Sen. Jesse Helms - silent since his remark that President Clinton would need a bodyguard if he visited a North Carolina military base - gave reporters a tongue-lashing Tuesday.
"It was never a threat and everybody knew that," he told the dozens of reporters and photographers buzzing around him in a small lobby as he left the annual meeting of the state Farm Bureau."Mr. Clinton better watch out if he comes down here," Helms said in a Nov. 21 interview with The News & Observer of Raleigh. "He'd better have a bodyguard."
Swamped with criticism, Helms later issued a statement calling it a mistake, and fellow Republican Sen. Bob Dole said Helms had been joking.
Tuesay, Helms accused reporters of falling down on the job. "You were suckers for the Raleigh News and Observer," he said. "The News and Observer took the word `jokingly' out of their report."
Helms, who worked as a commentator before moving into government service, offered reporters some advice. "You need to play a large role in cleaning up your act. The people don't trust you," he said.
He hit the same note in his speech to the farm bureau: "The liberal news media is guilty of intellectual dishonesty," Helms said. "These liberal elitists shot themselves in the foot. The American people don't trust the media. You ought to know. You see what they do to tobacco every day."