Now just remember this -- a kiss is still a kiss

MIKE ROYKO

December 07, 1992|By MIKE ROYKO

I'm going to be accused of being insensitive, sexist, ageist and politically incorrect. And maybe I am. But I can't help it. Some things make me giggle.

What I'm talking about is a part of a news story that caught my eye.

It's about Sen. Robert Packwood, who is in all sorts of trouble at work and probably at home because he's been accused by at least 10 women of making improper sexual advances.

Women's groups are angry at him, and he's going to be investigated by his fellow senators.

He's responded by doing what politicians and other public figures do when the going gets tough: He says ol' demon rum made him do it and has checked into a private alky rehab joint.

Anyway, I was reading a lengthy wire service account of Packwood's troubles, when I got to this part:

"In addition, a veteran reporter for an Oregon newspaper said Tuesday that Packwood kissed her on the lips after she interviewed him earlier this year -- to her shock and embarrassment.

"Roberta Ulrich, 64, of the (Portland) Oregonian, told the Associated Press she felt 'guilty because I didn't do anything about it at the time.'

"The Oregonian disclosed the kiss in an extensive article Tuesday criticizing its own failure to report sexual harassment allegations against Packwood before his re-election last month.

"Ulrich, a Washington, D.C., correspondent for the newspaper, said she was kissed by Packwood after they met with his press secretary . . . for a background interview in his office in March.

"Packwood served wine. Ulrich had a glass. The senator had at least two, she said."

I don't doubt that what she says is true, that Packwood kissed her on the lips at the end of their interview "to her shock and embarrassment."

But what I don't understand is why she should now feel "guilty because I didn't do anything about it at the time."

What does a 64-year-old lady do when a United States senator kisses her on the lips?

I suppose she could have run from his office while screaming at the top of her lungs: "Help, help! Senator Packwood kissed me on the lips!"

If she had done that, people might have thought she was a bit addled.

Or she could have called the police and said: "I wish to report that Senator Packwood kissed me on the lips."

But is that a crime? Any good defense lawyer would get him off by saying: "Your honor, he's just a friendly kind of politician who kisses babies and 64-year-old lady reporters."

She could have probably gone to her editor. That's it. She tells the editor: "I am shocked and embarrassed because after I interviewed Senator Packwood he kissed me on the lips."

Then what?

If the editor shared her shock and embarrassment, he could order a story written.

L Then there would be a headline that screamed something like:

"Sen. Packwood Kisses Reporter on the Lips."

It would be above a story that would say something like:

"Roberta Ulrich, a reporter for the Oregonian, charged yesterday that Sen. Robert Packwood (R-Ore.) kissed her on the lips following an interview in his office.

"Ulrich, who said the kiss came after she had one glass of wine and Packwood had at least two, said the kiss shocked and embarrassed her."

But once the decision is made to run such a story, you can't let it end there. Journalistic fairness would require that Packwood be given a chance to tell his side. And he might have said (assuming he's no dummy):

"Gosh, yes, I did, but I meant nothing by it. I mean, I like Roberta, swell person, and it was just a friendly peck. If I hurt her feelings, I'm sorry."

Even at that point, it couldn't be put aside because now other questions would have to be answered.

Such as, did he bend her in one of those John Wayne back-breaking clinches? Or did he slither up like a gigolo. Was it a long, lingering kiss? Or a slobber job? And, let's be blunt, most of us are adults here: Did he try anything smart-alecky with his tongue?

There are all sorts of kisses, and those questions would have to be answered before the newspaper could move on to the next step, which would be a stern editorial.

Not unless the paper would be satisfied with venting its spleen in a very short editorial that merely said:

"Sen. Robert Packwood recently took it upon himself to kiss our reporter, Roberta Ulrich, on the lips. We do not condone Packwood or any other public official kissing our reporters on their lips or anywhere else. We condemn such behavior and call upon Packwood to mend his ways."

Maybe Oregonians would be shocked. Or maybe they'd just snicker. I don't know their mind-set.

Now, I hope nobody misunderstands and thinks I am sympathetic to Packwood. Not at all. If it is clearly established that he been harassing women, as 10 have alleged (11, including correspondent Ulrich), he should sober up and resign.

But I'd like correspondent Ulrich to know that she's not the first journalist to be treated this way. It has happened to me too. And not once, but twice.

The first time, it was a Chicago alderman, a fine lady named Anna Langford, who was pleased by something I had written about her. That unsolicited kiss was right on the lips in front of witnesses.

The second time it was the city's mayor, Jane Byrne. However Byrne's was only a peck on the cheek, but it did leave a lipstick mark.

But I wasn't shocked and embarrassed, nor did I feel guilt for not revealing these incidents. I kind of liked it.

I guess we're just a wilder, crazier bunch in Chicago.

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