Up close and personal with Socks, film at 11

Bill Clinton is angry because the press has been bothering his daughter's cat. The animal has been lured into camera range with catnip, held aloft by a TV person, surrounded by photographers, and subjected to other indignities.

And they did this despite warnings from the president-elect that the cat was off-limits.


So a strongly worded statement was issued by Clinton's spokesperson, who said: "The photographers don't have the common decency to leave a little girl's cat alone."

Clinton's anger is understandable. He is a father, and what is he to say when his daughter cries: "Daddy, why is that man holding Socks up in the air? And why are those other men poking cameras in Socks' eyes?"


I suppose he could answer: "I know, child, it is a terrible thing. But I am now the president-elect of the greatest nation on Earth. That makes me a public figure. And you are the president-elect's daughter. So you are a public figure. And Socks is the president-elect's daughter's cat. As such, Socks the cat has become a public figure. And the public has a right to know about public figures."

Which would probably prompt the daughter to ask: "The right to know what?"

And that is a difficult question to answer, unless you are a journalism professor and spend your days thinking about such weighty matters, which I'm not.

But as I understand the modern rules of journalism, a public figure forfeits all rights to privacy. The creed of today's enterprising journalism is: "A cameraman in every laundry hamper, a reporter under every bed."

In this case, though, we are talking about a cat. So the question is: Can a cat be a public figure? If so, how much does the public have the right to know about that cat?

For example, does Socks faithfully use the litter box? Or is Socks the sort of cat that sometimes causes one member of the family to shout to the others: "Be careful when you step off the bottom of the steps."

Has Socks ever stalked and killed a little tweety bird? Or torn the life from a tiny mouse?

And is Socks the sort of cat that likes to sneak out at night to roam and seek the company of cats of the opposite sex, which then leads to all sorts of loud yowling and moaning. In other words, is Socks the promiscuous sort. (This probably falls under the public's right to know, based on the Gary Hart Precedent.)


I'm sure Sam Donaldson would say these are all legitimate areas of inquiry, and he would race Dan Rather to the litter box for the answers.

But as much as I respect the public's right to know, even when it doesn't want to, I think Clinton's anger is justified.

That's because the press went beyond the legitimate forms of inquiry -- frenzied pursuit and howling questions -- and laid hands upon the cat.

In this case, the cat was grabbed and held aloft. And that could set a dangerous precedent.

If the cat, as a public creature, can be held aloft by a TV person, who is next? Will some enterprising reporter decide to grab Hillary Clinton, hoist her in the air, and say "whoopsie" for the benefit of the viewing audience?

Will some sports columnist decide that it isn't enough to declare Mike Ditka hopelessly and homicidally insane and leap upon Ditka's back to see if he will buck like a crazed bull?


No, touching, grabbing, groping, neck biting and any other physical contact should be off-limits. Even public people and public cats should be afforded that minimal right to privacy. Of course, if a public figure invites the press to grab and grope, that's a matter of choice. And with public figures like Madonna, you never know.

So an effort should be made to reach a compromise. Clinton should try to understand the needs of the army of photographers and TV creatures who are assigned to follow him, his family, his cat and his flunkies. There are only so many pictures they can take of him in that goofy jogging outfit, buying a munchy at the local McDonald's.

They should be given the opportunity to occasionally snap pictures of the cat, ask the cat questions, and record its pitiful meows.

But it should be made clear to them that they are not to touch the cat unless they are invited to do so, which is unlikely, although an exception might be made for Larry King.

And one other small piece of advice for Clinton: Buy the kid a Doberman or a pit bull.