week the government announced a "five-year plan") to make them genuflect to Labour.

Said hacks have been told to "cut the crap". A far greater public service would be to cut the cant.

The interview was a missed chance. Clinton could have been "nailed" (to borrow David Blunkett's elegant phrase) on why he didn't go after Osama big time if he knew he was such a threat. Alas our David was more interested in semen than Semtex."

Manchester Evening News - June 26
"It seems odd that Bill Clinton is referred to as Mr President in America, almost four years after he left office. The idea of calling John Major Prime Minister after he was unceremoniously booted out of office in 1997 might seem strange in Britain, but the courtesy of referring to ex-incumbents of the Oval Office as Mr President is a long tradition in the US. Clinton was in Britain this week, for an interview with David Dimbleby - to publicise his autobiography, My Life, not that it needed any publicity, judging by the media circus that has been surrounding it - for a Panorama Special on BBC1. Predictably (but who could blame him?) this was Dimbleby's chance to press the ex-President about the Monica Lewinsky affair. And, predictably, Clinton wasn't about to give Dimbleby chapter and verse on the subject. Anything he did say was wrapped up in the kind of verbal gobbledegook so beloved of politicians on both sides of the Atlantic. And he made it clear - again, predictably - that he resented the press's obsession with the business.

Clinton did speak, of course, about Saddam Hussein, Kenneth Starr, the US economy, conservation, poverty, the Middle East peace process that he brokered, and of a Far Right conspiracy in the US that he believed existed to undermine his presidency. This he described with tangible bitterness, allowing his undoubted statesmanlike shield to drop a little. Dimbleby's probing revealed little that we can't read in Clinton's autobiography, but the programme did serve to emphasise the gulf between Slick Willy and current President, George W Bush. While Clinton admits he made mistakes in his personal life, in other areas his knowledge of world issues is . . . presidential."

Financial Times - June 25
"Clinton, not unreasonably, chose to give the only British TV interview accompanying his book launch to BBC1, which dutifully awarded him a Panorama special. But here the deference ended.

Ahead of the screening the BBC excitedly leaked the news that the ex-president was so enraged with David Dimbleby's persistent questioning about the Monica Lewinsky affair that he exploded at the plucky presenter. After endless and relentless questioning, it would be easy to see why Clinton might lose his rag. Except, of course, that he didn't. He merely chided MrDimbleby for wasting so much time on the matter.

What's more, he had a point. Some 25 minutes of a 45-minute interview were devoted to his infidelities, questions about oral sex and other such indelicacies. Now, one might take the view that a man giving interviews solely to peddle his book deserves a good roughing up. With his half-moon glasses and headmasterly condescension Dimbleby is certainly the man for the job. Clinton might once have been leader of the free world but Dimbleby works for the BBC and has run a stable of newspapers in west London, for heaven's sake.

It was certainly reasonable to expect the issue to be tackled; but to devote the first two-thirds of the programme to the subject was to regard the viewers with contempt. Clinton retreated into some gobbledygook of self-justification and rebuttal of detail, which one needed a degree in the Starr report simply to understand.

It seems doubtful that the kind of people who tune in to a lengthy political interview at 10.35 in the evening are looking for sexual revelations. Besides that, Clinton is a man who has already been (ahem) laid bare.

After Clinton's exasperated fightback, the conversation moved on to the rest of his presidency. Suddenly it was rather gripping: his regrets over Rwanda, his anger at Yassir Arafat for scuppering the peace process, his doubts over the war in Iraq. This was a clear-thinking world statesman offering his experience and insight.

The Sun - June 23
"Former President Bill Clinton blew his top on BBC's Panorama last night when quizzed about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Asked if he was sorry, a furious Clinton -busy plugging his autobiography My Life - launched into a tirade about media bias."

Daily Mirror - June 23
"Bill Clinton said last night he believes Tony Blair was "stuck in the middle" over Iraq. The ex-president told BBC1's Panorama that Mr Blair had been caught between opposing sides - with America wanting to go in and Europe dead against it. "Prime Minister Blair was left in an unenviable position," he said. "I believe he thought there was still some risk that Saddam had the weapons."

Joe Joseph - The Times - June 23
"Lewinsky, and any others who may have experienced an unconventional, mole's eye view of the presidential desk, represent a reckless fault line in Clinton's character.

You'd be a chump not to prod Clinton about it - did it cloud his thinking, having to make decisions about how to confront al-Qaeda while he was being pilloried for letting Monica twang her thong in his face? - and David Dimbleby, who conducted Panorama's interview with the former president on BBC One last night, is no chump.

When Clinton got a little touchy about Dimbleby's line of questioning on Lewinsky Dimbleyby quietly explained why he was revisiting the Monica episode."

Amanda Platell - Evening Standard - June 22
"Clinton basked in the old pal's treatment when it came to his big American TV interview. He chose trusted friend and veteran broadcaster Dan Rather for the predictably supine interview on CBS. They hugged on camera.

But no such reverence was accorded him here. In his Panorama interview, David Dimbleby repeatedly pressed the ex-President on the contrition he claimed to feel over the Lewinsky affair. Clinton completely lost his composure, not to mention his temper. He's so used to the adoration he gets in America, Clinton was shocked and appalled that Dimbleby would have the temerity to question his word. Well, he only said what we all think."

Evening Standard - June 22
"Former US president Bill Clinton clashes with David Dimbleby in a TV interview tonight by accusing the BBC journalist of enjoying hurting people. Mr Clinton angrily denounces Dimbleby, a respected BBC political interviewer, after he quizzed him repeatedly on his affair with Monica Lewinsky. At one point, Mr Clinton accuses Dimbleby of "liking to hurt people" after a series of personal questions about his affair with the White House intern. Although he does manage to stay in his seat for the interview he cannot conceal his rage."

Financial Times - June 22
"So how does Bill Clinton really rate John Kerry, latest great bouffant hope of the US Democrats? The BBC went to New York to hear this and more from the man whose autobiography will dominate this week's best-seller lists.Veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby, conducting the interview that airs in the UK tonight on the flagship Panorama current affairs programme, gets to that via a route that takes in subjects ranging from Rwanda to Monica Lewinsky.

For some minutes, Clinton loses his customary cool when he's pressed, too persistently for his taste, on whether he is "penitent" about the affair with the aide. At a calmer point, though, a softish question about his wife and his party's presidential candidate produces at least as curious a response.

Dimbleby asks: "Do you now look to a Kerry victory to restore the domestic policies that you introduced or will we have to wait for a second Clinton presidency, in the form of President Hillary Clinton?"

The Clintonian reply contains a strange modifier. "Well, first of all I support John Kerry. He's a good man, he's a good senator and I believe he'd be quite a good president."

"Quite?" echoes the questioner, prompting a clawback from the former Oxford Rhodes scholar. "Very, very good president. Quite a good president, you don't say that? I think he will, I think he'd be an excellent president."

Hillary gets quite a lot of praise too . . ."

Daily Telegraph - June 22
How to keep your cool (when things get hot on Panorama)
"The former president's book-dependency didn't suggest a noticeably spiritual quest in those days, but all that changed, post-Lewinsky. In his autobiography, My Life, Clinton helpfully updates his reading list to include more titles of an improving nature.

Among the books that sustained him through the trials of Monicagate, he says, were two ancient classical texts, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis and The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. The third one was by a living person and more in line with Clinton's taste for motivational parable - Seventy Times Seven by Johann Christoph Arnold, the leading elder of a Christian sect called the Bruderhof (or "brotherhood").

Arnold is very big on the healing power of forgiveness. He believes it is the only way of surviving life's slings and arrows. "Forgiveness is a door to peace and happiness," he says. "It is a small, narrow door and cannot be entered without stooping. It is also hard to find."

Clinton's widely forecast volleys of rage against David Dimbleby in tonight's Panorama programme suggest that he may need to revisit Seventy Times Seven before he manages to exorcise all his "old demons".

What rattles him is Dimbleby's line of questioning about the genuineness of his contrition over the Lewinsky affair. Clinton is still boiling with anger at his public humiliation and thinks he has already eaten enough humble pie at the hands of Kenneth Starr not to have to endure second helpings from a television interviewer.

But as Arnold, his mentor, would caution: bitterness is destructive, Bill. "Like a dangerous mould or spore, it thrives in the dark recesses of the heart."

The Times of India - June 22
"Bill Clinton seems to have had enough mudslinging from the press over Monica and seems to be in no mood to take things lyin g down anymore.

According to Sydney Morning Herald , Clinton was visibly annoyed, when pressed on the issue that he genuinely regretted his immoral behaviour in a 50-minute interview for the program Panorama to be shown in Britain today.

He reportedly lost his composure with his interviewer, David Dimbleby, and complained about media intrusion in his private life.

"As outbursts go, it is not just some flash that is over in an instant. It is something substantial and sustained. It will leave [viewers] wondering whether he is as contrite as he says he is," The Sunday Telegraph quoted a BBC executive as saying.

The former US president recently admitted to have had an affair with Lewinsky "just because I could", and admitted that it was "a terrible moral error".

Miami Herald - June 21
"It would be unfair to say that Rather (Dan Rather interviewed Clinton on CBS television in the USA) pitched nothing but softballs, but in none of the six interviews he has had with Clinton over the past dozen years has Rather ever shown the combativeness he did in confrontations with Richard Nixon.

"To see how Clinton reacts under that kind of cross-examination, we'll have to wait for an interview on the BBC this week, where British journalist David Dimbleby asks Clinton just how genuine his contrition over the Lewinsky affair really is. Clinton's response, reportedly, is anything but vintage Slick Willie."

Off the record - Daily Record - June 21
"In the Panorama special to be screened tomorrow, David Dimbleby had Bill Clinton in a state of fury over his Monica Lewinsky questions. Just because he could."

Sydney Morning Herald - June 21
"In the rash of publicity and interviews surrounding the release of his autobiography, former US president Bill Clinton has finally lost his cool on the Lewinsky affair.

In an interview to be aired in Britain tomorrow morning Australian time, Mr Clinton reportedly turns on BBC interviewer David Dimbleby amid questioning about his affair with the former intern. According to a report in London's Sunday Telegraph, Mr Clinton delivers a tirade about media intrusion and Dimbleby himself, who is a respected BBC interviewer.

"As outbursts go, it is not just some flash that is over in an instant," said a BBC executive who has seen the interview. It is something substantial and sustained. It will leave (viewers) wondering whether he is as contrite as he says he is about past events."

Sunday Telegraph - June 20
"Bill Clinton loses his temper with David Dimbleby during a BBC television interview to be broadcast this week when he is repeatedly quizzed about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

The former American president, famed for his amiable disposition, becomes visibly angry and rattled, particularly when Dimbleby asks him whether his publicly declared contrition over the affair is genuine.

His outrage at the line of questioning during the 50-minute interview, to be broadcast on Panorama on Tuesday night, lasts several minutes. It is the first time that the former President has been seen to lose his temper publicly over the issue of his sexual liaisons with Ms Lewinsky.

The President initially responds to Dimbleby's questions by launching a general attack on media intrusion. When the broadcaster persists with the question of whether the politician was truly penitent, Clinton directs his anger towards Dimbleby.

The atmosphere, which was initially warm, then turns decidedly chilly. One BBC executive who has seen the interview, which took place in a New York hotel last Wednesday, said: "He is visibly angry with Dimbleby's line of questioning and some of that anger gets directed at Dimbleby himself. As outbursts go, it is not just some flash that is over in an instant. It is something substantial and sustained.

"It is memorable television which will give the public a different insight into the President's character. It will leave them wondering whether he is as contrite as he says he is about past events. Dimbleby manages to remain calm and order is eventually restored."

Mr Clinton agreed to speak to Panorama as part of the publicity campaign for his autobiography My Life.

What the Papers say 2003
25 Feb 03 |  Panorama
What The Papers Say: 2001
27 Apr 01 |  Press Reviews
What the Papers say: 2002
27 Mar 02 |  Press Reviews


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