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CNN's Bill Press at Shepherdstown

February 28, 2002|By DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Bill Press, the now ex-host of CNN's lively "Crossfire" who makes his living trying to sort out the truth in the babble of politicians, found himself at the center of the spin cycle Wednesday.

Within the last 24 hours, the liberal talk show host learned he had lost his job on the spirited and sometimes rough-and-tumble news show, in which he and conservative commentator Robert Novak debate issues.

Press has watched plenty of politicians and other official types lose their jobs and try to put the best face on it.

How would he handle it?

"I can say I want to spend more time with my family," said Press, an often-used phrase he enjoyed poking fun at.

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Or that the move was CNN's gradual move to the right, said Press.

In the end, he decided to play it straight, saying he had been fired as co-host of the show after a six-year stint.

Press said he will be replaced on "Crossfire" by former Clinton advisors James Carville and Paul Begala. Responding to a question from a reporter, Press said the move was probably an attempt to boost ratings. Press said he will continue to appear on other CNNshows.

It didn't seem to be weighing heavily on his mind.

He told a crowd at the Shepherdstown Men's Club about the news after an energetic and humorous speech about what he's learned about politicians, religious leaders and others through the years.

His world centers on what he refers to as "spin," the effort by elected officials to offer the best explanation for what is usually an unfortunate situation.

According to Press, spin is somewhere between the "absolute truth and an outright lie."

Press said President Clinton should be given the lifetime achievement award for spin for his now famous comment: "I did not have sex with that woman."

"He was so good at it. So personable. So folksy," said Press, who was speaking at The Picket's Distinguished Journalist Lecture. The Picket is Shepherd College's student newspaper.

Press flipped through pages of his new book "Spin This!," reading his favorite collection of spins, including one from Terra Haute, Ind., Mayor Judy Anderson.

Press read comments that Anderson made as the town was preparing for the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

"Her spin: that the people of Terra Haute are really very friendly, unlike your typical executioner, and that the federal prison is really a wonderful institution that employs a lot of local people."

When you get down to it, spin is a way of life, said Press.

"It's not evil. It helps us get through some difficult situations," he said.

Other pearls from Press:

- He calls Novak the "prince of darkness." Press said people ask him how he can sit across from the Novak. "It's easy. Ted Turner pays me a lot of money."

- Press said he was amused when he crossed the bridge into Shepherdstown and saw the "Welcome to Wild, Wonderful West Virginia" slogan on a sign. "I never thought of (U.S. Sen.) Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) as wild and wonderful."

- Spin is everywhere, said Press. In trials, lawyers for the defense and the prosecution put the best spin on their cases in an attempt to influence the jury. "You could rename the courtroom the spin-room."

- Even Press falls for spin sometimes. After watching commercials about the benefits of taking an herbal supplement, Press decided to give it a try. He stopped after his niece, who is a pharmacist, said it probably wasn't doing a thing for him.

"I'm in the spin business, and I'm still a sucker for the spin," said Press.

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