Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi The Strategy of Scandal

By Jack Moczinski

FEBRUARY 9, 1998:  Until the State of the Union address, President Clinton was presumed to be finished. Polls came out that showed the public thought he was a liar, and his approval rating dropped. However, in time, it is becoming clear that the American people may forgive the president as they forgave him in 1992 for the Gennifer Flowers affair. People talked about the Bubba factor in 1992, and it has re-emerged in 1998, but they can clearly separate the personal actions of the president and the policy actions of the president. They told us that they treat the president as the president but also as a human being. We elected him because he's like us. The country is in great shape, so what does it matter that the guy is lonely?

Politicians in power in this country are approached by shady characters all the time who are attracted to power. How many shady characters do you run into in a year: a used car salesman, a woman of questionable virtue, a manipulating relative? Afterall, none of us are innocents. Should the president be?

The media feeding frenzy surrounding the story has been covered with as much hoopla as an O.J. car chase or Princess Diana's death. Shabby coverage by the media points to a desire for rapid reporting that allows journalists and editors to break cardinal rules of the trade by running headlines that assume the president's guilt and failing to twice confirm sources. The media and the special prosecutor drew the public's interest for the allure of a trashy story, but in the end, the public decides the worthiness of this story.

The actions of Special Prosecutor Ken Starr have raised questions regarding the viability of the special prosecutor law that allows an independent counsel to place a microscope on the president's life and hold the president under constant inquisition. Would Harry Truman have been able to govern if there were a four-year investigation into the failed clothing business he ran as a young man? Would Ronald Reagan have been able to govern if investigators were presenting information to the public on his first divorce or all the characters he hung out with in Hollywood?

The State of the Union speech, instead of being the last gasp of a dying man, was Clinton's vindication. We've known this about Billy Jeff Clinton: He's a Rasputin. He won't die, and injury only makes him stronger and angrier. Opinion polls on the president were through the roof after the State of the Union, and his campaign-style tour of the nation to sell his new proposals is getting warm reviews. It's incredible that pundits ignored history and actually thought the guy would give up!

Clinton and the same advisors who produced his 1992 campaign understood the distance in opinions between the public and Washington insiders. Starr incorrectly thought Washington attitudes would fly with the rest of America. Starr fought from a weak position and allowed Clinton to win the initial battle of this war. Starr was working under civil rules of evidence, which demand less than criminal rules of evidence. This draws into question the legitimacy and strength of wire taps, stings and consent laws guarding the taping of phone conversations. Starr must have known that the evidence collected in the investigation would have less impact legally than they would in the court of public opinion. Starr's only choice was to leak the information to see if the leaks would cause the pipes to burst. He tried to get Clinton to flinch, but Clinton realized that if he just sat back and weathered the crisis, he could partially recover through the State of the Union address.

Also, the president is giving the story time to grow stale. We all know from the Paula Jones and Gennifer Flowers experiences that focus eventually fades from the president to his accusers. Soon after the State of the Union, the press trained their sights on the special prosecutor, Lewinsky, Linda Tripp and others. Clinton's people conveniently joined in with the press and began asking, "Who is Monica Lewinsky?"

How much time does Clinton have and how far will his skilled political team carry him? Lewinsky is only the show pony of this case. What may have occurred in a consentual relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky is not as legally compelling as what may have happened with Kathleen Willey, who may have been sexually harassed by the president.

Clinton has time, especially if we consider the only benchmark of major president scandal, Watergate. People voted for Nixon in 1972 over George McGovern months after the Watergate story emerged. Voters didn't believe the scandal but as details followed, they learned what a crook Nixon really was. The question is, if something is there, how long will it be before the facts come out, and will the public find the facts disturbing enough to change their opinion of this man?


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