Friday Classic Clip: Bill Clinton Vs. Peter Jennings (2004)

Former President Bill Clinton sat down with ABC News anchor Peter Jennings in November 2004, almost four years after leaving the White House.

One thing became very, very clear during that interview: Bill Clinton was still pissed.

When Mr. Jennings asked him about his low ranking by a group of presidential historians for his “moral leadership,” Mr. Clinton seethed in response. But Clinton could barely contain himself when Jennings told him he cared about the low rating more than he was willing to admit.

Mr. Jennings: “They gave you a forty-first on moral authority.”

Mr. Clinton (after a one-minute exchange):  “I don’t really care what they think.”

Jennings: “Excuse me, Mr. President. I can feel it across the room. You care very deeply.”

Clinton: “You don’t want to go here, Peter. You don’t want to go here. Not after what you people did. And the way you – your network – what you did with Kenneth Starr. The way your people repeated every little sleazy thing he leaked. No one has any idea of what that’s like.”

 

Anger rarely works in media interviews. Mr. Clinton’s loss of control made his temper the headline, obscuring his larger point about what he perceived as unfair treatment.  His rage appeared self-pitying and personal (“No one has any idea of what that’s like”), and revealed a man still stewing over years-old events.

Still, I’m not sure this interview did much harm. Mr. Clinton’s supporters likely agreed with him, while his detractors likely didn’t. I’m guessing his approval rating didn’t change much, if at all, based on this interview.

This is one of those rare media moments that people could make completely opposing cases about and still be right. I agree with those who say it looked bad when he lost his temper, and I agree with those who say it really didn’t have any impact.

What do you think? Did Clinton’s rage distract from his message, or was his pushback appropriate? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Related: Friday Classic Clip: “You Are Stuck on Stupid.”

Related: Friday Classic Clip: George H.W. Bush vs. Dan Rather (1988)