ABC-TV newsman Sam Donaldson predicted to a group of the nation’s newspaper editors Thursday that President Clinton will resign because public opinion will turn against him.
Donaldson admitted he doesn’t have a good record in such predictions, though. Shortly after the Monica Lewinsky story broke earlier this year, he said Clinton would resign, maybe in days, if the accusations were true.
“How naive. How dumb,” he said of his statement in January.
Donaldson, who joked that he makes his living interrupting people, spoke to the 250 journalists attending the Associated Press Managing Editors annual conference, meeting this year at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim.
Wearing a black suit, powder blue shirt with white cuffs and collar, and a red tie, Donaldson spoke for about a half-hour before taking questions. He spoke without notes, gesturing with his hands for emphasis, his booming voice loud enough that he almost didn’t need a microphone.
Actress, playwright and Stanford University professor Anna Deavere Smith, who performed for the editors earlier in the day, smiled through much of Donaldson’s speech and later called him “a brilliant performer” who did everything right. Smith, who portrayed some of the famous people who are characters in her plays, is working on a show about the presidency called “House Arrest,” due at the Mark Taper in Los Angeles in May.
Donaldson, 64, returned to covering the White House just a week or so before the Lewinsky scandal after spending 12 years there during the Reagan and Carter administrations. He also is a host of “20/20" and “This Week with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts.”
Violating a rule of basic newswriting, Donaldson buried the lead of his speech, saving his comments about the president’s fate until the end.
He said if the impeachment process goes ahead, Americans will have to decide “whether this president we like, and [who] in many respects has been a good president, remain in office or that the rule of law is upheld. I think the American public, if the evidence is there . . . I think they will say the rule of law, and I think he’ll resign.”
Donaldson defended the incessant reporting on the scandal. “I’m sick of this too,” he said. “Let’s face it, we’re gong to report on this story as long as it’s unresolved.”
The 250 journalists editors from across the nation who came to the four-day conference discussed journalism issues, such as the streak of high-profile retractions by newspapers and magazines such as The New Republic and the Boston Globe, visited Disneyland and attended seminars on such topics as personal finance and retirement planning.
During an evening session at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, the group heard a panel of journalists, lawyers and a judge blast them for inadequate coverage of the nation’s courts.
“The single biggest problem is that newspapers and television report too much about crimes and very little about the criminal justice system,” said Tom Wicker, a writer for the New York Times and co-author of a recent report critical of the press for its court coverage.
That was seconded by Johnnie L. Cochran, the famed defender of O.J. Simpson who now hosts a weekly talk show on Court TV. “Crime has blossomed in Southern California,” he said, “but there’s a lot of education that has been lost” because of poor court coverage.
The panel also included Greta Van Susteren, a CNN legal analyst and co-host of “Burden of Proof”’ and Hiller B. Zobel, the Massachusetts judge who presided over the 1997 murder trial of English au pair Louise Woodward.