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Lurid details of affair disgust many

Laney North, manager of the Internet Outpost in St. Pete Beach, studies the Kenneth Starr report minutes after folks at the Outpost were able to get it on their system. "We live in the information age so all this stuff has to come out, everybody's going to want to read it," North said. [Times photo: Jamie Francis]

By ANNE HULL

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 12, 1998


The sheer speed of Kenneth Starr's report to Congress and its publication on the Internet Friday set up an unprecedented embarrassment for a sitting president.

More coverage:
Full text of Starr's report

The president: America judges Clinton

Monica Lewinsky: The story of a naive intern, lust and love

White House reacts: Read the rebuttal text via AP [part one and two]

Capitol Hill: Congress sees through party-colored glasses

Locally: Reaction of Floridians in Congress

On the Net: Lurid details of affair disgust many

Troxler: Lunchtime diversion is difficult to digest

Special forum: What's your take on the crisis?

Americans expecting a dry legal rendering by the independent counsel were given dime store erotica, highly footnoted.

According to Juan Williams, a biographer of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and a Washington Post reporter, the sexual exploits of most historical figures are publicly delayed for decades. Starr's report has afforded Clinton no such grace.

"John Kennedy had a voracious sexual appetite," Williams said, "but you don't know the details, and you certainly didn't know them contemporaneously with his presidency."

Williams added: "When you think of Kennedy, you think of him as a man with a great sexual appetite. When you think of Bill Clinton now, you think of a man with kinky sexual habits."

The author generally supported the idea of Starr's report being released on the Internet.

"After months of blind sources, spin and leaks, at least there is now a report with a name signed to it," Williams said. "To some extent, the report performs a public service. But let me add a caveat. The lurid nature of the details are not fit for all readers. And Washington is a town where people have grudges and axes to grind."

Others were disgusted by the highly detailed report.

"We have gone beyond the bounds on this," said former Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman, who refused to read Starr's report on the Internet and blamed the media for its unrelenting focus on the Clinton scandal.

"I don't condone what the president has done, but it's not the worst thing happening to this country," Freedman said. "Even William Safire -- of all people, William Safire -- said "Enough's enough!' "

One young local politician read portions of the report Friday and "tried to skim through it 'cause it got kind of gross at times," said Nicole Roenick, 17, student government president at East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs.

Clinton's behavior has been discussed in Roenick's history class.

"We've talked about the fact that a lot of presidents have been ladies' men," Roenick said. "But I think he's lied under oath. He's definitely committed perjury, and that's impeachable."

At On Top of the World, a sprawling Clearwater retirement community that includes three voter precincts within its gates, Democratic activist Helen Johnson, 79, learned what she could of the report on the television because she didn't own a computer.

"I'm disappointed; I worked so hard to get Clinton elected," Johnson said. "It's true that he brought this upon himself. But look what he's done for our country. He's made us a good president. Old Starr's like a dog with a bone and he's not going to turn loose."

Chesterfield Smith, a Florida lawyer specializing in constitutional law, said the Starr report revealed no impeachable offenses.

"If someone wants to censure Bill Clinton for being a bad husband, I'd join in," said Smith, a senior partner with Holland and Knight. "If they wanted to impeach him, I'd need more evidence.

"Most people whose intellect I admire deplore what's happened and will modify their opinion of Clinton's character, but will not decide he is an abuser of government power."

Smith was president of the American Bar Association during the Watergate crisis and eventually called for Richard Nixon's impeachment.

"Nixon sent the FBI to bust in on the office of the special prosecutor and take the tapes," Smith said. "All of America felt, this is not the way we do things."

"Here," Smith said, "the president lied but did not break into Ken Starr's office to steal the reports."

The explicit nature of the Starr report made some wish for the decorum of the Nixon days.

"What happened to the old "expletive deleted' in a transcript?" said Ellen Malcolm, national president of Emily's List, a political group that directs contributions to female candidates. "It seems to me they could have deleted some parts."

Malcolm said the report's salacious nature was politically calculated.

"Not one word about Whitewater," said Malcolm. "Kenneth Starr's entire case seems to be built on a private affair. The president was having an affair and not telling the truth. He has said that. It's not surprising to see the details spelled out."

The writer Gore Vidal told the Irish Times in June: "Clinton's sole crime is not confessing to a grand jury that he likes the odd (sex act), a taste he shares with most of the male population. In respectable societies, gentlemen -- and ladies -- never discuss their sex lives and if confronted with the subject they are expected -- nay, suborned -- to lie."

But Dr. Joyce Brothers, a psychologist who has heard her share of sexual confessions, seemed to wince at the contents of the Starr report.

"Some very tough details," Brothers said. "It sounds like what it was: a husband who cheated on his wife and told the girlfriend they might be together some day. It's a terrible humiliation."

 

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