Just in time for the fourth anniversary of WND Washington bureau chief Paul Sperry’s celebrated confrontation with then-President Bill Clinton on the White House south lawn, WND has obtained new photos of the verbal brawl revealing a visibly upset chief executive getting in the face of the one reporter who dared to ask the tough questions.
Sperry, who at the time was Washington bureau chief for Investor’s Business Daily, five months after the incident accepted an offer for the same position at WorldNetDaily. In one of his first WND stories, he documented his fiery impromptu debate with Clinton in a widely read account titled “My picnic with Bill.”
Clinton uses index finger in direction of Paul Sperry, right, to make a point. Janet Fallon is at left.
It was Sept. 24, 1999, when Sperry attended a White House south lawn party for Washington reporters. The event would turn out to be his last White House visit, since the Clinton administration banned him from the grounds after he dared confront the president on his own turf.
Sperry set the stage in “My picnic with Bill”:
This was hog’s heaven for the cheap scribes who filed onto the White House grounds that Friday night in September for a Cajun party in their honor. What a spread. On red-checkered picnic tables spanning the length of the plush green lawn, beckoned trays of jambalaya, boudin and boiled shrimp.
And the bars, under colorful tents, were stocked full of liquor. No kegs here. Black-tie-clad help poured your favorite libation from bottles. Forget Budweiser; they had Guinness Stout and other imported brews. Fine reds and whites, too, and highballs. All free.
Zydeco tunes skipped across the crowd of giddy guests. As the sunny day faded to dusk, the soft lights of the White House portico glowed behind us. Intoxicating. What a night.
But, for me, there was still something wrong with this party – namely, the host.
Clinton asks for and takes Sperry’s business card.
Around 6 p.m., Clinton emerged from the White House to greet his guests. The president was dressed in an all black casual outfit, as Sperry described, “like a bad imitation of Johnny Cash.”
As Clinton began working the crowd of reporters, Sperry asked the president a simple question – one that set off a 10-minute confrontation the reporter recalls as “nothing short of a ‘scene.’” The question: When would he hold his next formal press conference?
Clinton barked back, “Why?” and the bout began:
“Because the American people have a lot of unanswered questions,” I replied, struggling to hold my bladder. At that point, he moved back down the rope, pulling up square in front of me, and demanded, “Like what?”
“Well, like illegal money from China and the campaign-finance scandal …”
The party-goers collapsed in around us. I watched the blood rush to Clinton’s gargantuan face as he launched into a tirade against ex-Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour, the FBI, Bob Dole and Republicans in general. All the while, he tried to belittle me by making faces (to get a rise out of his fans) and intimidate me by getting in my face.
And now I can see how he can do that to people. Clinton’s not just intellectually intimidating, he’s physically imposing. He’s tall (6-2) and big-boned.
Luckily, I’m the same height and was able to stand toe-to-toe and eye-to-eye with him. I’ll never forget the maniacal look in his bloodshot eyes. There was a moment, fleeting, where I sensed he wanted to try to take a swipe at me. I was getting full frontal Clinton. His volcanic temper, hidden so well from the public by his handlers, erupted less than 12 inches from my eyes.
One of the event’s attendees was Janet Fallon, a public-relations specialist who, ironically enough, had worked for Pat Buchanan’s 1992 presidential campaign. Fallon stood just to the right of Clinton – a front-row seat for the dust-up.
Her date shot the photos featured in this story.
Sperry “obviously struck a real chord. [Clinton] got real pi—- off. He did the finger-in-the-face thing. Oh yeah, he was pi—-. I thought, Why the heck isn’t he just walking away? Why is he answering these tough questions?” Fallon recalls.
Fallon says at one point Clinton put his hand on her shoulder “for support,” thinking she was one of his many media fans who gathered around for the debate.
Early on in the confrontation, Clinton asked Sperry for his business card, which Sperry provided.
A heretofore unreported development is that two weeks later, the federal government came to call on Sperry’s then-employer, Investor’s Business Daily. A Labor Department inspector came knocking at IBD’s headquarters in Los Angeles – a first for the national paper. He asked to see Family and Medical Leave Act and other labor postings in the newsroom snackroom, then asked to see employee records, including Sperry’s. At that point, IBD’s lawyers were called and the inspector was escorted off the premises.
A month before the picnic, Sperry had written an expose on a Clinton appointee, Vanessa Weaver, to the U.S. Export-Import Bank that led the Senate Banking Committee to force her to recuse herself from all deals related to the Beijing-tied Lippo Group. The Wall Street Journal opined on Sperry’s IBD article in an editorial, fueling the controversy over the appointee. At her confirmation hearing, senators grilled Weaver about Sperry’s article, which revealed Weaver’s close relationship with convicted Clinton fund-raiser John Huang, a former top Lippo executive, and her potential conflicts of interest.
In wrapping up his account of the event, Sperry wrote:
The press corps should be ashamed that a single reporter was able to fire off as many, if not more, specific and tough questions at the president about Chinagate in 10 minutes than they’ve managed to do in the three years since this scandal broke. Did I pay a price in becoming the persona non grata of the Clinton White House? Yes, but I wear it as a badge of honor. I did my job.
Related special offer:
Sperry didn’t stop his scrutiny of the White House when George W. Bush was sworn in. Read his compelling new book, “Crude Politics: How Bush’s Oil Cronies Hijacked the War on Terrorism”