Media Circus: Spin city, part II

What President Clinton could learn from an old friend who hasn't visited the White House too much lately.

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the New York Times reports the news without fear or favor and all that, but I think the Clinton administration owes it a special debt of gratitude. Sure, there have been embarrassing revelations from the White House Hilton lately, and the Times, like every other newspaper in America, has lingered on them lovingly.

But if Clinton and his advisors were able to look past the dismal coverage of the president’s frolicsome fund-raising style this past Wednesday, they would have noticed a solution to their problems staring out at them from the front page of the Metro section. There they could behold a lavish, celebratory feature on the post-White House career of former Clinton advisor George Stephanopoulos. If Clinton’s tale read like a debauched morning-after in the vice tank, then Stephanopoulos’ story was a glamorous debutante cotillion.

The story caps a series of triumphs for Clinton’s ex-spinner. Upon his arrival in Manhattan, Elisabeth Bumiller writes, he was “immediately invited to dinner (and provided with a tuxedo) by Ralph Lauren.” Having bagged a $2.85 million book deal with Little, Brown in December, Stephanopoulos followed up a month later with gigs as a political analyst on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and a panelist on “This Week’s” Sunday parade of chattering heads. To cement his metamorphosis from inveterate spinner to fun-loving, self-mocking media darling, he made a cameo appearance on ABC’s “Spin City,” playing himself opposite Michael J. Fox, who plays a character modeled on “who else,” as the Times says, “George Stephanopoulos.” (Where is Jean Baudrillard when you need him?) And what a great fellow to model yourself after! Bumiller is nearly orgasmic in her distillation of his winsomeness. “In person,” she writes, “the famously disciplined and perfectionistic Mr. Stephanopoulos is personable, polite and circumspect.” Presumably, “brave, clean and reverent” didn’t survive the edit.

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Bedecked in self-protective irony, Stephanopoulos is allowed to refer, without apparent self-awareness of any kind, to his fabulous Manhattan makeover as “getting a life.” He even gets to resume plumping his mythical stature as the Clinton administration’s liberal conscience — an image he helped promote in a recent Vogue interview conducted by longtime friend Eric Alterman. Waxing Olympian, he tries to spin his New York relocation as a bid to emulate “the Moynihan model,” combining scholarly (a teaching gig at Columbia) and political interests. Though he modestly suggests he’s not yet ready to assume Moynihan’s job in the Senate — something that he could evidently arrange with a few discreet phone calls to Alterman and Lauren — he allows that he just might want the position “one day, yeah. I think senator’s a great job.”

To return back from this relentlessly upbeat study in political celebrity to the Clinton coverage in the A section is a little like going from the deck of the Love Boat to the hold of the Pequod. But if President Clinton could only read the signs clearly, he would recognize that his former media spokesman, by spinning his own new persona, is still advising him.

If Stephanopoulos aspires, in his well-appointed Columbia reveries, to the “Moynihan model,” then Clinton, in fending off his current round of troubles, should look to the “Stephanopoulos model.” Instead of providing labored, unconvincing justifications for his harlotry — it’s amazing how much the phrase “The Lincoln Bedroom was not sold” reminds one of the more famous “I am not a crook” — Clinton should just boyishly beam and say he’s leasing off the symbols of American democracy in an effort to “get a life.” Instead of arguing that his 938 sleep-over millionaires are “old friends” who just happen to have compliant checkbooks, Clinton should arrange a cameo appearance on “Friends” — he could even be a recurring character, if he were to, say, pursue a dalliance with Jennifer Aniston (on-screen, that is).

And now that he’s re-elected, why not ditch the whole cumbersome apparatus of sleepovers and coffee klatches — sheet changes, all that half-and-half — and go directly for the big, easy money of endorsement contracts? I mean, why have someone pay to jog with you, when you can prominently sport a Nike logo for a cool $30 million or so? (Though Reebok strikes me as a better fit: There’s just a natural affinity, I think, between the notion of a “Planet Reebok” and a “Clinton U.S.A.”)

Instead of being an embattled leader feebly facing down mounting evidence of peddling influence out of a famous bedroom, Clinton could be made over into a fun-loving avatar of the American id who just likes to have lots of cash around. (Hey, who doesn’t?) I see him as a sort of political Jerry Maguire — an obscene profiteer who cares. In any event, there’s no time to lose: If George Stephanopoulos already has Ralph Lauren, it’s only a matter of time before Dick Morris snags Tommy Hilfiger.

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