Dan Burton and the Jimmy Carter effect

September 06, 1998|By Tom Teepen

I CAN THINK of few prospects less appealing than being treated to a recitation of Dan Burton's sleepovers. Yet that intelligence seems imminent. Word is widely about that this avidly unsought information will soon surface in Vanity Fair magazine, and if not there then in other, as-yet unnamed publications.

There is suddenly a run on the sex life of the Republican chairman of the House's Government Reform and Oversight Committee, which has been investigating Democratic political fund-raising.

Confession time

Mr. Burton himself has acknowledged the bull market in his hanky panky, tendering a pre-emptive confession in which he says he will admit to whatever any publication gets right. The Indiana congressman offers that he and his wife have been thrice separated. Mr. Burton seems to be copping a plea that goes, "Well, what's a fellow to do?"

Mr. Burton suspects the White House is behind his de-pantsing. Clinton spokesfolk say no, but who can tell? It would require no Clintonite scheme to make Mr. Burton a target of skeptical curiosity. The combination of Mr. Burton's low-road partisanship and moral high dudgeon -- Burton dissed Clinton as a "scumbag" -- is fuel for hypocrisy hunters.

Glass houses

Republicans have been atwitter for weeks over reports that the Clinton devils are preparing a purgatory of revelations about the peccadilloes of the president's detractors. Storm shutters have been going up at glass houses all over Washington.

If we are on the verge of an unwelcome contest in sexual gotcha, the larger push for it will come from within the press itself than from any White House pressure. There's precedent.

Richard Nixon skipped town claiming, as his diehard fans still do, that journalist enemies had set the impeachment hounds on him. In truth, newspapers had overwhelmingly supported his re-election, most came uneasily to the conclusion that he had to go and the reporting that did him in was provoked not by animus but by his own abuses of power.

Even so, the media set out to prove their even-handedness by treating the new president, Democrat Jimmy Carter, as if he were a parolee who hadn't checked in with his parole officer. He was quickly the suspect at the center of fantastical misdeeds involving a "fugitive financier" and other odd tales, none of which proved true, and to boot, because he had campaigned saying he would never lie to us, his every utterance was mined for traces of uncandor.

Something of the sort may be brewing now, as media types blamed for bringing President Clinton low strive to establish their nonpartisanship by shining their flashlights in the back seats of GOP cars in hopes of catching the kids necking.

Pray not, but especially with gossipy cable shows and Internet sites aglow with attention to which they had been unaccustomed, we may be in for more keyhole-peeping than the house dick in a hot-pillow hotel.

Tom Teepen is national correspondent for Cox Newspapers. His e-mail address is teepencolumoxnews.com.

Pub Date: 9/06/98

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