The Distinguished Gentleman

Whatever happened to President Clinton’s “distinguishing characteristics”? In a public legal filing in 1994, Paula Jones claimed familiarity with “distinguishing characteristics” of the president’s genitals, putatively proving he’d dropped his trousers in front of her. At the time, public discussion of presidential sex organs was a novelty. Now it is routine. But for all we have learned about Clinton in the past month, the “distinguishing characteristics” remain a mystery.

The judge in the Jones case barred her, until the trial, from elaborating on what exactly distinguished the president’s genitals from others in her experience. But the Jones’ case never reached trial. The president’s lawyer had this to say: “[I]n terms of size, shape, direction, whatever the devious mind wants to concoct, the president is a normal man… There are no blemishes, there are no moles, there are no growths.” The Washington Post says Clinton has a doctor’s report that contradicts Jones’s account. The judge has agreed to release documents–the affidavit for sure, probably not the doctor’s testimony–but only after appeals are resolved.

But wait! Couldn’t Monica Lewinsky have some expertise in this issue of state? Of course she could, it’s just that she’d rather not talk about it.  During one of her many Q&A sessions with prosecutors preceeding her grand jury appearances, Lewinsky said she didn’t care to describe the president’s sex organs. She did, however, care to register disagreement with Paula Jones’s description. Since Jones’s vague description boils down to “not-normal,” Lewinsky’s is probably “normal” or at least “close to normal.”

Ken Starr might have forced Lewinsky to elaborate and clarify. He had the legal right but, in a rare exercise of restraint, didn’t press the issue either in the Q&A sessions or before the grand jury. Nor did Starr ask Clinton. Starr didn’t need evidence that Lewinsky and Clinton had an “inappropriate relationship” since the semen-stained dress pretty much answers the question.

One final tidbit: Recently released documents reveal that Jones’s previous lawyers–the two from D.C.–urged her to settle in part because a public trial would mean describing the “distinguishing characteristics,” robbing her of the chance to peddle her story for a fat book contract.

Next question?

Explainer thanks colleague David Plotz for noticing an error in the “first edition” (6pm on 10/6). The “second edition” (11am on 10/7) shown above includes the fact that Lewinsky disputes Jones’s diagnosis.