The President Holds a Press Conference to Show He’s in Charge

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After nearly a year of dodging a full-fledged news conference with the press -- you may remember a little political distraction called impeachment -- the President went before the White House press corps on Friday to address the issues of state. The President used the session to lay out the political groundwork for military intervention in Kosovo, to defend his human rights and security policies regarding China, and yes -- how could he avoid it -- to promote an image of marital peace (“We love each other very much and we’re working on it,” said the President). “The event,” says TIME White House Correspondent Jay Branegan, “was part of Bill Clinton’s new charm offensive with the press.”

The fact is that the President has a lot of mending and confidence-building to do with a number of constituencies. Not only is the press one of those constituencies, but it is also one of the key groups that can help Bill Clinton improve his image with others. And so, says Branegan, one should take note of the context in which the press conference ocurred. “For one thing,” he says, “it followed on the heels of an off-the-record dinner about his recent South American trip and a humorous self-deprecating address on Thursday before a gathering of radio and TV journalists.” For another, it comes just before the White House starts to make itself more accessible again. If the press conference is assessed as having gone well, says Branegan, “the President is expected to start granting individual interviews with the media.” In other words, the conference was in large measure a trial balloon to see if -- and how -- the President can move on.