George Bush photo

Teleconference Remarks With the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association

November 19, 1991

The President. Thank you very much, all of you. And thank you, Ashton Phelps. And I'm glad to see that you survived yesterday's tennis tournament. And I'd like to now kind of arrogantly challenge you to bring your partner, if you had one there, and maybe we can play it off here on the White House court.

I might also say that I'm very pleased that you said you're pleased you could look me in the eye after the election. And I'm pleased that I can look you and everyone at that convention in the eye. I was reluctant to get involved in that election, but when it comes to fascism and it comes to bigotry and it comes to racism, I think a President should speak out. And I think I did the right thing, and I know that the voters of Louisiana did the right thing.

I know it may sound like a bit of a cliche, but this really is a challenging time for all of you in the newspaper business. You face competition from a growing variety of news media; advertisers have begun holding on to advertising dollars; readers, they're getting more sophisticated and demanding each day. And in the end, you must provide the living history that people find essential. You must do it quickly. You must do it fairly. And you must do it under extraordinary constraints. I once heard someone describe the newspaper business as the only multibillion-dollar industry that ultimately had to depend on 12-year-old kids with bicycles.

The atmosphere out there may have reached the point where some of you feel a certain trepidation before opening up your own newspapers. The news often reminds me of one of my favorite songs, a country song by Anne Murray. And it's called, "A Little Good News." And one nice verse goes -- I won't sing it for you, you'll be happy to know -- "I came home this evening. I bet that the news will be the same. Somebody takes a hostage. Somebody steals a plane. How I want to hear the anchorman talk about a county fair. How we cleaned the air. How everybody learned to care."

I think that's a great idea. But I also know that you couldn't survive a minute by printing nothing but county fair stories. You must print news that people can use. And along those lines I'd like to just spend a couple of minutes talking about our administration's domestic agenda. As you know, it takes two to play when it comes to doing the Nation's business. And it takes a White House with a program and a Congress determined to get the work done.

For nearly 3 years, my administration has tried to hold up its end of the bargain. I have tried to reach out. We have offered up a host of new programs and approaches in everything from clean air to crime in the streets. We've had a few victories, a few stirring victories, such as the Clean Air Act, our child care initiatives. And then I'd cite the Americans with Disabilities Act; and a matter that may not fall strictly within the arena of domestic policy, but that did show just what Americans can do when they decide to move: the war in the Gulf.

But most of our important business remains undone. I sent Congress a comprehensive crime package nearly 3 years ago, and it still hasn't seen the light of day. Meanwhile, criminals continue to terrorize the public. Citizens become increasingly cynical about our legal system, and police lose faith that anyone really cares about restoring peace to the streets.

My administration has a good plan. I firmly believe that the American people support it. And Congress just wants to tinker around the edges with little pieces, rather than daring to fight right back at the criminals.

The same pattern shows up in education. We've tried for a couple of years to promote an excellence in education act. No parent of a schoolchild can argue with our goals: Better schools, disciplined schools, schools freed of violence and drugs, schools that produce students who can compete fully in our international marketplace. We've proposed an America 2000 education strategy that would toss off the old ideas that hamper education today and would restore competition to the schools.

We've called for a system of voluntary national exams so that we can measure our schools' performances and hold them accountable. We want to build a system of good schools, not one in which a vast gulf separates the best and the worst. And we want poor kids to have access to the same quality of education as everyone else. And we want our students to become the world's best: in math, science, English, history, and geography. Schools must stop babysitting our students, start challenging them to reach for the stars.

You can appreciate this: I heard some newspaper editors and publishers complain that they can't find young reporters who can write or who have enough basic knowledge to put stories in proper perspective. And when our educational system fails, you lose readers. It hurts your business more than most. You can do more than print stories and editorials, too. Our strategy calls for community involvement. In fact, it relies on the efforts of everyone.

More than 20 States have begun State 2000 efforts. Rather than waiting for Congress to act, they've started in themselves. And you can help.

In Greenville, North Carolina, the Daily Reflector has worked to bring a nationally-recognized literacy program, the National Literacy Volunteers of America, to Pitt County. Jordan Whichard led the way there. And his involvement shouldn't surprise anyone. Jordan's father, Dave, was instrumental in starting the SNPA's literacy program.

And so, my point is simple: You don't have to work in a school to make education happen. You can do it anywhere. I am delighted that I'm working with Secretary Lamar Alexander, his able Deputy, David Kearns, who used to be chief executive officer of Xerox. They're doing a superb job. They have a superb team. And I really believe that in this area we're beginning to awaken the conscience of this Nation and make good things happen.

Finally, a few notes on our economy. First, I'm concerned. I'm concerned about the people that are hurting. And although we technically have pulled out of recession on a national basis, and although we enjoyed a very modest economic growth in the third quarter in recent months, many people still feel the pinch of an economy that isn't growing as it should. No honest observer can tell you that things are great. They're not. And when people are hurting, I worry about it, and I know you do too. And still, some fundamentals point to a good recovery. We ought to get it in perspective.

Inflation is down. Interest rates are way down. Personal debt is down. Inventories are down. Quality is up. Exports are up. But in spite of these very encouraging signs, very encouraging fundamentals, the economy remains sluggish. There are a number of steps we can take to get our economy booming again, and steps that, in my judgment, Congress should have taken long ago when I proposed them. These include -- and I know I sound like a broken record to some -- capital gains tax cuts, research and development tax credits, expanded IRA's, comprehensive banking reform legislation, international trade liberalization, and a job-intensive, sound transportation bill. This is just part of the litany.

But while Americans demand action, it remains business as usual up on Capitol Hill. And business as usual can only hurt people who want to work, who want to move on into better jobs. I'm going to continue to try to work with Congress because I truly believe the American people want less talk and more action. And I want to get our message out and build support for other initiatives that I mentioned here today.

Obviously, this won't be easy, for 1992 is just over the horizon, and politics will play an undue part in the debate. But in the end, politics should serve the people, and that's what I was elected to do, serve all of the people of the United States. And it's what I intend to do.

I hope you also will serve, as you always have, as critical observers of the scene. And I encourage you to cut through the politics and get at the real issues, such as safe streets, good schools, and an economy that gets all our people to work.

And again, Ashton, thank you and thank all of your associates there. I'm sorry, very sorry that I couldn't be in Boca with you. But now I'd be glad to take a couple of questions.

Thank you very much.

Newspaper Industry

Q. Thank you, Mr. President. Secretary Cheney was kind enough to be with us at our convention. And during a reception the other night, one of our major newspaper owners said to the Secretary: I hope the President realizes just how concerned the American people are about the economy. What can you tell us about the specific outlook of the economy for '92? You mentioned some of the uncertainties, and you've reiterated your concern, which I think we're all glad to hear about. What's really going to happen, as we newspaper publishers look at 1992?

The President. Well, the first key is that a business, newspaper business, whatever, can't look to Government for all the answers. I think if there's any group that understands that, it's the people right there in that room. I might start by recommending that you put Doonesbury in the obituary section; that might make a contribution. But as I -- [laughter] -- I really feel strongly about that one, I'll tell you.

But as I noted earlier, your industry faces a whole host of challenges including the increased competition from television and even computer data services. Most Americans make use of a wide variety of information services, and I think most educated Americans still prefer to read a daily newspaper. I know I do. And I look over five papers each morning before I get to work, and then I have that White House news summary; we get clips from the others.

Our newspaper industry reflects our nature as a people. American newspapers remain aggressive and feisty and informative, and they try to cover every aspect of our lives, from the entertainment we enjoy to world affairs far away. And so, that mission will never change.

For my part, our administration has tried to remain accessible to reporters. And I think I hold perhaps more press conferences than any President in recent history and perhaps any President ever.

On the business side of the ledger, I have promoted initiatives that encourage investment, research, and innovation. The keys to any successful business are those. High taxes, onerous mandates, and this propensity for stringent regulations make it very difficult for business, especially small businesses, to function.

Now, we have tried to address this competitiveness issue in a host of ways. One of them, and it's very important, we want to reform backward banking laws that deny entrepreneurs the support they need to create a business. Our banking laws are antiquated, and we've proposed bold reforms to the Congress. We're having trouble getting that kind of legislation through. We've got to make this economy of ours entrepreneurial-friendly again.

And we've tried to attack hidden taxes, and we've got to do more there, such as crime. Most of you probably spend a huge amount of money on security, both for your people and your machinery, and you still get pinched by everyone from the newspaper box wrecker or the person who tries to mess up multimillion-dollar printing presses. We have to crack down on crime, both by punishing criminals and by encouraging decency.

Educational deficiencies, and I dwelled on that a little earlier, cost lots of money. And when you have to hire people just to educate your workers, you lose money. You lose time. And you lose part of the edge vital to your industry. And poor schools also deprive the economy of future workers and business leaders, the people who buy ads and keep your companies profitable.

Many newspapers, I believe, recognize this basic truth and contribute directly to reading programs in their cities. And those programs can make a huge difference in the quality of the work force that you see in the future. And others lend reporters and editors to schools as teachers; and with the same effect, I might add. Some have taken an active role in promoting educational reform that works for their communities.

And finally, the world continues changing at a rapid pace. And we see newspapers doing new things all the time with graphics, with business coverage, with consumer news, and other important kinds of information. The old ways just don't cut it any more, not in politics, not in manufacturing, and not in the news business. So, while you make ends meet, you also must innovate. And that's a tough challenge. But it's an exciting one, too. And I can't predict how you will build greater strength in the future. But I'm sure the visionaries among you will find a way to meet every challenge that confronts you.

In the meantime, when Congress adjourns, I want to take my case for the growth initiatives that I've mentioned to you to the American people to help instill a sense of confidence in the American people. And I think the fundamentals are there. Again, I hurt when other people are hurting. And I've got to convey that to the American people a little bit more, too.

Q. Mr. President, we have a question from our incoming president, Mr. Bern Mebane of Greenville, South Carolina.


Q. Mr. President, with the indictment of two Libyan operatives in the Pan Am 103 bombing, would you share with us some of the options you are considering to isolate Libya even further?

The President. First, I'd like to praise the Justice Department for all the hard work that went into securing these indictments. When you deal with something like an airliner bombing, good evidence is very hard to find. And our investigators found something even more obscure than a needle in a haystack.

Second, the indictments signal simply that we're doing our job. We have a process in place for investigating this act of disgusting cowardliness and viciousness. The Pan Am bombing, remember, killed 270 people, 189 of whom were American citizens. And as we've said before, we've been looking at possible responses beyond seeking to bring the two accused to trial.

Third, we've not ruled out anything. We've not ruled any option in or out. We must keep our options open in responding to the incident. But I hope you can appreciate the importance of keeping our options secret as well. I don't want to telegraph what we might do. One thing I am doing is speaking with our allies on what steps to take against Libya and to stop such acts from taking place ever again. We're going to continue to work together to coordinate our efforts against international terrorism.

And more broadly, we remain committed to fighting terrorism all over the globe. As President, I have an obligation to look after American interests overseas and to protect American citizens. We hope that these indictments will demonstrate that we mean business. And I promise you we are not going to let ourselves become complacent about terrorist threats.

In the new world order, as I've called it, the United States will continue to have enemies. And many of them may think about using terrorism as a weapon against us. This episode also underscores the importance of a more comprehensive, effective intelligence capability in an era when threats will come from all quarters. I'd like to add, incidentally, that I appointed Bob Gates to head the CIA because he possesses the professional skill and the intellectual capacity necessary for reforming our intelligence operations and enabling us to assess threats to our interests. I met with Bob just this morning, and we went over some priorities that he has now established just in the last couple of days for the intelligence community.

So, with respect to your question, I hope you will forgive me if I don't show my hand, if I don't go into more detail on what options are available. I'm sure you've read about economic sanctions, and I'm sure you've read about retaliation. But beyond mentioning broad categories, I would simply emphasize that I will continue to consult with our allies, people whose citizens were also killed in this horrible act of terrorism, and then will make a prudent decision on behalf of the United States of America. And I'm confident that when that is done, the American people will be supportive of the President in this instance. This is one that gets way beyond partisan politics and the politics of '92 that I talked a little about a while ago.

Hey, listen, thank you all very, very much for having me as your guest via satellite communications. And I'm delighted to be with you, and I wish you well. And I have great respect for what you're about down there. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 11:32 a.m. from Room 459 of the Old Executive Office Building to the Assocation meeting in Boca Raton, FL. In his remarks, the President referred to Ashton Phelps, Association president.

George Bush, Teleconference Remarks With the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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