The general's son on sweaters, speeding tickets, and the corrupt political press.

Dispatches from Campaign 2004.
Feb. 3 2004 3:32 PM

From the Mouths of Babes

The general's son on sweaters, speeding tickets, and the corrupt political press.

OKLAHOMA CITY—Maybe Wesley Clark Jr. saw the early exit polls. For whatever reason, he's standing in front of a crowd of reporters outside Clark's campaign headquarters in Oklahoma, looking bitter and sounding as if he thinks his father's campaign is over. "It's been a really disillusioning experience," the candidate's 34-year-old son says. "We sacrificed a hell of a lot for this country over 34 years. We lived in a damn trailer when I was a freshman in high school."

I'm late to the party because I was inside the campaign office watching Clark Sr. make phone calls to voters. But apparently Clark Jr. said he was writing a screenplay about the campaign process, and it sounds like it won't be a positive treatment. Of politics, he says, "It's a dirty business, filled with a lot of people who are pretending to be a lot of things they're not." The press never looked at his father's record, he says. They didn't treat the other candidates fairly either. Howard Dean got unfair coverage, he says. So did John Edwards. So did John Kerry. So did everyone.

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What about the president? Does he get fair coverage from the press? "If the president had gotten fair coverage, he never would have gotten elected in the first place," Clark says. Has the media done a poor job of getting his father's message out? "It's not the media's job to get his message out. The media's job is to sell advertising."

A reporter asks, do you think your father has been well served by his campaign? For once, Clark declines to offer an opinion. "Uh, I'm not going to comment on the campaign. I'll put it this way. I think he was the best candidate." Then he adds, "I wish they would have competed in Iowa, personally." Because elections don't matter, he says. The media's horse-race coverage is all that matters, and by skipping Iowa, Clark got left out of the horse race. "It's all horse-race questions," he says. "My favorite was Dad wearing a sweater in New Hampshire one day. Maybe he was wearing a sweater because he was cold."

But why has the president gotten positive coverage while the Democrats have gotten negative coverage, in his opinion? "It's about access. You know that you'll be denied access if you actually cover things honestly." He follows this with a recommendation that we go work in Hollywood if we don't understand how the political press works, because they need good storytellers in Hollywood, too. (I hope to have a fuller transcript of Clark's comments later today, after reporters gather to watch the videotape. I'll update if there's anything worth adding.)

At this point, Clark's traveling press secretary, Jamal Simmons, sees the crowd of reporters and breaks things up. Comparing notes with some reporters after the event, I scribble down a few quotes that Clark said before I showed up. Among them are "I'd like him to win today. If he doesn't win, I don't want him to stay out there," and "What did we get on the news for this weekend? A speeding ticket in Oklahoma. You gotta be fucking kidding me."

The press corps gathers at the hotel and gets ready to file. Simmons tells us the general's take on his son's comments: "He loves him. He has his own opinions."

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