‘Be Real’: How the White House Tried to Soften Hillary’s Image

PHOTO: Barbara Walters, right, is pictured with Hillary Clinton, left, while filming a 1996 broadcast.

Then-first lady Hillary Clinton’s advisers were keenly focused on humanizing her image -- even trying to get her to appear on a popular 1990s sitcom -- as a way to make her involvement in policy seem "less extreme," according to documents released today.

In previously secret memos dating back to the 1990s, Clinton aides even pushed a cameo on ABC's then-hit TV show "Home Improvement" and suggested that Bill and Hillary do a Barbara Walters interview around their 20th anniversary to further soften her image.

When facing reporters, the first lady was also advised not to appear "defensive" and to be ready for hardball questions such as "have you ever used drugs?"

The Clinton White House also toyed with having the first lady use the then-blossoming Internet to get her message out to young women.

1) "Home Improvement" star?

In a 1995 memo, Hillary Clinton's top communications aide Lisa Caputo proposed the "wild idea" of Clinton making a cameo on "Home Improvement," starring Tim Allen.

But she addressed the worry that the appearance could "diminish the role of the first lady" -- concerns that were outweighed by the positive impact on Hillary Clinton’s "image," according to the memo.

"I know this may sound like a wild idea, but I think it is an interesting one to discuss. ... 'Home Improvement' would very much like to have Hillary make a guest appearance on its show. 'Home Improvement' is the most popular television show on the air. They are willing to do a show on women, children and family issues or a show on whatever issues Hillary would like," according to the memo.

"The outreach would be enormous and it would present Hillary in a very likeable light I believe. Although I have some concerns that it diminishes the role of First Lady by going on a TV sitcom it is probably worth weighing it against what we believe we might be able to gain by such an appearance politically and image-wise. You probably know that Rick is 100 percent in favor of Hillary pursuing this project."

2) Hillary’s "aversion" to the national press

In a 1995 memo leading up to Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election bid, Caputo sent correspondence outlining media possibilities on the horizon, but was also clear to note Hillary Clinton’s dislike for the national media.

"It is clear to me that Hillary is most comfortable doing press that is built around a specific purpose," Caputo wrote. "Hillary is comfortable with local reporters and enjoys speaking with them. This will help us get around her aversion to the national Washington media and serve to counter the tone of the national media."

3) Harnessing "Internet"

Caputo noted in 1995 that the "Internet has become a very popular mode of communication" and suggested "Hillary could speak to young women through [the] Internet."

"I think Hillary would have fun with this, and I believe it would: not be too difficult to organize," Caputo wrote in a media strategy memo. "We could invite women's media (i.e. the women's magazines) in to watch her do such an event. It would make for a nice story in a women's magazine."

"People magazine is tinkering with the possibility of using Internet. They have been in touch with me about the prospect of having Hillary communicate with parents across the country about children and families through Internet. They would then run the transcript in the magazine. This could be a really nice idea. They are still in the research stage and I am waiting to hear back from them."

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