International Papers

A Plump Sheep

What the Italian papers call “sexygate” or “sexgate” was back on most of the world’s front pages Thursday, offering a promising lifeline for newspapers during the dog days of August. Most papers seemed to think President Clinton would get away with it, though at some personal cost. “Clinton has changed American customs for ever,” said Corriere della Sera of Milan. “He has won the right to privacy for his successors. But the price he has paid has been a spider’s web of half-truths and half-silence which is wearing him away.” La Repubblica of Rome said, “American public opinion has already forgiven Bill for a sin he won’t admit to having committed.”

In Paris, Le Monde said that if Clinton tried “to fend off the questioning with dodges similar to the one about fellatio and penetration, he will founder in ridicule. If he admits to having lied, he will be found guilty of perjury.” But it was still unlikely that Congress would find enough evidence to bring a charge of impeachment to trial, it said. Die Welt of Germany said it was now Monica’s word against Bill’s, and the paper doubted that Kenneth Starr could make his case against the president stick.

In Britain, the liberal Guardian said Clinton should not be toppled by the affair. The president would be wrong to commit perjury about his relations with Lewinsky, “but not perhaps so incredibly and shockingly wrong.” It said there was also some irony “in expecting a president to be absolutely truthful on personal matters when he heads a government which often varnishes the truth–or worse–on matters of much graver importance.” The paper concluded, “This summer now seems likely to be remembered for the climax of the Lewinsky saga, but it is not so earth-shaking that it should bring the President down.” In an op-ed article in the Times of London, Anatole Kaletsky said, “Lewinsky’s decision to testify before Kenneth Starr’s grand jury was the best possible news for the White House before November’s congressional elections. … In a straight contest between the word of the President and the testimony of a self-confessed fantasist like Monica Lewinsky it is inconceivable that any American court, or even a Republican Congress, would unseat a hugely popular President.” And “in the extremely unlikely event of a move to impeach Mr. Clinton, the same Washington commentators now goading the White House would suddenly turn on the Congress, accusing the Republicans of trying to reverse the will of the people by abusing the legal system,” Kaletsky added.

Under the headline “Clinton Presidency Holed by Starr,” the conservative British tabloid Daily Mail said in its main editorial Thursday that “even if the Clinton presidency is able to run its course, it already resembles a drifting hulk, gutted by the tawdry activities of its skipper, bereft of the moral authority and energising spirit that should emanate from his great office.” In an op-ed piece in the conservative Daily Telegraph, the president’s chief British accuser, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, a former Washington correspondent, turned his fire on Starr, calling him “a trimming, limp-wristed procrastinator with the zeal of a plump sheep who works part-time on the job, craves approval and bears the imprint of the last person who sat on him.” Evans-Pritchard concluded that Clinton might survive–“He may skate yet, as they say in Arkansas.”

In the Age of Melbourne, the city where Rupert Murdoch grew up, an article analyzing the Murdoch divorce said it was “very unlikely that this divorce will ever go to court.” Anna Murdoch’s demand for full disclosure of his business interests was “a ruse to wring a settlement out of the man–known for his personal parsimony–by hitting him where it hurts most.” The Murdochs were a family where business came first, the article said, and that meant two things: “First, that the price for Murdoch of seeing that business survive in something like its current shape will be one of the most expensive divorce settlements ever recorded. And second, that the settlement will be reached out of court.”