The nation's black newspaper publishers felt snubbed when probable Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton didn't show up for lunch yesterday. And when Mr. Clinton's Maryland coordinator tried to explain his man's absence, he was shouted out of the room.
The flap began when Mr. Clinton said scheduling problems would prevent him from speaking before about 300 members of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, a group of black publishers and editors having its 52nd annual convention at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
The publishers didn't buy that explanation. And their board members stood before the luncheon crowd to say as much in a statement denouncing Mr. Clinton.
"His reasons and excuses for ignoring the black press of America are unacceptable and looked upon as an affront not only to this body, but to the African-American community which we represent," said Robert W. Bogle, publisher of the Philadelphia Tribune and president of NNPA.
"This is an issue which we will bring to the country, to the African-American community, and I don't give a damn about Bill Clinton if that's what he wants to say to my community," Mr. Bogle said. He added that the 205 NNPA-member papers reach some 12 million readers.
NNPA board members suggested that Mr. Clinton did not appear at their convention because Lenora Fulani, an independent presidential candidate, was slated to be on the same platform. In April, Ms. Fulani, chairwoman of the New Alliance Party, disrupted a speech by Mr. Clinton in Harlem and dogged him in the days before the New York primary.
President Bush and Ross Perot also were invited to the luncheon but declined to attend.
As board members held their news conference, in strode Larry Gibson, the University of Maryland law professor who is coordinating Mr. Clinton's Maryland campaign.
Mr. Gibson also is campaign chairman for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, an avid supporter of Mr. Clinton who moments earlier had is sued a proclamation honoring the NNPA.
Raising his hand for attention, Mr. Gibson told the gathering, "You are being misled about what has happened here. . . ."
Before he could finish, he was shouted down by Mr. Bogle. "You can go outside," Mr. Bogle said, ". . . . or I can carry you out. Just sit down. You're not in charge."
Mr. Gibson grudgingly complied, at first sitting down, then leaving the luncheon to hold an impromptu news conference in the hall.
"It is absolutely not true that the Clinton campaign and this convention ever agreed to a time for the appearance," Mr. Gibson said.
He said the Clinton camp had negotiated on and off for several months with NNPA over the planned appearance. But no specific time was agreed upon, he said.
Mr. Gibson said that Mr. Clinton -- who was in Little Rock, Ark., early in the day, then scheduled for a fund-raiser in New Jersey last night -- had offered to come to the convention in
midafternoon or to appear via an interactive satellite feed. He also offered to appear tomorrow, Mr. Gibson said.
But, he said, none of the deals could be worked out. Mr. Gibson said that sharing a platform with Ms. Fulani would have been a concern for Mr. Clinton, but that the scheduling problem "did not allow us to reach that point."
Sonny Messiah-Jiles, publisher of the Houston Defender, who had corresponded with Mr. Clinton's campaign, insisted that Clinton campaign officials had said that their candidated would attend the luncheon.
Mr. Gibson also released a statement from Mr. Clinton apologizing for not being able to attend the convention. Mr. Clinton, who has received strong black support during the Democratic primary season, also said in the letter that he hoped to be able to address issues of concern to blacks through "a
regular series of press releases, teleconferences, and satellite news conferences."
But Mr. Bogle has other ideas. He said NNPA members will be using their newspapers to "carefully scrutinize" Mr. Clinton.
"We have the ink; he doesn't," Mr. Bogle said.