Davis breaks ice with Clinton for Fox, ending yearlong chill


For more than a year, President Clinton hasn't been exactly chatty with the media, turning down individual interviews with one and all reporters since the name Monica Lewinsky hit the papers and the evening news.

The president broke his chilly silence late last week, and the reporter who was the beneficiary of the thaw is probably not the first name that would spring to mind.

Bypassing Wolf Blitzer, Barbara Walters and Mike Wallace, Clinton last week chatted in the White House with Steve Davis of channels 45 and 54.

Yes, that Steve Davis. And yes, he's just as surprised as you are by what he got.

"It wasn't until I got home and watched the piece on 'Fox Sports News' and heard them bill it as the first one-on-one he's done since the Lewinsky thing came up that I thought, 'Oh my God. This really is a big deal,' " Davis said.

A bit of explanation: Davis, the weekend sports anchor at 45/54, got a call last Thursday from "Fox Sports News" to go staff its coverage of the Detroit Red Wings' White House meeting with Clinton.

The Fox people were familiar with Davis' work from his sideline reporting on their Baltimore games, and asked him to help fill a gap in their coverage, made thin by the Super Bowl.

When he arrived, Davis, who has been in Baltimore for 4 1/2 years, figured he might try to get the president, who is a big sports fan (his mispronunciation of Red Wings center Steve Yzerman notwithstanding) to chat a little about the Super Bowl.

The White House press office wasn't as sold on the idea as Davis, perhaps fearing an ambush, where Davis might ask him questions about the Lewinsky saga.

"He [the press secretary] told me, 'He doesn't do one-on-ones.' I said, 'Look, I'm a sports guy. I'm not going to ask him other stuff," Davis said. "From my perspective, I'm apolitical. You can't let those things affect you. I just kept thinking that until I have some logical reason for why I can't do this, I'll just be persistent about it."

After some back and forth between Davis and the press secretary, the word came down that Davis would get the interview, under the condition that he stick to sports, that he ask no more than two questions and that it take no more than a minute.

The interview, which aired here Friday, a day after it did on "Fox Sports News," was about what you'd expect, given the limitations. Davis stuck to the script, asking Clinton where he'd be watching the Super Bowl. The president responded that he and the first lady would be taking in the game at Camp David and went on to make general comments about the Broncos and Falcons, giving no prediction.

And then it was over, with Davis breathing a big sigh of relief, for a couple of reasons. The first was that he was able to do the piece without having a mechanical breakdown or a flub.

The other was that the president didn't compliment Davis on his new tie or ask where it had come from. Davis would have had to have told Clinton that it came from his wife, whose name is, well, Monica.

"When I got home, my wife asked me, 'Did you tell him what a disaster he has made of my life and everybody else named Monica?' I said, 'No, honey, we didn't get around to that,' " Davis said.

Super slump

The ratings are in for Sunday's Super Bowl, and let's just say they aren't exactly what Fox had hoped for.

While an estimated 127 million viewers watched -- the sixth-largest audience for any television program in U.S. history -- the game telecast did a 40.2 Nielsen national rating, the second-lowest rating in the last 27 years, and drew a 61 share of the audience, which matched the lowest share of any Super Bowl. The rating was down 9 percent from last year's 44.5.

If you're looking for reasons, beyond the lackluster telecast, try the lackluster quality of the game. Viewer tune-out apparently began just after Chris Chandler's third-quarter interception, and continued through the fourth quarter.

Fox Sports president David Hill said last week he hoped the game would bring in a rating of somewhere in the 42-46 range, and it's not clear whether the network will have to provide "make-good" spots to advertisers who bought time at a higher promised rating.

The big payback?

The No. 7 Maryland men's basketball team gets a chance tomorrow night to repay an old score from last month, when No. 2 Duke thumped the Terps at Cole Field House. ESPN has the game at 9 p.m. and is trotting out the first broadcast team of Mike Patrick and Dick Vitale.

Pub Date: 2/02/99

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