Ex-Clinton aide: 'System' broken
Mike McCurry, press secretary in '95-'98, speaks to UD group

By SEAN O'SULLIVAN
Staff reporter
Wilmington News Journal
02/23/2001
Copyright ©2001, The News Journal.

The man who was the voice of the White House for three years said he believes the "political information system" of the nation is broken and needs to be fixed.

Mike McCurry, press secretary for President Clinton from 1995 to 1998, spoke Thursday to a gathering of about 100 at the University of Delaware as part of the "Global Agenda 2001" lecture series.

McCurry, who had to field questions from the press during the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, said while Clinton made plenty of mistakes, the coverage of that situation was "disproportionate."

He said the recent stories about the pardons Clinton granted before leaving office and other charges of inappropriate actions have been similarly out of whack.

"I'm not saying that they got a raw deal, but it is disproportionate," he said, adding the intense coverage is driven in part by longstanding antipathy between the Clintons and the press corps.

At the same time, McCurry said Clinton always provided the scandal-hungry reporters with plenty of raw meat.

"That is one of the perplexing things about him," McCurry said.

"Would it be better to have a nice boring guy as president? Yes. And now we'll get to try it for awhile," he said to laughter.

But the thrust of McCurry's talk was not about his old boss, but about the need to repair the political dialogue in the nation.

McCurry, who also worked for several presidential campaigns and as the spokesman for the State Department, now heads an Internet firm specializing in political activism called Grassroots.com .

He said two seemingly positive things have caused the breakdown: the end of the Cold War and the rise of the information age.

The end of the Cold War denied citizens and politicians of differing views an issue to agree on.

The fight against communism often led Democrats and Republicans to unite on foreign policy objectives. "But since 1989 ... the climate in Washington, D.C., has gotten worse and worse because there is nothing to bring us together," he said.

As for the rise of cable television and the Internet, there is now more information available, faster than ever before. "But I don't know if it has made us any wiser," he said.

People are "swarmed by information" and, as a result, tend to run away unless they are stung by a certain story.

"Like O.J. Simpson ... Princess Di ... Monica Lewinsky ... chads," he said.

And on that count, McCurry blamed the media for not doing enough to find new stories instead of just beating to death the story of the moment.

He said he believed networks and newspapers were doing this because it is more cost-effective to add more resources to the story of the moment than to invest in a new story.

"The political ruling class and the media ruling class haven't forged out a way to work collaboratively," he said.

However, McCurry said there is reason to hope.

He said he believes right now is a moment between eras and he sees plenty of young people who are ready to take up the challenge of public service.

After a period of long decline, he said he believes the esteem for public service is coming back and it again will be considered "noble."

He cited the popularity of the TV show "The West Wing" as an indicator.

McCurry said he also believes the media system realizes there is a problem and is attempting to fix itself.

McCurry at UD
Photo by Brian Price, The News Journal

L E C T U R E   S E R I E S

Former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry was the first speaker in the University of Delaware's "Global Agenda 2001" lecture series, which continues through May.

All lectures are scheduled from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in Clayton Hall, the University of Delaware Laird Campus, Del. 896, north of Newark.

The lectures are free and open to the public. For more information, call 831-2355 or go online to www.udel.edu/IPSS/global.

The schedule:

March 1: Jamie Shea, a NATO spokesman

March 15: Marwan Muasher, Jordan's ambassador to the United States

March 22: Harriet Elam, U.S. ambassador to Senegal

April 12: Jaime FlorCruz, former China bureau chief, Time magazine

April 26: Robert Peirce, British diplomat, Washington

May 10: David Hoffman, Washington Post foreign editor