- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 15, 2000

Hillary Rodham Clinton's appearance on David Letterman's "Late Show" this week is another milestone for American politics in this media age. At the beginning of the 21st century, America's thirst for the TV-perfect politician is such that one measures success by explaining the top 10 reasons for appearing on the Letterman show and answering carefully scripted questions with the answers provided in advance.

It must be noted that Mrs. Clinton did initially refuse the late-night TV entertainer's offer a matter of principle, perhaps. But in proper Clintonesque style, after the result of a New York poll rolled in Monday, it was clear the potential senator would be needing all the help national television could give. She had been lagging behind New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani since March after all, and a majority (58 to 24 percent) of 621 registered New York voters thought she should accept, the International Herald Tribune reported. So the next day she did.

Once on, she had to take a pop quiz from Mr. Letterman, but it was nothing like the one with which a newsman ambushed George W. Bush. No questions about the name of some distant foreign ruler for Mrs. Clinton. Instead, she got questions about New York state trivia, questions so trivial in fact that it hardly mattered whether she got the answers right: Could she name 1) the state bird, 2) the state tree and 3) the Great Lakes that border New York? (Answers: the red-breasted blue bird, the sugar maple and lakes Erie and Ontario.) As it happens, Mrs. Clinton answered correctly, but it's not as though any one would have taken it seriously had she failed.

But the Clinton campaign apparently was taking no chances. The candidate was reportedly working off a cheat sheet. "Mr. Letterman's staff members said the quiz had been a surprise," the New York Times reported. "Mrs. Clinton's spokesman, Howard Wolfson, allowed that Mrs. Clinton might, in fact, have been given a sneak peek at the questions before she went on." Mr. Wolfson subsequently said that Mrs. Clinton had only been informed she would get some tough questions on the state.

A Letterman staffer acknowledged that writers with the show and campaign officials worked together to come up with "Top Ten Reasons I, Hillary Clinton, Finally Decided to Appear on the Late Show." Reason No. 8 turned out to be: "If Dan Quayle did it, how hard could it be?" Hilarious. Her humorous treatment of prospective Republican Senate foe Rudy Giuliani? "He's done a lot of stuff as mayor, but I think being senator is a different kind of job. You know as senator you can't go arrest a homeless person, for example." Ho, ho, ho. Better save that one for the grand jury.

Mr. Letterman laughed automatically, as he did at almost everything she said. But Mrs. Clinton's appearance may wind up being one of the top 10 reasons to stop watching the Letterman show.

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