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Western Press Review: Clinton At UN And On TV, While Kosovo Bleeds

  • Joel Blocker
  • Dora Slaba



Prague, 21 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- "As Bill Clinton steps up to address the United Nations (General Assembly on Monday)," wrote Britain's Sunday Times yesterday, "millions will be watching his televised testimony to the grand jury in the Monica Lewinsky affair." Clinton's travails over his admitted extra-marital affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and its effects on the U.S.' leadership role in the world, remain a subject of major interest for Western press commentary both today and over the weekend. The situation in Serbia's southern province of Kosovo also attracts some comments today.

SUNDAY TIMES: The President of the United States is a laughing stock

In a blunt-spoken editorial entitled "Lame-Duck Leadership," the Sunday Times said: "The timing could not be more humiliating for the wretched incumbent of the White House....The tapes are said to reveal more sexual shenanigans and bare-faced lies. But trial by television will be only the beginning of a legal process that could end with impeachment. Will the humiliation prove too much for Mr. Clinton? Will he resign? On previous (Clinton) form, the answer has to be no."

The paper went on: "Mr. Clinton's disloyalty to his wife, his daughter, his friends, his party and his country has the demerit of consistency. His undoubted charm and intelligence will be deployed once more to evade personal responsibility and to talk his way out of trouble. Thanks to a booming economy, bequeathed by a Republican Congress and the U.S. Federal Reserve (Bank), the President's poll ratings are good. But there are limits. The public may finally desert him when it sees a shifty and irritable Mr. Clinton looking the camera in the eye and lying."

The Sunday Times concluded: "America has had to live with lame-duck presidents before, argue Mr. Clinton's defenders. True, but America is no longer a peripheral nation. In the 20th century the United States became the arsenal of democracy....Now the world trembles on the brink of another recession. And who is president of the United States? Why, a laughing stock."

FINANCIAL TIMES: The President's fate should not be decided by opinion polls

The Financial Times focuses today on what its editorial calls the "Unhappy Video Tape President." The paper writes: "The decision by the House (of Representatives') Judiciary Committee to release (the) videotape...is unwise and objectionable. It sends out some exceptionally depressing signals about the way the Congress is gearing itself up to consider impeachment proceedings against the President."

The FT continues: "The suggestion that the American public should be put in the position of jurors in this affair is just plain wrong. The President's fate should not be decided by the opinion polls....Politicians must take notice of what their constituents think, but they also have direct responsibility for what may be the most serious decision they will ever be asked to make. The behavior of the Congress during the (1974)Watergate affair seems a model in this respect, and appears in marked contrast to what is going on now."

The editorial ends: "with any luck the (videotape) decision will backfire on those responsible for it....But that is small comfort on what will be another bleak day for U.S. politics."

LE MONDE: Congress' Republican majority has now added a denial of justice

The French press also comments on what the daily Le Monde calls "The American Pillory." The paper wrote in its weekend edition: "So now, on all of the country's media, the American people will be able to watch its President hesitate, be evasive, get nervous, leave the room, etc. This time it's no longer a matter of a prosecutorial inquisition, but rather of a public execution! After having been stripped nude by (Independent Counsel Kenneth) Starr's report, Mr. Clinton, through the video's release, is being exposed to the modern pillory made up of raw images, delivered without commentary or warnings."

The Left-of-Center Le Monde continued: "To prosecutor Starr's persecution, the Congress' Republican majority has now added a denial of justice. Not only is Mr. Clinton still not judged, but the very idea of a trial --even of an indictment-- has not yet been decided on. But already he is condemned, as would be any man or woman whose intimate life was made public."

The paper summed up: "From now on, there's no more mystery: The 'law' in this matter is nothing more than a political offensive which is trying furiously and methodically to destroy a man --and, that done, to subvert a democracy."

DERNIERES NOUVELLES D'ALSACE: The popular support has begun to erode

The regional newspaper Dernieres Nouvelles d'Alsace today says that "there is growing anxiety in the ranks of Bill Clinton's Democratic Party allies. They'll have their eyes riveted on their television screens and on the reaction of the public at large to the (videotape). If a good number of Democratic Congressmen admit in private that have been profoundly wounded, even 'betrayed' by Clinton's lies in the Lewinsky affair, most of them have sought to 'limit the damage.'"

"But now," the paper goes on, "many Democrats fear they will be in even a less tenable position when all of America will have suffered a deluge of new revelations about the scandal with the broadcasting in its entirety of (Clinton's grand-jury testimony) and the publication of 2,800 pages of annexes to the Star report."

It adds: "The popular support that Clinton enjoyed just after the publication of the Starr report has begun to erode. According to an opinion poll published over the weekend by Newsweek magazines, 46 percent of Americans believe their President should think of resigning, compared to 39 percent a week ago....A new degradation of the presidential image could have catastrophic consequences in the November 3 elections for the entire House of Representatives and one-third of the Senate."

Baker went on: "Media people nowadays are almost all college boys and girls, cream of the crop, top of the class. Which also means they don't have a lot in common with all those millions to whom jobs and health insurance are more urgent matters than the unorthodox sexual proclivities of big-time politicians." He added: "It must be despair of ever destroying Clinton that has driven the media into their sudden romance with morality....(But) it's not morality that's at issue here. It's the old Puritan love-hate affair with sex. So nasty. So irresistible."

WASHINGTON POST: Mr. Clinton is not concerned with the integrity of the office but his occupancy of it

In yesterday's Washington Post, the paper put more of the burden on Clinton than on the media. Its editorial said: "Mr. Clinton did not just tell a lie. He bent the entire government out of shape for months to sustain it. If in fact he appreciated the seriousness of that behavior, he would acknowledge that it has a bearing on his fitness to continue to serve as president. We do not mean to suggest by this that he would necessarily resign, a separate question. But he would have the grace to say to the country that he understood his misconduct fairly raised the question of whether he should remain in office, even if in the next breath he asked to be given the chance."

The WP editorial continued: "That is what he will not do, and that is the sense in which he remains contemptuous of the charges against him. He wants a bye, a pass. He has some obvious problems to work out with his family, his staff and perhaps some supporters, he says. But his obligations beyond that are merely to resume his role as president 'and to focus on the issues that are before us,' as he put it last week."

The paper concluded: "What continues to matter most to Mr. Clinton is not the integrity of the office but his occupancy of it. The man leaves Congress --both parties-- no choice but somehow to call him to the account from which he continues to try to wriggle away. All the more important that the House leadership not discredit the inquiry by turning it into a partisan assault. To carry weight the proceedings of the Judiciary Committee have to be perceived as fair.'

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The Clinton crisis has entered its destructive phase

In Germany today, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung runs a commentary on Clinton by Stefan Kornelius entitled "A Work of Self Destruction" that is also highly critical of the airing of the videotape. Kornelius writes: "The age of electronic lynch-justice is beginning in the United States this Monday. A nation that aspires to the right to weigh the scales of modern democracy is grasping the rope and ladder and tying itself to the defendant.... with the assistance of the mob. The deed is being endorsed by a majority decision of this democracy's elected representatives, who... in breath-taking ignorance of democratic norms have destroyed the fundamentals of their own existence: justice."

The commentary continues: "The Clinton crisis has entered its destructive phase. With the publicizing of the Starr report, forces have been unleashed in Washington that, for the moment at least, can no longer be controlled. To date, the peak of the frenzy was reached on Friday with the release of the video of Clinton's cross-examination. ...."

Kornelius also says: "By publicizing the video Congress has freed itself of the role of judge and has left this to the man in the street....The public is being confronted with the recording in the knowledge that Clinton's image is being distorted through the power of the visual....For years, a conflict has existed in Washington that opposed the slippery, hair-splitting Clinton to his ultra-conservative, fanatic religious opponents. But what hitherto appeared as an irreconcilable feud of opposing personalities has now being staged on a national scale, where it is reflected in the House of Representatives and its Judiciary Committee and where it finally threatens to split the country."

SCHWAEBISCHE ZEITUNG: Washington has not sunk this low since the Watergate affair

Another German newspaper, the Schwaebische Zeitung, says today that "America is tying itself down, while the rest of the world looks on amused and uncomprehendingly. Worries are surfacing that the scandal could effect U.S. foreign policy....Yet the global challenges of these times requires a strong figure. Instead, the already lame duck in the White House has been amputated even further. Washington has not sunk this low since the Watergate affair."

NEW YORK TIMES: Both sides are submerging the key issue in this election

In the U.S. itself, two regular columnists for the New York Times discuss different aspects of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. William Safire today explores its political implications in a commentary, writing: "In six weeks, a minority of the nation's eligible voters will decide whether the president is to be impeached by the House and removed from office by the Senate. Few candidates are ready to deal with the gut issue of this November's election. Republican candidates talk about truthfulness and Democrats issue fervent pleas to get on with the nation's business. But nobody will come out and say, 'If elected, I will vote to impeach that hairsplitting perjurer' or, contrariwise, 'Those Bible-thumping hypocrites will throw out Bill Clinton over my dead body.' (Their) pervasive public pussyfooting by the candidates who will be entrusted with the punishment of the admitted miscreant..."

Safire goes on to say: "(The) result (is that) both sides are submerging the key issue in this election...Most candidates will shy away from the gut issue because they don't know how it will cut. But next year's impeachment is in the hands of this year's voters. They will make it possible --or impossible-- to bring Bill Clinton to account."

NEW YORK TIMES: It's the old Puritan love-hate affair with sex

In a commentary on Saturday (Sept. 19), columnist Russell Baker spoke of "the great media meltdown" over the Lewinsky affair. He wrote: "In the media, it is 'get the president time. Editorial calls for his impeachment or resignation come from dozens of newspapers. Reporters, who once confined themselves to reporting, now speculate about what sentence should be imposed on the sinner Clinton. Impeachment? Resignation? Censure?"

Baker went on: "Media people nowadays are almost all college boys and girls, cream of the crop, top of the class. Which also means they don't have a lot in common with all those millions to whom jobs and health insurance are more urgent matters than the unorthodox sexual proclivities of big-time politicians." He added: "It must be despair of ever destroying Clinton that has driven the media into their sudden romance with morality....(But) it's not morality that's at issue here. It's the old Puritan love-hate affair with sex. So nasty. So irresistible."

WASHINGTON POST: Mr. Clinton is not concerned with the integrity of the office but his occupancy of it

In yesterday's Washington Post, the paper put more of the burden on Clinton than on the media. Its editorial said: "Mr. Clinton did not just tell a lie. He bent the entire government out of shape for months to sustain it. If in fact he appreciated the seriousness of that behavior, he would acknowledge that it has a bearing on his fitness to continue to serve as president. We do not mean to suggest by this that he would necessarily resign, a separate question. But he would have the grace to say to the country that he understood his misconduct fairly raised the question of whether he should remain in office, even if in the next breath he asked to be given the chance."

The WP editorial continued: "That is what he will not do, and that is the sense in which he remains contemptuous of the charges against him. He wants a bye, a pass. He has some obvious problems to work out with his family, his staff and perhaps some supporters, he says. But his obligations beyond that are merely to resume his role as president 'and to focus on the issues that are before us,' as he put it last week."

The paper concluded: "What continues to matter most to Mr. Clinton is not the integrity of the office but his occupancy of it. The man leaves Congress --both parties-- no choice but somehow to call him to the account from which he continues to try to wriggle away. All the more important that the House leadership not discredit the inquiry by turning it into a partisan assault. To carry weight the proceedings of the Judiciary Committee have to be perceived as fair.'

NEW YORK TIMES: Military action may be needed for the limited objective of helping the refugees

Turning to the growing humanitarian crisis in Serbia's southern province of Kosovo, the New York Times said yesterday (Sept.20) that "a potentially deadly season of cold and starvation is rapidly closing in on Kosovo's Albanian refugees.: The paper wrote in an editorial: "Almost 300,000 ethnic Albanians have been driven from their homes. Tens of thousands remain trapped in open country, many with only sheets of plastic to protect against the snows already falling at higher elevations. International relief agencies are trying to help. But they cannot do so until (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic calls off his thugs."

The NYT went on: "The Yugoslav leader hints he might be willing to restrain his forces and explore political solutions. But in Kosovo today as in Bosnia a few years back, he seems to respect diplomatic appeals only when they are buttressed by threats of force. Washington must therefore begin reinforcing its diplomacy with preparations for possible military action to protect refugees. The United States has no interest in encouraging Kosovo's independence or in going to war with Serbia. But military action may be needed for the limited objective of helping the refugees."

The paper concluded: "If U.S. diplomacy cannot persuade all other NATO leaders to press ahead, Washington should assemble a coalition of those willing to act. If necessary, America should act on its own. Otherwise, tens of thousands of civilians may freeze or starve to death this winter."

SEUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: The idea behind NATO's threat to go it alone is to try to break Russia's power of blockade

Peter Muench's commentary in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung Saturday explored possible Western military intervention in Kosovo. He wrote: "It almost seems as if, after a disastrous phase of helpless silence, the world has rediscovered Kosovo. After being briefed by his advisors on the latest situation --sources in Washington say for the first time in months-- U.S. President Bill Clinton has threatened the Serbs with NATO intervention. In Bonn," Muench continued, "German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe said he considered NATO intervention 'in the next three to five weeks' a possibility. And a talkative diplomat at NATO's Brussels headquarters has let slip the oh, so secret message that NATO has no intention of being held up any longer by a Russian veto in the U.N. Security Council.

But Muench is not convinced by all this rhetoric. "What," he asks, "remains of this threatening scenario once it has been stripped of ulterior motives? Clinton is driven by the need to show some political drive at last, and Ruehe's fighting spirit is that of the election campaigner....It seems, therefore, that Belgrade need have little fear of a military attack."

He ends: "Still, this time there could be more behind the threats than diversion and show. For their timing indicates that they are addressed not to Belgrade, but to Moscow....The idea behind NATO's threat to go it alone is to try to break Russia's power of blockade. As it is, their financial dependency on the West leaves the Russians little scope for maneuver."







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