Now that the feeding frenzy is in full swing, it seems to me that it’s really important to separate out the issues.
The first is about obstruction of justice. I don’t see any evidence on the table–or about to get there–that would put the president in danger of being convicted of obstruction of justice or any other high crime or misdemeanor–it’s just not there. If Ken Starr hits the jackpot, he’ll have a compromised witness with a history of inconsistent statements and a motive to lie saying that the president and Vernon Jordan told her to lie and that she in turn repeated it to her friend, while at the same time swearing to the opposite in an affidavit and telling other people that what she now says is true was a lie, or vice versa. She told Vernon Jordan one thing and Linda Tripp another. Lewinsky will, if Starr is lucky, be testifying under immunity, which compromises credibility. There will be people coming out of the woodwork to say she was in over her head, exaggerated, had lied any number of times in the past, was unreliable in her accounts, given to bragging, and certainly unsophisticated in understanding the difference between sound legal advice (keep your mouth shut, don’t give anything away, talk to a lawyer before talking, etc.) and an instruction to obstruct justice. The fact that she called the president a creep and seemed to want more from the “relationship” than he did further damages her credibility. For his part, Vernon Jordan is certainly not going to turn on the president. He didn’t have to have a news conference yesterday. He certainly didn’t have to come out and say that Lewinsky told him she hadn’t had a sexual relationship with the president. The contradicted and compromised word of Monica Lewinsky is not enough to make criminal charges stick, something Starr has to know, even if he subpoenas everything in sight.
I did the Charlie Rose Show last night with Jim Fallows and Evan Thomas, who are as on top of this story as anyone. Both acknowledged that there was no evidence of obstruction. Short of a handwritten note from the president telling Monica to make sure she lied under oath, Starr doesn’t have a case, criminally speaking.
So what is Starr doing? Is he investigating obstruction of justice or the president’s sex life? What difference does it make to the obstruction claim whether the president bought Monica a dress or how many packages she sent him or when she signed in to see him?
It seems to me to be at least a legitimate matter of debate whether the press corps should be in the business of reporting the private sex lives of public officials. But is there any debate that a special prosecutor should not be a sexual persecutor?
You say you know of dozens of women who reporters say claim that they had affairs with Bill Clinton. News? NBC, I understand, has gone with Sheila Lawrence, and the question–did I go to this movie in 1984 and 1988 with Gary Hart?–is what we should know, what we should be told, etc. Evan Thomas, Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief, said last night that they have known about the president’s alleged relationship with Monica Lewinsky for a year and sat on it because they didn’t think it was newsworthy until Ken Starr (the arbiter of objective newsworthiness? Not!) decided to investigate.
Should the public know about every political leader having an affair with a woman not his wife? Shall we start the list? We both know it will cross almost every line; there are plenty of senators who’ve been screwing around for years, along with members of the House, White House aides, etc. In Washington, where all everyone does is work, relationships with people you work with are about the only relationships anyone has. How about Jim Baker and Margaret Tutwiler? Why didn’t Dale Bumpers run for president? Gary Hart was screwing around in 1984 and no one wrote about it. (I once sat in a bar until 3 in the morning with a table full of reporters, waiting for my girlfriend to come down from the suite. She didn’t. I went home. No one wrote about it. Should they have? I didn’t think so. But it was a helluvan ending to a night that began with the “women’s issues debate.” Paul Tully called me the next morning to find out how the candidates had done. Hold the line, I said, as I went to see if the bed was empty in my guest room. It was. Hart did really well, I told him. It would never have occurred to either of us to use it.)
Ditto for the leaders of corporate America and every other group of powerful men–sorry, I’m usually the last to make a gender generalization, but in my experience (when I was single) there is a gender line. Most powerful men screw around. Rock stars do it. Politicians do it. Even big-shot journalists do it. How about all those covering Clinton? Shall we start looking at them? Do you want to know more? Does it matter?
I think that presidents, senators, and fancy reporters who have affairs with interns in their offices are exercising exceedingly bad judgment; I’m no prude, but I think people–particularly in work environments–should stay away from those who work for them, and the bigger the distance in the line of authority, the farther away they should stay. But I have a number of colleagues who are married to their former students. Sometimes these things end well; sometimes awfully. Moreover, the fact that one person has power over another doesn’t always mean that the power relationship holds in the sexual relationship; I have seen students wrap professors around their little fingers, and vice versa. I have not read about it in the student newspaper. I met my husband when we were working together, and just to make sure he didn’t get away, I took a job (working for him) on the Mondale plane rather than running the Ferraro plane. Then I made sure we had seats next to each other. What a coincidence, said he. Three months with me in the next seat. We’ve been married 11 years.
Most office affairs don’t turn out so well. In my experience, more women sleep their way to the bottom than to the top, a list Monica Lewinsky may be about to join, if you believe her. But there’s no law against it.
So what are we doing? There sits Yasser Arafat with the president as he answers questions about his relationship, or lack thereof, with Lewinsky. Which is more important? Have we lost our minds?
Tell me: Who’s the victim in this one?
Months ago, when I was talking to my editor about the book tour I’m on now for my diet book, I joked about how, if a sex scandal came up in the middle of it, I’d be on every television show in sight. Beware what you wish for is what I say now.
P.S. How about the speaker? I’ve heard he’s a player. Is it true about him and Arianna? Does America have a right to know? How many gay Republicans are in the House? Who says uncle?