WASHINGTON — Washington.-- One's heart goes out to poor Tai Collins, an innocent lass trying desperately to make the world forget her youthful indiscretion.
Tai says that almost eight years ago, a certain Virginia governor named Robb offered her champagne and took advantage of her generous nature. Though there is difference in the details, her plight is reminiscent of poor Jessica Hahn, another innocent lass who handled her unwelcome notoriety the same way.
And though there is even greater difference in the details, she reminds at least one bystander of John Sununu, the White House chief of staff, who is not an innocent lass.
Jessica, you remember, was the church secretary who said her generous nature was taken advantage of by the Rev. Jim Bakker, the TV preacher now in detention for a more pecuniary offense. She said the good reverend paid her hush money not to tell. Later, when rumors started flying, she told.
Having told, she sought to dodge further notice by appearing in one of the more explicit gents' magazines, and later performing flirtatiously on TV.
Although Tai seems to be a classier act, she must have noted how successfully Jessica managed to stay out of the spotlight.
Tai had told hardly a soul about her alleged affair with the governor until rumors started flying about it. Then -- strictly to protect herself -- she talked to the Washington Post and NBC's Expose program. Her story became public, her name common currency. Finally, she said "I'm really sick of it," and decided to put the past behind her and move on.
So here she is on Page 90 of next month's Playboy, avoiding publicity in a brief wine-colored slip. Here she is in a story on Page 91, "The Governor and the Beauty," in which she explains the whole affair and adds that she is just a normal girl -- a part-time model, true, but one who goes to church on Sunday, who wants to marry again and start a family.
She also says she believes "the body is a beautiful thing" and testifies to her belief in 15 photographs on Pages 92 through 97. Here she is on Page 92, where her slip has slipped. Here she is on Page 94, in garter belt and peekaboo bra apparently from Frederick's of Hollywood. Here she is on 96 and 97, in nothing at all besides bed.
To make sure of ending the unwanted publicity, there she was Wednesday in Washington, signing copies of Playboy for gents young and old, lined up by the hundreds at a store at Union Station. To slam the final door on "headlines, sound bites, reporters dogging her trail," there she was the same night with Larry King on CNN, telling her story one more time and answering questions from callers across the nation.
Why did she take her tale to Playboy? Well, the Post hadn't published it, so "I was not trusting newspapers," she said. "It's sad that the media chooses to play up on the affair" when there is so much more to her story.
Having cooperated with her in burying the whole matter, I will now entertain questions about how Tai Collins and Jessica Hahn are like John Sununu. At first glance, I concede, the resemblance is not apparent. Indeed, it may appear only to me. It is not in the situation, but how it is handled.
Last week, hard-right publicists aired a TV spot with pointedly personal criticism of three Democrats expected to oppose the president's nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. The ad, produced by the same fellow who devised the Willie Horton ad for the Bush campaign in 1988, takes negative political commercials to a new and nastier level.
At the White House, whose purpose presumably is served by the attack, Mr. Bush himself said it was "offensive" and "counterproductive." Then newspapers and TV, reporting on it, repeated its message. That might have ended at least the free transmission of the ad's content, although its makers insisted they would not desist until "left-wing groups enter into a political cease-fire" on the Thomas nomination.
But Mr. Sununu was not satisfied. He made a personal appeal to the right-wingers to call off the commercial. Predictably, they refused, and predictably that produced another cycle of stories about the ad, repeating its assertions yet again. Whether some other upright Republican will appeal yet again, with the same result, is yet unknown.
It is not a new technique. It did not begin with Jessica Hahn or end with John Sununu. I doubt seriously that he called Tai Collins for advice on how to quash unwanted publicity. Ever canny, he has avoided such comparisons by not appearing in Playboy in a brief wine-colored slip.
Ernest B. Furgurson is associate editor of The Sun. His column appears on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday.