Most U.S. newspapers print only excerpts, include lurid language Some readers complain that details in report shouldn't be published

September 13, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF The New York Times contributed to this article.

Newspapers throughout the country sacrificed delicacy for historical completeness yesterday, deciding it was better to print the exact text of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report on President Clinton's extracurricular sex life -- graphic details and all -- than to protect readers' sensibilities.

"I think it's a historic document that our readers should have an opportunity for judging for themselves," said Dennis A. Britton, editor-in-chief of the Denver Post, which published the entire report in yesterday's editions.

"Once you start editing a document like this, it becomes subjective. And I think we should let the document speak for itself."

Other newspapers that printed the entire 445-page report this weekend included the New York Times, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe and Chicago Tribune.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, whose presses were already running overtime to print a special section commemorating Cardinals' slugger Mark McGwire's record-breaking 62nd home run, plans to publish the full text tomorrow.

Also printing the entire report was the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette in Little Rock, where yesterday's front-page headline read "Starr report: sex and lies."

Many newspapers, including The Sun, published significant portions of the report verbatim, opting not to spare readers from the graphic language often used when relating Monica Lewinsky's descriptions of her alleged sexual encounters with the president.

Other newspapers that opted against printing the entire report, but still retained much of the more sensational language, included the Washington Times, Seattle Times, Austin (Texas) American-Statesman, St. Petersburg Times, Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle.

Reaction to the report, and to how newspapers handled its publication, was mixed. The Sun received only a handful of calls, some complaining that the entire report should have been printed.

Tonnya Kennedy, assistant to the editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky, said the news desk had received only three calls by yesterday evening -- including one person wondering whether the paper planned any follow-ups and another wanting to know how to get in touch with members of the House Judiciary Committee (the Richmond Times-Dispatch included that information in its coverage).

Papers that printed the entire report seemed to attract the most negative criticism.

At the Boston Globe, assistant managing editor for Sunday Michael Larkin said several people called to complain that the details of Clinton's alleged sexual encounters were "too steamy for newspaper publication."

And at the Denver Post, Sunday metro editor Christopher Lopez said that the "bulk of our callers complained that the details of the report were forced into their lives when they picked up their paper this [Saturday] morning."

But newspaper sales were brisk. Larkin of the Boston Globe said it had been getting reports of the paper selling out throughout the city.

Locally, Bibelot on Reisterstown Road reported selling every paper it had -- including papers from Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and New York -- within 40 minutes of opening yesterday.

The News Center on Ritchie Highway in Glen Burnie reported only two copies of the early Sunday editions of The Sun left by yesterday afternoon.

Many newspapers opted to publish the report in text-only special sections, both to cut down on the amount of newsprint required and to make the report appear purposefully unappealing -- to ensure that readers perused it because they wanted to, not because it was easy to skim through.

"We have been incredibly circumspect and avoided fatuous use of sleaziness all along," said Howard Tyner, vice president and editor of the Chicago Tribune, which published the entire report on 44 pages in today's editions.

"It will be in this big gray report, and you will only go into this thing if you really seriously want to read it."

At the cross-town Chicago Sun-Times, readers could choose their preferred method for reading the report: either a six-page section containing the report's conclusions and some detail, or a 36-page section with extended extracts from both Starr's report and the rebuttal prepared by Clinton's attorneys.

"We thought that some people clearly would be offended by the explicit nature of the material that the prosector makes central to the report," said Nigel Wade, the paper's editor-in-chief.

"We thought we would spare them the more sensational details by telling them they can find it in a separate section."

Not all editors, however, were prepared to put away their blue editing pens entirely.

"We will be editing the material as appropriate," said John Temple, editor of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.

"I don't think we need to get into the nitty-gritty."

At the Salt Lake Tribune in Salt Lake City, Utah, the paper opted not to print most of the lurid details.

The Tribune, like many newspapers throughout the country, made the entire text of the report available on its Web site, and editor James E. Shelledy figured that was play enough.

"We're not prudes out here; we have had probably every one of those words in our paper," he said. "I just think that this is a waste of good newsprint.

"You should be devoting your [special sections] to something more significant. We would never add pages if this were just a Whitewater report."

Pub Date: 9/13/98

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