Paula and the President

May 11, 1994

Paula Corbin Jones says Bill Clinton made a coarse physical pass at her in a Little Rock hotel room. Her far-from-verified story presents a Bill Clinton who considers some women interchangeable, disposable sex objects for men of power.

That was in May 1991. Sexual harassment suits were not as in vogue then as they are today. It perhaps did not occur to Miss Corbin that she take legal action (though the Supreme Court had ruled in 1986 that sexual harassment was illegal). But in October 1991 along came Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas. The nation was enthralled as all the arguments against sexual harassment were highlighted in vivid detail. It was a consciousness-raising session on a continental scale -- live on television. It was made clear that even sexual innuendo by a superior, much less physical crudeness, was taboo.

Had Paula Corbin felt that she had been harmed by her encounter with Governor Clinton, that was surely the time to take some action. She didn't. Nor did she complain after the Gennifer Flowers spectacle in early 1992, in which Governor Clinton admitted that he was no saint when it came to women. Mrs. Jones didn't complain after the Senator Packwood furor in late 1992 made it clear that harassment charges against politicians would be believed. She didn't complain when the Supreme Court in 1993 made it much easier for women to win harassment suits involving sexual behavior that could be considered "humiliating."

One version of why Mrs. Jones did not file a more timely law suit comes from some acquaintances and family members: Whatever actually happened, she didn't feel victimized.

Now she does complain. Why now? She says it is because an article in the American Spectator libeled her. It quoted an Arkansas state trooper to the effect that a woman named "Paula" had engaged in sex with the governor and was willing to do so again. If that is what motivated her, why not limit the suit to the magazine and the trooper? The president flatly denies that she did anything or offered to. He exonerates her. If her reputation is the issue, why sue the president for "inflicting emotional distress" and violating her civil rights?

We can't read her mind. But we can't help believing that it is not reputation or justice or even revenge that is the motivating factor. It looks suspiciously like 50 percent greed (on her part) and 50 percent dirty politics (on her backers' part).

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