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Live from the White House: Health Care and Bathroom Graffiti

September 23, 1993

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Sitting beneath a leafy tree on the President Clinton’s front law, Paul W. Smith of WWDB in Philadelphia adjusted his headphones, leaned into his microphone and welcomed his next caller.

But first, a commercial. Then, ″It’s 8:15.″

″Hi, Mike 3/8 I know you’ve been waiting in your car a long time.″

Mike, his voice muffled by cellular phone static, got right to the point: ″I don’t have any doubt that we need health-care reform, but I don’t think the system is as badly broke as the president says.″

And so it went on the north lawn of the White House today, as nearly 60 radio talk show hosts broadcast live outside the West Wing. Hours after the president promised ″health care that’s always there″ the masters of gab, the directors of America’s electronic complaint box, set up shop a few yards from Clinton’s second-floor kitchen.

It looked like the site of a large family reunion, or a church social. Dozens of portable tables and chairs were set up just inside the Pennsylvania Avenue gate to accommodate the frenzy.

″I got Gore 3/8″ shouted Andy Steele of WKZL in Greensboro, N.C. Steele, whose on-air name is ″Eagle Boy,″ said he was looking for comedy bits for his ″light and airy″ morning show. ″Gore wasn’t funny, but it was a charge getting him. I had to push through a bunch of people ...″

He paused; his eyes widened. ″Hey, there’s Helen Thomas 3/8″ Pointing to the veteran UPI reporter, he asked, ″Do you think she will talk to me?″

A few minutes later, CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer was surrounded by microphones. Spotting a senior Clinton aide by the West Wing door, Blitzer politely brushed them away. ″They all want me,″ he said with a laugh later.

White House Chief of Staff Mack McLarty drew less attention when he walked by, but presented himself for several brief interviews.

Meeting Spike Odell of WGN in Chicago, McLarty slapped him on the back and said, ″Spike and Mack - that may throw them off.″

Odell ended the brief interview by asking McLarty to get Clinton to come out on the lawn. ″Spike, I appreciate it. That was a good try, but you better line up some other guests just in case.′

When Don Wade of WLS in Chicago joked that McLarty butted into an interview with Rep. Mel Reynolds, D-Ill., McLarty laughed and said, ″Don’t start a squabble here 3/8″

With competition so fierce, some reporters stooped pretty low for their stories. One broadcaster was caught in a stall of a pressroom bathroom, dictating the graffiti. (One scribbling points to the toilet paper and says, ″White House staff diplomas.″)

Now, back to Mike in his car, somewhere in Philly.

″That health care card. That smacks of a national identity card. That’s against the founding principles of this country. That obligates you to be a 14th-Amendment citizen. That is ...″

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