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The Clinton Sex Scandal

Rare is a person that crosses the path of the White House without some emotion of envy or awe. This building epitomizes world leadership and unprecedented power. This renowned leadership may be the only association made by certain countries, while in the United States many see an other significance: Watergate, Whitewater, Kennedy’s brutal and mysterious assassination, and today, Clinton’s “zipper gate” scandal. When the President of the United States takes oath, he gives up a part of his life. His private life becomes the public’s life, and they feel the right to know what happens behind the Oval Office. Now the Presidency must battle against Newspaper journalists, radio personalities, televised news reports and now, evens more menacing the Internet. Presidents, who are constantly reminded of their power and prestigious rank, become upset because they cannot control the news media, even though they can to a large degree set the news agenda. Media has expanded in its presence, becoming widespread on the Internet, perhaps monopolizing the domain, by becoming more powerful and more used than written, televised or radio journalism. The Presidents’ inability to control the press exposes their vulnerability and tends to question the actual power they can actually exert. All presidents, at some time or another, became frustrated at what they perceived as unfair treatment by the press, even while acknowledging its vital function in a free society, and many presidents have been a part of a scandal.

The Clinton-Lewinsky story may have set off an unprecedented media blitz, but the American Presidency is no stranger to scandal. Throughout history, residents of the Oval Office have been known to participate in “improper relationships” with unsavory political associates or women who were certainly not their wives. If White House walls could talk, here are some of the tales they might tell: As early as between 1913-1921, the President, Woodrow Wilson, had a nickname” The Merry Widower”. He was the son of a straight-laced Calvinist minister; Sigmund Freud depicted Wilson as someone who identified himself with Jesus Christ. In fact, Wilson’s reputation as a devoted husband and father was squeaky clean until his wife’s death two years into his first presidential term. After a deep (but brief) period of mourning, Wilson began to enjoy the frequent company of Edith Bolling Galt, the widow of a prominent businessman. Public opinion swung wildly against Wilson: Rumors flew that the nation’s 28thpresident and his paramour had conspired to poison Wilson’s wife. Eventually the couple wed and public opinion swung again, this time wildly inferior of President Wilson’s new wife and marriage. When a stroke left Wilson partly paralyzed in 1919, Edith took over many of his routine duties as part of her self-described “stewardship” of the presidency. She died on Dec. 28, 1961,the 105th anniversary of Wilson’s birth.

More currently, there was the John F. Kennedy scandal, his presidency which extended from 1961-1963 was peppered with his reputation of being a womanizer. The list had many famous names like Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, Angie Dickinson, stripper Blaze Starr and Judith Campbell Exner, lover o freputed Mafia boss Sam Giancana. “They are only a few of the better-known paramours with whom JFK has been linked,” University of Virginia government professor Larry Sabato writes in his book “Feeding Frenzy,” “not to mention a healthy dose of anonymous airline stewardesses, secretaries and aides. By many credible accounts, John F. Kennedy was not King Arthur but Sir Lancelot in the Camelot of his presidency.

There were also other presidential scandals that weren’t sexually related, such as Richard Mulhouse Nixon, who was in office between 1969 and 1974. When five intruders were caught inside Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate hotel on June 17, 1972, American history changed forever. An investigation into the break-in revealed a web of political spying and sabotage and unraveled the Nixon presidency itself. The illegal activities and cover-up attempts resulted in the indictments of some 40 government officials and the resignation of the 37th president of the United States. In the 1980s, Nixon regained some stature in the field of international affairs. But the release in 1997 of more than 200 hours of tapes made in the Nixon White House threw yet another shadow over his complex presidential legacy. And today in 1998, we have a full-blown “modern scandal” of our own. But a fundamental change separates modern-day presidential scandals from those in the past: publicity.

Except for Cleveland’s paternity case and recent allegations against Bill Clinton, presidential love scandals have “always come out after the fact,” says James W. Davis, author of “The American Presidency.” “Tongue-wagging” was kept to a minimum in the pre-Watergate era, he says. “The press in those days honored the privacy of the White House. It was a different era.” American attitudes toward presidential scandal may have arrived at yet another level in the late 1990s. “Perhaps we’ve reached a point where Americans really do compartmentalize to separate the president’s public actions from his personal life”, says Larry Berman, a political science professor at the University of California, Davis. “Today the voters realize they have a human being in the White House who has the same shortcomings and foibles that we all have,” Davis adds. “It’s like Melrose Place all the time.” “The establishment of the office of independent counsel in 1978 also changed views of the presidency”, says Shirley Anne Warsaw, associate professor of political science at Gettysburg College and author of “The Domestic Presidency”. The Clinton-Lewinsky story “is all based on a series of leaks, “she notes. “Ever since Watergate, society has said ‘Let’s investigate our officials at a different level. The Clinton sex scandal supplies all the evidence. It is a story made in Web media heaven: Too complex for a 90-second TV report, too fast-breaking for print newspapers and too titillating for the public to ignore.

People flocked to the Internet in record numbers when the story broke. At Fox News Online, the Clinton scandal generated more traffic than the death of Princess Diana. At APOnline, the scandal outran the Super Bowl 3-to-1. At CNN Interactive, it contributed to a tenfold hike in traffic in one day. And the Washington Post’s Web site was hit so hard; it had to add extra servers. That is not to say the online news was always accurate. Plenty of people argue the coverage was reckless, at best. But everyone agrees that the Web drove the media frenzy. Because Web news organizations exploited their five advantages: 1. Speed. News delivered when it happens not when the paper is printed. And it doesn’t have to be videotaped, edited and aired just posted to a server.2. Space. Can’t squeeze in details? No problem, just link to another page.3. Cost. No costly newsprint. No delivery trucks or newsstands. No TV studios to operate. No satellites to rent.4. Interactivity. Newsgroups, chat rooms and other discussion forums offer an instant soapbox. And an audience 5. Open all night. It is never too late to break a story on the Internet. For example people can post their opinions on certain issues so others can read them and reply. Like this letter posted by a woman in response to an editorial article on the Internet concerning the Clinton scandal: “Your story regarding the rush to report on the Clinton scandal pushed me to do something I never thought I would do. That is respond to a web site. Yes I am sure the Internet showed its flying colors when it came to getting and reporting the story first. What story? I have a question for you. When did this nation start practicing Roman Greco Law (guilty until proven innocence)? I thought we practiced Common Law, but I guess in our tabloid mentality any thing goes. I say shame on every type of news media that is available in this country. Will the truth once it is known even if it is not as spectacular, be splashed all over every media vehicle available? I’m sorry but I doubt it. Do any of us other than the President and Ms. Lewinsky know what the truth is? Is it any of our business? Just asking. You have a wonderful valuable service; I visit your site at least once if not more each day. Please don’t waste my value time by selling the merit of this media via some scandal. This media can rest quite comfortable on its own value. Thank you. But before Web news can become world-class, it must overcome certain deficiencies: 1. Visuals. Television will win this one, hands-down, until streaming technology improves.2. Access. Online access must pass critical mass.3. Credibility.

Since the alleged President Clinton/Monica Lewinsky alliance first hit the news, the public has been treated to scandal coverage of the first order. The power of 24 hour news networks, the print media, and the Internet have been at the public’s service to help them wade through the sordid morass of the Clinton sex files. From the beginning of the coverage, there has been a perception that this was the media’s big break with Clinton. Heavily criticized by many on the Right for not pursuing the Clinton Administration enough during earlier scandals, the media now seemed to lay into Clinton. Though differing explanations emerged, the prominent one was that the President’s slick maneuvering through previous scandals had irritated the press. Now, with allegations of actual presidential dishonesty, as well as revelations of previous dishonesty to the press regarding the Jennifer Flowers affair and marijuana usage, the press was notgoing to give the President a free ride. The accusations of lying to the media and the American people seem like apretty plausible claims. Clinton (and for that matter, Vice President Gore) is sneaky, and likes to play the “literal truth” game. Especially in his explanation of his statements in the infamous 1992 60 Minutes interview. At that time, he said allegations of an eleven year affair with Jennifer Flowers were false, but conceded that he had previously “caused pain to his marriage. “In his deposition in the Paula Jones trial, he admitted to the affair. It doesn’t take a philosophy class in logic to sense that the two statements are in consistent. Clinton’s explanation shows his adeptness with literal truth. Apparently, the reason he denied an eleven year affair with Flowers was that the affair wasn’t eleven years old. Now, it would seem to you or me that this avoids the substantive issue of the question; generally, a question regarding the existence of an eleven year affair is dealing with the existence of the affair, not the time span. Clinton stays literally truthful, but avoids the real question … such is the “literal truth” game. Clinton is surely not the first to do this; while you or I may not do it on avery consistent basis, I’ll bet another or we all have at one time. I am sure that we have all been caught at one time or another and when you get caught at that sort of thing, your victim’s assessment is that you are dishonest. Given this, we can see why the press might be annoyed with Clinton, for this “literal truth” game has been played consistently from the Press Briefing Room for six years.

From Flowers to Whitewater, “Zippergate” to the campaign contribution scandal, the press has been, at worst, told the literal truth only; at best, they have been used. So, the relentless media push on this current Clinton scandal is understandable. Yet if they believed that hard investigative reporting of White House shenanigans would hurt President Clinton this time, they were clearly wrong. No matter how many hours long investigating the President specials CNN runs, it seems that the Lewinsky affair is the “Little Scandal that couldn t. “Yet the press, for all its high-minded condemnations of Clintonian morality, certainly cannot look to anyone but itself for the public’s current lack of concern since their focus has in some ways created the problem. The implications of the Lewinsky affair for Clinton have boiled down to two separate issues. The moral issue of Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky is quite different from potential presidential obstruction of justice and subordination of perjury. Now, the moral / sexual issue is by far the most appealing, ratings wise. Surely, more people are interested in the sordid details of what went on between Clinton and Lewinsky during the throes of passion than what may have transpired in their later conversations. Thus one can understand why media coverage of the Lewinsky affair begins, proceeds, and ends almost totally over questions over the sexual allegations.

The problem is that the issues with teeth are those of subordination of perjury and obstruction of justice. They are the ones that people actually seem to care about; polls suggest that the public does not care about the sexual charges. If Clinton lied, the public says, then he should go, if it is just an affair, then so what? The result has been a press focus that is distinctly not persuasive to the American people. Market forces demand sex, the public hears of the sex, the public doesn t care about the sex, so Clinton isn’t seriously hurt by the sex. While people are aware of the potentially more serious charges, these issues have not received the serious focus they deserve. The distinction is crucial, since it appears more and more likely that the sexual allegations are true and provable, while the perjury and obstruction charges could well elude investigators. Clinton supporters in all this have several key facts they will need to explain away if they are to put together a coherent story in which Lewinsky and Clinton had no sexual relations. Why so long before a clear presidential denial of such relations? What explains the hours of tape of Lewinsky talking to Linda Tripp? Perhaps most crucial, what explains the 37 visits by Lewinsky to the White House, after she was transferred to the Pentagon by a White House manager concerned about Lewinsky’s zealous attempts to get close to the President? The attempts so far to exonerate the President of these sexual allegations all bear trademark similarities. There are the ad homonym attacks on Kenneth Starr and Linda Tripp. There are the appeals to the wonderful merits of the Clinton presidency (yes, it is apparently more than simply staying out the way of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan).

There are the mysterious rumors of the “rightwing conspiracy” out to get the President. What do all these have in common? While interesting questions, they are clearly not particularly relevant to the fundamental questions of what Clinton did. The fact that the President’s defenders do more attacking of Clinton’s accusers than disproving their allegations is quite telling. But for all the press coverage the sexual charges have received, it will be helpful for Starr only so far as it provides links to the other allegations of wrongdoing. There is a real risk here that the questions involved in these matters will reduce to legal discussions to which people will not listen, or (worse) to which people will not care.

Up to now, the Right has wisely stayed quiet, letting Clinton simmer in the face of criticism from his own party. Their role in the coming weeks should not be to directly attack Clinton, but to monitor the developing situation and make sure the press remains vigilant in its quest for answers. All signs indicate that the public cares more about the perjury and obstruction charges; they may watch the news for the titillation, but the titillation is not so relevant when they decide their opinion as to Clinton’s fate. The Right should do all it can to make sure relevant information is available to the public. MR Shows like “Access Hollywood” and “Extra” base their shows on celebrities’ lives. But now the focus is on Bill Clinton and his sex scandal trial. Instead of thinking about getting high ratings, they should consider the influence they have on the American people and the potential damage that could cause. Much of the United States is uneducated and believes that the word of the media is the absolute truth, and they form their opinions and actions on what the media preaches. You cannot even turn on the TV without seeing the same images of Monica Lewinski, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers and other key players in the presidential scandal. The media failed to turn up any new evidence and spent weeks broadcasting special reports that were nothing more than speculations. The famous image of Bill Clinton embracing Monica Lewinski was all too much a subliminal message telling the American people that it is all right to disrespect and dislike the leader of their country. Despite these allegations that are certainly should not be condoned, Bill Clinton was elected twice to run the most powerful country of the World and will continue to do so no matter what.


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