PEE-WEE SAYS he didn't do it, which is good enough for me, although maybe not for all fans of the lovable little geek.
To recap, the cops in Sarasota, Fla., arrested Paul Reubens (aka Pee-wee Herman) for indecent exposure in an adult-movie theater.
Judging by the examples set by other giants of sports, politics and the entertainment industry, here is how you handle this sort of negative publicity these days.
The first order of business (as Pee-wee quickly discovered) is: deny, deny, deny.
Through your publicist, you issue a statement in which you claim to be "shocked and outraged" at the charges "which have no basis at all in fact."
The statement should continue: "Mr. Herman had just given blood to the Red Cross, and was making his daily rounds at the orphanage when the incident in question took place. He has no doubt that, after a thorough investigation by the authorities, he will be totally vindicated."
Then a few days later, when it becomes clear this whole thing is not going to blow over, you call a news conference.
With your wife/significant other/children flanking you for emotional support, look tearfully into the TV cameras and say: "I know now that what I did was wrong..."
Yet in the same breath, quickly dodge any responsibility for your actions.
Blame the incident on an abusive childhood -- a snarling, vindictive father who bounced cinder blocks off your head whenever he was bored, or a schizophrenic mother who insisted on dressing you in a ballerina outfit until you were 14.
Or blame it on a substance-abuse problem. Or a lifelong battle with alcoholism. Or a sexual dysfunction brought on by an obsessive attraction to nurses, which compels you to seek erotic pleasure in grimy adult-movie theaters showing such films as ''She Shook My Thermometer All Night'' and ''Emergency Room Babes in Heat.''
"I know now that I have an illness," you intone somberly into a bank of microphones. "I've been in a period of denial for 20 years."
Add that you're seeking immediate professional help for your "illness."
"I'm going to beat this thing!" you say in a quavering voice, dabbing at your eyes with a handkerchief as groupies picket outside the building with signs saying: "LEAVE PEE-WEE ALONE!"
In a few days, the 6 o'clock news shows footage of you checking into a rehab center, looking gaunt, yet smiling bravely and flashing the "thumbs up" sign for the photographers.
"I'm going to beat this thing!" you yell to reporters before a limo whisks you through the gates of the exclusive $500-a-day treatment center.
Through the judicious use of press releases, and a telephone interview with People magazine, you touch off a flurry of headlines:
"FORMER STAR OF 'PEE-WEE'S PLAYHOUSE' IN FIGHT OF HIS LIFE!"
"PEE-WEE TO FANS: 'YOUR PRAYERS ARE WORKING!'"
"PEE-WEE ON ROAD TO RECOVERY! 'I FEEL GREAT!' SAYS NERDY EMMY WINNER."
Twenty-one days later, you're released from the hospital, looking tanned and fit and boasting of your new "friendship" with Elizabeth Taylor. But this is America. There are no free rides, Buster.
Having copped a plea to the original charge, you now have to put in your 80 hours of court-imposed community service, teaching inner-city kids the right way (heterosexual relations with consenting partners over the age of 21) and wrong way (raincoat and party of one in a darkened porno theater) to handle sexual tension.
"I've paid my debt to society," you tell reporters on the final day of your sentence. "Now it's time to get on with my life."
Which means, of course, that now it's time to cash in. God knows you deserve it.
The first order of business? Write a book about your ordeal. The whole thing should take, what? Two weeks? Three if you use complete sentences and adjectives.
From there you make the rounds of the talk shows, tearfully recounting to Oprah and Geraldo and their audiences your "harrowing odyssey to hell and back."
Next comes a Barbara Walters special, with Babs herself sitting next to you on the sofa and nodding her new hair-do sympathetically as she asks: "This thing with the nurses . . . is it over now?"
"Barbara," you say softly, "for the first time in my life, I feel good about myself!"
No wonder. The book is a run-away best seller. You've just signed a new six-picture deal with Paramount. Elizabeth Taylor is going around telling people she's "never been happier" since she met you.
And they say this country has lost a step or two.