IT WAS ON the TV screen last week. There was Monica Lewinsky at age 14 playing volleyball at some fat camp her parents had sent her to. All I could think was, "Gee, am I ever proud to be a member of the media today."
Since this newest Bill Clinton sex scandal broke, I haven't touched this story in any serious way, largely on hygienic grounds. Every time I've read or watched coverage of this, I've felt a ferocious urge to take a shower.
But however irresponsible some media outlets have been on this, the politicians have been worse -- even politicians you'd think would be above playing such cruel games with people's lives and reputations. I was especially appalled by an opinion piece in the New York Daily News last week. The author: Mario M. Cuomo.
Now, you might disagree with the way Mr. Cuomo ran New York state as governor. Enough New Yorkers felt that way for him to lose the last election, certainly.
But nobody could ever question Mario Cuomo's integrity and reputation for honorable conduct. So, with that as background, here's part of what he wrote in the Daily News: "I think the president of the United States . . . is entitled to be believed . . . What good purpose is served by honoring in advance charges that might be leveled by the president's sworn enemy, Kenneth Starr? Especially since the charges would be largely based on testimony by a woman who already has admitted she is an inveterate liar."
Well, it's unclear just to whom Ken Starr is supposed to have sworn his enmity against Bill Clinton. Most prosecutors of both parties figure he's just doing his job under the special prosecutor statute. It's true, however, that whether that statute is a good idea can be the subject of debate.
Here, however, is why Mr. Cuomo's comments are so interesting. In 1992, when Bill Clinton was publicly denying an adulterous affair with Gennifer Flowers, she released a tape of a telephone conversation with Mr. Clinton that made it abundantly clear that he was lying.
The tape also contained a nasty reference to Mr. Cuomo's Italian ancestry. Mr. Cuomo later had a telephone conversation with Mr. Clinton in which the would-be president apologized.
Mr. Cuomo has never spoken to Monica Lewinsky. He doesn't know her. He knows Bill Clinton, though. He has personal experience with Mr. Clinton and his candor in connection with Gennifer Flowers.
Nonetheless, Mr. Cuomo was perfectly willing to bring to bear his prestige as a man of honor to brand as "an inveterate liar" a 24-year-old woman who certainly never asked to ride this tiger.
Who is she protecting?
Ms. Lewinsky said on the tapes that she would lie to protect her family. Just who is she supposed to be protecting when she reveals on the tapes that she and Mr. Clinton had a fling?
The trashing of Monica Lewinsky's character has been conspicuously brutal. An old high school boyfriend gallantly came forward to detail their teen-age sex life. An old teacher called a press conference to reveal an affair with her. Before this ends, Hillary Clinton will make sure that we all know precisely how many boys gave Monica Lewinsky hickeys or got her bra unhooked.
It's all part of a concerted White House campaign to portray Monica Lewinsky as lewd, irresponsible and incredible. That's been standard procedure whenever it's any woman's word against Bill Clinton's.
Monica Lewinsky didn't willingly come forward. She's still being dragged forward kicking and screaming by Ken Starr. She had no apparent reason to lie on those tapes.
Mr. Clinton, however, had every reason to lie. If he didn't lie under oath, then he didn't violate his oath of office and impeachment seems a reach. But if anybody is an obvious victim in this whole tawdry business, it's this adventurous and sadly PTC unwary young woman branded now and forever as America's foremost bimbo.
Dan Lynch is a columnist for the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union.
Pub Date: 2/06/98