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Carter Talks About Presidential Integrity
in Interview With SHSU Professor

Conversation Among Others Published in New Book

Comments by former presidents on the troubles of a current president are rare. Former presidents tend to remember their own media problems and cheap shots from their critics, who may not have had all the facts but popped off anyway. President Carter

Former President Jimmy Carter (at left), however, in an interview with Sam Houston State University faculty member and administrator Don Richardson (at right), talked almost a year ago about his perspective on some of President Clinton's problems. Richardson included his interview with Carter in his new book--"Conversations With Carter."

"I think that Clinton is much more of a so-called 'Teflon President' than Reagan was," Carter said in answer to a Richardson question. "I think it is because the public has just kind of gotten inured to sexual scandals and revelations and allegations and so forth, even involving the campaign contribution things which you mentioned. I think there's much more fascination inside the Beltway with these things than there seems to be in the rest of the country."

Richardson asked Carter, who almost lost the 1976 presidential election after saying in a Playboy magazine interview that he had looked at women "with lust" and "committed adultery in my heart..." what role personal integrity should play in American politics.

"I think that it matters about integrity," Carter answered. "But I think, first of all, loyalty to one's wife or to marriage vows doesn't seem to be as significant to the press--I mean the public--because it doesn't necessarily interfere with performance of duty in the presidency.

"I think though, that if there is proof that any leaders in Washington actually violated the law when all of the allegations are investigated, I think that would still have a fairly substantial adverse impact on the election chances of Al Gore or on the permanent reputation of Clinton in the minds of the public and in the minds of the historians."

Former President Reagan is known for his communication skills and Clinton for surviving while admitting lies and sexual improprieties. Richardson's Carter interviews, including the original interview he conducted with Carter in October, 1997, paints Carter as the victim of negative media coverage and the Iranian hostage situation.

"In fact, of the 48 months that I was in office, all of the news coverage, in balance, for 47 months, was negative," Carter said. "The only positive was the first month when I was in office, when I walked down Pennsylvania Avenue."

Carter said he based his conclusion on a media coverage analysis by a University of Indiana professor. Another memory of the media, he said, was that they refused to cover photo opportunities marking positive accomplishments of his administration.

"There was also a very disturbing policy--and I think in retrospect, an amazing policy--that the press unanimously adopted during the summer and early fall of 1980," Carter said. "They would not cover any signing of legislation that I had proposed.

"Whereas, I remembered from my campaign against Ford in '76 that every time he would sign a bill, even those that he opposed--they were passed by the Democratic Congress--the press had a big coverage of it with ceremonies in the Rose Garden. But they embargoed those kinds of news stories as the election approached for me in 1980; and I kind of--I didn't think that was fair."

As for the Iranian hostages, Carter is still miffed that his successor is sometimes credited with freeing them, because they were freed during President Reagan's inauguration ceremony.

"They did not want to be involved in anything that related to the hostages, even our efforts to get them freed," Carter said of Reagan cabinet members Alexander Haig and George Shultz. "Obviously, when I was successful in getting the hostages released, Reagan was the one who welcomed them back, you know with--and making the statement that still kind of rubs me the wrong way, 'Never under my administration, will any hostages be taken,' as though he was responsible for getting them freed."

Asked to list his greated accomplishments, Carter named deregulation of airlines, railroads, trucking, banking, and communications, including television and radio, passage of the Alaskan Lands Bill, and ratification of treaties giving up day-to-day control of the Panama Canal. The Panama Canal treaties give the United States unlimited access and the right to defend the canal against any external threat.

"And there's no doubt in my mind," Carter said, "or any responsible historian's mind that, had we not ratified those treaties, the canal would not be in operation today; it would have been destroyed. We would have had a war in Panama."

Richardson, who chairs the Department of Public Communication at Sam Houston State, said that after studying the details of the 1980 presidential campaign he believes that "Reagan simply out-communicated him (Carter) for the presidency."

"Carter was bitterly disappointed by the loss," Richardson said in his introduction to the book, "but he did not let that disappointment hamper his post-presidential career for very long."

That career consists of teaching classes at Emory University, serving as diplomat-without-portfolio to many nations of the world, authoring 12 books, responding to calls from troubled nations to assist in peace negotiations, and administering the Carter Center in Atlanta."

The Carter Center is a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute founded by Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, in 1982.

The Center is dedicated to fighting disease, hunger, poverty, conflict, and oppression through collaborative initiatives in the areas of democratization and development, global health, and urban revitalization. Carter Center programs have affected the lives of people in 65 countries, including the United States, according to its own analyses.

An example of the humanitarian work undertaken by Carter and the Center is monitoring areas of the world in which there are currently about 30 major ongoing wars. The center lists twelve countries or regions in which it has had peace-seeking involvement, including Algeria, Burundi, Congo, Guinea-Lbissau, India-Pakistan, Kenya, Korean Peninsula, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Former Yugoslavia.

Richardson said he hopes his book will prompt journalists, historians, and others to take a fresh look at Carter. It includes 23 interviews and seven photographs.

"Through these conversations we see a very decent human being with a stronger commitment to a religious faith than most of us can hope to achieve," said Richardson, "who at age 73 continues to expend enormous amounts of energy promoting peace, resolving conflicts, helping the less fortunate, and generally doing more than could be reasonably expected of any one person to improve the lot of the people of this planet."


Media Contact: Frank Krystyniak
Sept. 14, 1998
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