By Ray O’Hanlon
Coverage in U.S. newspapers of President Clinton’s Irish visit, while less voluminous than three years ago, was largely positive when the reports actually dealt with Ireland as opposed to the president’s domestic woes.
Newsday had Clinton basking "gratefully in the warm welcome" the people of Northern Ireland had laid out for him. The president was doing his bit for peace "against a backdrop of carefully choreographed moves toward reconciliation among contending political forces."
The Boston Globe reported that Clinton "was given a hero’s welcome, hailed as an architect of this young and fragile peace, applauded loudly at every stop by crowds that spilled out of auditoriums and surged against ropelines to shake his hand."
The Globe had several journalists working the story. One Globe story had The White House "especially appreciative" of the fact that Gerry Adams chose to acknowledge, just before Clinton’s arrival, that violence in Northern Ireland was no longer justified under any circumstances.
The Boston Herald came out with an editorial headlined "IRA must seize moment." The Herald took the view that the next big step to a permanent peace would follow the IRA’s pledging itself "to scrap its still-formidable arsenal at the earliest possible date." Such a move, the Herald opined, "would put irresistible pressure on Protestant paramilitaries to follow suit."
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The New York Times, reporting from Armagh "on a rare sun-washed day," told readers that Clinton had invested much time and the prestige of his office in brokering the April 10 peace accord.
"For the most part," the Times said in one report, "people who turned out to see Mr. Clinton were grateful for his efforts to foster peace and delighted that he returned to Ulster."
Another story, by Times Ireland correspondent James Clarity, was headed: "Neither Rain Nor Traffic Dampens Irish Warmth for Clinton." This story had Clinton looking back to his 1995 Dublin visit as being "one of the great days of my Presidency and indeed one of the great days of my life."
Clarity concluded that the Irish government "and most Irish men and women" apparently felt it would be churlish to attack Clinton over Monica Lewinsky.
The Baltimore Sun gave space to First Lady Hillary Clinton’s arrival in Belfast a day before her husband. It reported that "Northern Ireland’s verdant landscape seems a world away from the Washington scandal that has threatened her husband’s presidency."
The Sun suggested that while all and sundry back in Washington were engrossed with the Lewinsky affair, the Belfast crowd didn’t much care.
In a subsequent report from Armagh, the Sun waxed lyrical in the opening paragraph: "This was President Clinton at his best, standing at twilight before the soaring spires of two cathedrals, speaking of peace on an island long embroiled in violence."
The primacy of peace was on the mind of USA Today, which led one story with the headline, "Clinton may find some peace in Northern Ireland." This was not a reference to the peace process.
The Washington Post decided that for all the grief wrought by Omagh, Clinton’s return to Northern Ireland "was mostly a cause for celebration for a community that sees him as a hero and for a president badly in need of a lift."
The Chicago Sun Times, on the other hand, played down the sense of celebration. Clinton’s tone, the paper said, "was one of warning and challenge, instead of celebration."
The Chicago Tribune, in an editorial coinciding with the visit, stated that "Gerry Adams and David Trimble, finally, find themselves, unconditionally on the same side."
The Los Angeles Times, meanwhile, was the only major west coast paper to assign a staff writer – Elizabeth Shogren – to the trip. The others relied on wire reports. Shawn Pogatchnik, who has covered Ireland in the past for the Associated Press, provided much of the wire copy. The Daily News in New York was one of the more prominent papers to rely largely on AP.