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Western Press Review: Clinton Granted Breathing Room

  • Don Hill

Prague, 2 April 1998 (RFE/RL) -- There's commentary and analysis in virtually every U.S. newspaper today about the decision by a U.S. federal judge to throw out sexual harassment charges against President Bill Clinton. In the earliest of the sex-scandal cases against the president, the judge ruled that the allegations, even if proven, didn't amount to actionable behavior under the law. The ruling came too late in the day for most of the Western European press to comment.

WASHINGTON POST: Ruling shocked both sides

In The Washington Post, Peter Baker analyzes the decision this way: "A federal judge threw out Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton (yesterday), abruptly calling off an often unseemly four-year legal struggle that opened the President's private life to unprecedented public scrutiny and led to an ongoing independent counsel investigation. In a ruling that shocked both sides, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright rejected all of Jones' claims stemming from her 1991 encounter with Clinton in a hotel suite." Baker writes: "But the jubilation was tempered by recognition of the damage already wrought and the fact that the case is not completely over. Jones' lawyers immediately signaled that they will appeal the dismissal, meaning months of additional legal maneuvering."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: And now there is one

Most commentators and analysts turned immediately to the likely effect of the decision on the whole climate of scandalous charges against Clinton. The Los Angeles Times' David Willman begins, "And now there is one." He writes: "A federal judge's dismissal of the Paula Corbin Jones sexual harassment lawsuit focuses the spotlight exclusively on the outcome of Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation of President Clinton's dealings with two former White House aides. Legal experts said (yesterday) that the dismissal of the Jones lawsuit strengthens the White House's public-relations footing, as aides to the president escalate attacks on the scope and pace of Starr's inquiry. But the fallout is not expected to deter Starr from presenting to Congress allegations of presidential wrongdoing."

NEW YORK TIMES: High premium on due process

In an editorial, The New York Times urges that both the defenders and persecutors of Clinton now pay refreshed attention to the rule of law. It writes: "In the Paula Jones case, as in Whitewater and all lawsuits and investigations involving President Clinton's legal troubles, this page has argued for full, fair operation of the legal process. We are satisfied that the proper procedures were followed by Judge Susan Webber Wright in granting summary judgment for President Clinton." The editorial concludes: "All this means that there continues to be a high premium on the operation of due process. Starr has a right and obligation to bring his work on the criminal side to as clear a resolution as that delivered in Little Rock (yesterday) in the civil case. The Republicans are right to demand that Clinton call off the White House campaign of vilification against Starr. Clinton should also drop the expansive claims of executive privilege that are designed to shield his aides from testifying fully. That can only prolong a return to undistracted governance in Washington...As Clinton takes this big step in clearing his legal troubles, we wonder what he might make of the larger opportunity that may be opening before him. That means adopting standards of behavior, leadership and association that are not merely legal, but also worthy of emulation."

Analyst John M. Broder writes in The New York Times that the decision changes the whole U.S. political environment. He says: "While the relentless machinery of investigation may grind on for many months, it is now politically inconceivable that Congress will consider impeachment -- for President Clinton's alleged lies and obstruction in a case that no longer exists.' He says: "The political dynamic of the capital's culture of scandal fundamentally changed (yesterday) afternoon with the dismissal of Mrs. Jones' case by U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright in Little Rock, Arkansas. Ralph Waldo Emerson anticipated this moment in his famous maxim, 'If you strike at a king, you must kill him.' "

LONDON TIMES: Most urgent of presidential scandals thrown aside by judge

One European newspaper does carry a commentary. In The Times of London, Tom Rhodes writes that Clinton's partisans are savoring what the regard as a major victory. Rhodes says: "It was business as usual at the White House last night -- and in Dakar, President Clinton nonchalantly planned to go shopping for African trinkets after informing his wife that a judge in Arkansas had dismissed he Paula Jones sexual harassment suit. Beneath the veneer, however, there was very real excitement among officials that the most urgent of presidential scandals -- that was to have come to trial next month -- had been sharply thrown aside by Judge Susan Webber Wright, a justice with no apparent political agenda. The most serious allegations against the President remain in the Monica Lewinsky case, under investigation by Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel. The President is still accused of obstructing justice and suborning a witness in his alleged affair with the White House trainee. But the Lewinsky affair, spawned from the shells of the Jones case, appeared in its own way to have been undermined by last night's ruling. With the demise of Paula Jones, the pattern of conduct that she represented has also vanished."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: No harm, no foul

Analyst David G. Savage writes in the Los Angeles Times that the Jones case also affects U.S. law on the topic of sexual harassment. Judge Wright's decision, Savage says, "was the legal equivalent of the playground basketball rule: no harm, no foul. Since its start four years ago, the case of Jones vs. Clinton has been a political blockbuster, turning an embarrassing spotlight on the past life of the current president. But when viewed as a simple lawsuit, the case highlighted an issue that has deeply divided judges, lawyers and women's rights activists. How much evidence of harm does a woman need to prove a claim of sexual harassment by a supervisor? Some judges have looked to the alleged sexual conduct, its severity and its impact on the female victim. Others have looked to the impact in the workplace: not whether the woman was personally offended, but how it affected her job. With (yesterday's) ruling, Wright put herself in the latter category."