Presidential Sex Life Part II raises the same non-issue

December 22, 1993|By ROGER SIMON

WASHINGTON -- "Now, no matter what I say, to pretend that the press will then let this die, then we are kidding ourselves. I mean, you know, this has become a virtual cottage industry. The only way to put it behind us, I think, is for all of us to agree that this guy has told us about all we need to know."

That was Bill Clinton speaking on "60 Minutes" in late January 1992.

He was explaining to reporter Steve Kroft why he could not put rumors of his adultery to rest by issuing a simple denial.

And Clinton never did deny having had extramarital affairs.

"You know, I have acknowledged wrongdoing," he said that night. "I have acknowledged causing pain in my marriage."

In the same interview, Clinton did seem to deny having had an affair with Gennifer Flowers, though this depends a little on how you interpret his answer.

He denies having had a "12-year-affair" with her and then, asked whether he is "categorically denying that you ever had an affair with Gennifer Flowers," Clinton replies: "I have said that before. And so has she."

Clinton described his relationship with Flowers as "very limited" and then "friendly but limited" and then called her "an acquaintance, I would say a friendly acquaintance."

The tapes released by Flowers of her conversations with Clinton indicate she may have been a little more than that -- unless Clinton signs off all phone calls with friendly acquaintances by saying: "Good-bye, baby" -- but who cared?

Flowers had sold her story to a supermarket tabloid, and the Clinton campaign quickly labeled it "cash for trash" journalism. And that was good enough to get Clinton through the crisis, at least in an election year with a lousy economy.

No issue ever really dies in presidential politics, however. Issues that you think you have put to rest can always come back to bite you.

(Ask Michael Dukakis. He thought he had put the Willie Horton issue to rest before he ran for president in 1988.)

But if there was anything Bill Clinton probably figured he didn't have to worry about anymore, it was allegations of old infidelities.

Since he doesn't deny having had affairs, who still cares about them?

Well, television, radio, newspapers and magazines, that's who.

On Sunday, CNN aired an interview with two Arkansas state cops who say they arranged extramarital liaisons for Clinton while he was governor of Arkansas.

The full account appeared Monday in the American Spectator magazine, a generally conservative publication. The magazine pointed out that the cops were angry that they did not get federal jobs.

The wire services moved stories on the allegations -- which the White House denies -- and the story has been carried on radio and in some newspapers.

The two cops now intend to write a book, according to the American Spectator, about the "reckless personal behavior and poor judgment they witnessed by . . . Clinton, [which] if continued by the president, a subject on which they cannot speak authoritatively, could constitute a risk to the national security of the U.S. by making the president easy prey for blackmailers."

Easy prey for blackmailers?

How could Bill Clinton be blackmailed considering all allegations about him and his wife are immediately aired and printed?

(Rumors linking Hillary to assistant White House counsel Vincent Foster, who committed suicide on July 20, have already seen print.)

If Clinton could buy somebody's silence, I am sure he would have done so by now.

The question of how the press deals with such allegations used to be a tough call but now rarely is.

That's because many decision makers in the news industry believe that since somebody is going to print or air just about any allegation, why shouldn't it be them?

Why should they show restraint, if the other guy is not going to show restraint? What's the reward in that?

Back on his "60 Minutes" appearance in January of last year, Clinton was asked if he had put the matter of sexual infidelity behind him.

"That's up to the American people and to some extent to the press," he replied. "This will test the character of the press."

The character of the press? Bill Clinton is depending on the character of the press to see him through?

Oh, boy. Now I really am worried.

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