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Western Press Review: 'This (Clinton) Story Is Different. . . '

  • Don Hill

Prague, 23 January 1998(RFE/RL) -- In the words of a headline writer in today's editions of the British newspaper Financial Times, the "U.S. media (are) in a frenzy" today over charges that surfaced yesterday of new sexual indiscretions by President Bill Clinton. Clinton has faced -- and survived -- other charges of inappropriate conduct with women. But, as Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. put it: "From the moment the new allegations against President Clinton broke, it was clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that this story was different from all the others."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The U.S. Parks Police succeeded in giving the impression of a president truly under siege

The Financial Times article, a news analysis from Washington by Nicholas Timmins and Patti Waldmeir, says: "The demure headline 'Clinton Accused of Urging Aide to Lie' caused pandemonium. The television networks' anchors, exiled almost to a man and woman in Cuba were flown back to Washington or linked by satellite to the capital." The writers say: "Outside the White House, where Mr Clinton mixed meetings with Yassir Arafat with anguished discussion with his lawyers, mounted blue-helmeted officers from the U.S. Parks Police ringed the northern side -- there to protect the Palestinian leader but succeeding only in giving the impression of a president truly under siege."

FINANCIAL TIMES: These are serious charges, involving potentially criminal actions

In an editorial today, The Financial Times says that the issue no longer is whether the president dallied, but now concerns whether he committed a felony, a serious crime. The newspaper says: "There are three points to make about the drama now playing out around the White House. The first is that the allegations about President Clinton's behavior are very serious indeed: different in kind from the other affairs in which he has been embroiled before and after he first moved into the Oval Office. The second is that it is too soon to reach any kind of judgment about the eventual outcome. And the third is that so long as the issue remains unresolved, the US presidency will be operating under a dark cloud.

"The matter in question is not primarily the president's private behavior. It is about whether he or one of his associates sought to obstruct the course of justice by urging a young woman, Ms Monica Lewinsky, to lie about their relationship in a sworn affidavit, and whether he himself told the truth about it in a sworn testimony. These are serious charges, involving potentially criminal actions."

TIMES: The allegations center on criminality

The Times of London takes a similar tack in its lead editorial today. It says: "This potential drama is different from and much more dangerous than the President's past misadventures. These allegations concern the actions of Mr Clinton as President rather than the governor of Arkansas -- a state with a salacious reputation. They centre on criminality: personal perjury, the soliciting of perjury and the obstruction of justice. If true, they would warrant an indictment, a trial, and certain resignation. Unless the version of events originally outlined by Monica Lewinsky, on tapes presently in the possession of Mr Starr, can be completely refuted then Mr Clinton is about to live through the mother of all scandals. To turn Gerald Ford's first speech after succeeding Richard Nixon on its head: a long national nightmare may be about to begin."

NEW YORK TIMES: A complete, factual account by the president is the best answer for a nation

The New York Times headlined an editorial today, "Tell the Full Story, Mr President." The editorial said: "The term 'carefully worded' has appeared in almost every description of President Clinton's denials of sexual involvement with Monica Lewinsky. Other words that could be as easily applied are cryptic, partial and insufficient. Those terms also apply to Vernon Jordan's compact statement that had, in addition, the unwholesome feel of an attempt to portray the president's secretary, Betty Currie, as a central player in the attempt to find a job and a lawyer for Lewinsky."

The editorial concluded: "A complete, factual account by a president who is interested in telling his story is the best answer for a nation that has not prejudged the facts but is understandably troubled and mystified by them."

NEW YORK TIMES: If her story be true, the only decent course would be a resignation

New York Times columnist Russell Baker calls the allegations "so bizarre that it's tempting to say, 'Nobody can be that dumb.' " He says: "It is entirely possible, of course, that Clinton is the victim of a young woman's romantic fantasies about passionate doings with her boss. This is likely to be the White House defense. It promises a nightmare future for Monica Lewinsky." Baker writes: "As for the president, if her story be true, the only decent course would be a resignation, explaining that he is intellectually inadequate for the job."

The columnist suggests that diehard members of the Republican Party (Clinton is a Democrat) have been seeking revenge for what happened to President Richard Nixon, who was forced out of office by a different kind of malfeasance. Baker writes: "They have stalked Clinton ever since, and, if Lewinsky's story is right, they may have nailed him at last. If so, he should go quietly and let the country put a mean and squalid age behind us."

WASHINGTON POST: Almost everyone is angry at the president

In his Washington Post column, after noting that this Clinton scandal carries greater hazards than those of the past, E. J. Dionne writes: "Most striking were not the responses of the (political professionals), the think tankers and the power brokers. The reactions that really counted were those of ordinary Clinton backers, citizens who hold no official position and have nothing to lose or gain." He writes: "The ecstasy of the Clinton haters over the news was more than matched by a fear of betrayal and letdown among the (ordinary) Clintonites."

Dionne writes: "Some, of course, hold out hope that it is all a lie or a misunderstanding. Many are furious at independent counsel Kenneth Starr for being prepared to pick up any available rock to throw at the president. But in my unscientific survey, almost all of them are angry at the president. At some level, most accept that something happened between Clinton and this young woman -- even though most thought Clinton too smart to give anyone direct encouragement to commit perjury."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The legal issues are far more threatening

Richard A. Serrano and Richard T. Cooper state the paramount issue in straight language in a news analysis today in the Los Angeles Times. "The Lewinsky matter," they write, "is considered the most serious threat in Clinton's trouble-strewn career because, unlike previous episodes, it goes beyond questions of sexual morality to include the possibility of clear-cut criminal charges."

They write: "Some political analysts said proof -- if it should emerge -- that Cllinton became intimate with a then-22-year-old White House intern could itself push public tolerance of an admittedly flawed president to the breaking point. But the legal issues are far more threatening. It is the fact that both Clinton and Lewinsky already have made sworn statements denying they had an intimate relationship that sets this episode apart from its predecessors. Clinton faces the possibility of criminal charges of perjury and obstruction of justice if it should develop he has lied under oath about the matter."