Today's Papers

Monica Depression

Sure,thePope’sinCubaIraqistill jerkingtheU.N.around44Copscaughtin OhiostingPMSisn’tmental andthemicrowavedrierisdead. But get serious. There’s only one story today. And it has legs. And pants. And a zipper.

Kenneth Starr has finally found a way to make Arkansas real estate sexy. In what USA Today calls a “rapidly escalating inquiry” into allegations that President Clinton had an affair with a White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, and told her to lie about it to authorities, Starr yesterday subpoenaed White House documents, including, says USAT, logs on Lewinsky’s comings and goings. The dailies all report that Clinton emphatically denies the allegations. The Los Angeles Times goes further, saying the president is “infuriated” by them.

The story was first broken by late editions of yesterday’s Washington Post and LAT. (“Today’s Papers” was castigated by numerous readers for having poor news judgment, or worse, a pro-Clinton desire to suppress news. The truth is much simpler: the story was held out of the early editions of the papers this column is written from.) Today, the Post slops the most at the trough, with nine different Monica missives.

What gives the tale what the Post calls a “Watergate-like intensity” is the news that Starr purportedly has at least 20 hours of tape recordings of Lewinsky telling a fellow federal worker, Linda Tripp, about her alleged affair and about Clinton’s and Vernon Jordan’s cover-up instructions. (Lewinsky signed an affidavit on January 7 in which she denied any sexual relationship with Clinton.) Tripp made most of the secretly recorded tapes on her own. But the last one in the collection was made with the assistance of the FBI, which set up a monitored rendezvous between the two women a little over a week ago at, says the WP, an Arlington, Virginia hotel bar. Starr used these tapes to get Janet Reno and the federal judges who manage Starr’s activities to broaden his net to its current gaping dimensions. (And further investigation is required: As USAT points out, any of Lewinsky’s statements on tape about what was said to her are hearsay and probably inadmissible.)

The WP and New York Times say Clinton denied a sex relationship with Lewinsky in his Paula Jones case deposition last weekend. But the Post says he did testify that he’d given Lewinsky personal gifts. (The paper also oh-by-the-ways that Clinton acknowledged under oath for the first time that he did indeed have an affair with Gennifer Flowers.)

The WP relies heavily in its reporting on a source it says has heard the tapes. It quotes that source as saying the recordings include “graphic descriptions of sexual encounters.” The NYT says that the tapes also contain “tearful passages.” The paper reports that Tripp also told Starr’s people about telephone answering machine messages containing a voice sounding like Clinton’s. The NYT elaborates: the messages were played by Ms. Lewinsky to Ms. Tripp, who surreptitiously taped them. The Times also reports that a New York literary agent, a friend of Tripp’s, has possession of two of the tapes, which the agent describes as “shocking beyond belief.”

Not surprisingly, given its historical squeamishness and the fact that it was scooped, the NYT holds back a bit. But surprisingly, William Safire writes that he can’t believe the charges, and hopes we can get past them quickly to the country’s real business: making peace in the Middle East, kicking Saddam’s ass and…pillorying Bill Clinton in connection with all the other scandals. (Re Saddam: note that the Clinton administration is now confronted with a serious “Wag the Dog” problem: any strong action taken against Saddam may be construed in the media as a manufactured diversion.)

This scandal makes blatant the degree to which the mainstream media holds a Drudge Grudge. None of the stories in the papers today credit him for anything, even though the Drudge Report last weekend reported Lewinsky’s name and that her allegations were on tapes in Starr’s possession. In light of that alone, it’s absurd that Mike McCurry won’t even address questions that mention Drudge. After all, he still takes questions from Time–you know, the guys who explained how Richard Jewell bombed the Olympics.

Maybe Starr’s expansion of his inquiry is legally hunky-dory. But think about it: why should you have to tell the truth about anything a prosecutor can think to ask you about? Suppose Starr decides Bill Clinton’s video rental records might be relevant–should the president have to say whether he’s watched X-rated videos in the White House? Should the video delivery guy have to go to jail if he doesn’t want to answer that one? It’s a little odd to realize that in this 25th anniversary year of Roe v. Wade the only sex organ that has the constitutional right to privacy is the uterus.