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Western Press Review: Clinton Still Sparking Commentary

By Joel Blocker/Dora Slaba

Prague, 19 August 1998 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. President Bill Clinton's public avowal Monday that he had "misled' the American people about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky is still evoking a great deal of comment in the Western press. Many West European newspapers, which closed yesterday before they could take account of Clinton's television appearance, today assess his speech and its effect on the U.S.' standing in the world. U.S. newspapers, too, continue to publish editorials, comments and news analyses about Clinton, who yesterday began a 12-day vacation out of Washington.

FINANCIAL TIMES: The president has two faces

Under the title "The Two Faces of Clinton," Britain's Financial Times today calls Clinton's TV speech "uninspiring." The paper writes: "The public...has to choose between two presidents. One is the Mr. Clinton who has led the nation during a period of astonishing economic growth, and who has shown himself to be an inspiring voice to the country at times of high national drama (such as) the bombings in East Africa....The other Mr. Clinton," the editorial goes on, "is a man who has shown himself time and again in matters of personal behavior to be shifty and dissembling, incapable of a frank admission of wrongdoing, and largely indifferent to the impact of his actions on those closest to him." The paper concludes: "There is enough time left in this presidency, and enough important jobs to be done at home and abroad, for Mr. Clinton to go some way toward rebuilding his stature in the country and the world. But at this moment, it is hard to avoid a sense of palpable gloom, or to shrug off the thoughts of what might have been."

WALL STREET JOURNAL: We've come too far for such cheap redemption

The U.S.' Wall Street Journal Europe today carries an editorial on what it calls, "Clinton's Confession." The paper writes: "The president asked Americans to feel his pain; let the healing begin, his supporters chanted; put this behind us, he pleaded." But the WSJ rejects such pleas, writing: "We've come too far for such cheap redemption. At a minimum, the price of public absolution must be complete public accountability. In the matter of Monica, this is much more than sex. It includes, for example, the presidential truth about (many other questions related to the independent counsel's inquiry)." The editorial concludes: "Perhaps the evidence in the end will warrant some lesser sanctions than impeachment. But to shrink now form truth and judgment in the name of 'healing' is to make all Americans complicit with Mr. Clinton's behavior."

FIGARO: Something will remain from this burlesque

The French conservative daily Figaro's editorial today is headed "Stupidity Kills:" The paper writes: "After failing his test (in the Monday night speech), Clinton is going to have difficulty in being taken seriously. Ridicule kills. Something will remain from this burlesque --even if the President is reborn as a good politician, which he is. Although economic growth and a decline of crime are good news for U.S., these factors will no longer be so important. The institution of the American President has faltered. The land, described as the greatest democracy in the world, has been engulfed in collectively delirious mental confusion during the last week. Its justice machine, which seems to have gone mad, has demonstrated the absurdity of its powers."

CORRIERE DELLA SERA: The consequences of Sexgate and Watergate could be the same

Italy's Corriere Della Sera comments today: "Whatever its outcome, 'Sexgate' threatens to damage America and the Presidential office as much as did Watergate a quarter-of-a-century ago, even though the two scandals are very different. There are no points of similarity between the absurdity of Bill Clinton's blunder and Richard Nixon's assassination of democracy. But the consequences of the two scandals could be the same: a loss of credibility and a reason for the weakness of a super-power and its president."

DER BUND: The U.S. has entered a period that cannot be described as anything but absurd

Germany's Der Bund daily, published in Bremen, says that "the American tragic- comedy is running its inexorable course. The justice system functions in the same way as in the one-time Wild West. There is a special prosecutor with the powers of a grand inquisitor in the face of whom even Clinton's friends and bodyguards are bound to give evidence." The paper's editorial adds: "The U.S. has entered a period that cannot be described as anything but absurd. (U.S.) TV shows persecutions, houndings, murders and murder trials. And now the media are assisting in the endeavor to check-mate Clinton legally and morally. It is ever more difficult to discriminate between fact and fiction. The principal actors all talk of morality. What do they mean by that?"

RHEIN-NECKAR-ZEITUNG: There are times when it is fun to be a European

The Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung, published in Heidelberg, writes: "It is unthinkable that a European head of state would be persecuted about sperm traces on a lady's dress or about numb-skulled recorded tapes. And whoever might try to organize hearings on such matters, in the style of the grand inquisition and in the name of purity, would be in danger of having his head examined...There are times," the paper concludes, "when it is simply fun to be a European."

REPUBBLICA: Clinton has lost his bluff

Italy's Repubblica, published in Rome, says: "Clinton has lost his bluff. Now it is important for everyone and everything -- the stock exchange, the economy and peace in Northern Ireland -- that he does not lose America as a whole." Already, the paper adds, "the 'Al Gore Era' has begun in American policy. Gore (a prime candidate to succeed Clinton in 2000) would have to re-establish the national and international dignity of the White House, which has been blemished by too many stains and unnecessary lies."

FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: There can be no more talk of the genuinely mighty of this world

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung comments in an editorial: "Only an incorrigible optimist can imagine that Clinton and (Russian President Boris) Yeltsin will achieve anything significant at their Moscow meeting in September. The U.S. President is morally damaged, the Russian, together with the ruble, is devalued. So, with the best intentions, there can be no more talk of the genuinely mighty of this world."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: In Europe and Asia, President Clinton's speech seemed to generate more questions than answers

The U.S. International Herald Tribune, published in Paris, today carries a news analysis on the impact abroad of Clinton's speech. Correspondent Joseph Fitchett writes: "In Europe and Asia, President Clinton's speech seemed to generate more questions than answers about the significance of the extraordinary scene of an American president asking the country to forgive him" Fitchett says that "in Japan...newspapers labeled Mr. Clifton's carefully worded public admission as "a clever excuse' and 'sleight of hand'....Similarly, in South Korea, a pro-business daily (Jungag Ilbo) said that the White House seem to have calibrated its admissions concerning Ms. Lewinsky to avoid impeachment without restoring confidence in the President's candor." Fitchett adds: "A Hong Kong newspaper, Sing Tao, predicted that Mr. Clinton could be a social pariah, saying a lack of ethical restraint and family values on his part explained widespread disenchantment with Western culture."

WASHINGTON POST: The onlookers were blunt, sad, cynical, admiring

A news analysis by Charles Trueheart for the Washington Post today also assesses world-wide reaction to Clinton's speech. Under the title, "Speech Got the World's Attention," he writes: "Headline writers, TV pundits, politicians and ordinary people around the world beheld the spectacle of Clinton's public confession Monday night and spoke their minds --most of them made up long before. The onlookers were blunt, they were sad, they were cynical, they were admiring...." He cites a front-page cartoon yesterday in the Paris daily Le Monde (by Plantu). A teary-eyed Bill Clinton reaches out to the Statue of Liberty (to touch its shoulder), and says, 'I'm so sorry.' To which Lady Liberty replies, 'Take your hand off me.'" But Trueheart says "there were some exceptions" in the world's reactions, writing: "Russian media gave the story little attention --it was broadcast after a report of a balcony falling off a building in a provincial town on Russia's leading national TV station. Granma, the official newspaper of Cuba's Communist Party, ran the story on the bottom of the seventh page of an eight-page edition." He adds: "At the Vatican, the semi-official daily Osservatore Romano covered violence in Congo and Rwanda, the Russian financial crisis, Nigeria's political situation, the Belfast bomb, weapons inspections in Iraq, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's visits to Tanzania and Kenya, and a bank holdup on an island south of Rome that netted the gunmen about 250 dollars. But not a word on the Clinton story.

NEW YORK TIMES: The speech did more harm than good

Finally, the New York Times today carries its second editorial in two days on the subject of Clinton's speech and grand-jury testimony on Monday: It begins: "The U.S. president is a person who sometimes must ask people in the ranks to die for the country. The president is a person who asks people close around him to serve the government for less money than their talents would bring elsewhere. The president sometimes requires that people out in the country sacrifice their dollars or their convenience for national goals. All he is asked to provide in return is trustworthiness, loyalty and judgment. These concentric circles of the national family simply want the president to have enough character not to abuse their devotion."

Then the paper says: "President Clinton has failed that simple test abjectly, not merely with undignified private behavior in a revered place, but with his cavalier response to public concern. That is why the cursory speech he made before departing on vacation probably did him more harm than good. That is also why there is a tidal feeling of betrayal and embarrassment running across the country today, from the grass roots to the White House staff." The editorial goes on: "All day Tuesday the speech was panned on editorial pages and by talk-show callers in states that Clinton carried. Rather than rallying to him, many congressional Democrats were openly critical or sour and silent. Although polls just after the speech looked all right, his Gallop personal approval rating, which stood at 60 percent two weeks ago, hit 40 percent Tuesday. The same poll found that 58 percent thought Clinton should have made an outright apology Monday."

The paper's concludes: "Clinton's handling of the office entrusted him has embarrassed the nation. It is likely to remain a mystery locked inside a personality that even he may not fully understand. Many have spoken of his story as having the shape of Shakespearean tragedy. We are more reminded of a passage in W.H. Auden's poem "The Quest," about an expedition that had spent months gathering equipment and laying plans to conquer expected obstacles:

'In theory they were sound on Expectation,

Had there been situations to be in;

Unluckily they were their (own) situation.'

With his refusal to give an apology and explanation that were presidential in scale, Clinton showed that his personality is his situation. Given the fact that he is supposed to serve until January 20, 2001, he is our situation as well."