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HUMOR
Filling In The Blanks For Ken Starr

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By Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 6, 1998; Page D01

Ernest Hemingway believed the most important lines in literature are the ones the writer deletes. Hemingway would complete a manuscript, then go through it and excise every word he considered inessential. The effect was that the main story spooled out not in the pages of his book but in the brain of the reader. Great literature creates a theater of the mind.

One example is "The Sun Also Rises." Another is "SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS TO THE REFERRAL TO THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES PURSUANT TO TITLE 28, UNITED STATES CODE, SECTION 595(c) SUBMITTED BY THE OFFICE OF THE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL, SEPTEMBER 9, 1998."

The full supplement to the Starr report landed in Washington last week with a reverberating thud, like a bathtub dropped from a helicopter: five pounds of paper in three volumes, appropriately bound in plain brown paper.

The sundry, sordid revelations of this scandal -- sexual and otherwise -- have rolled in so fast that there are relatively few surprises in these new documents; things that once might have seemed titillating are now mere gray details, with no more power to shock than the nutritional information on a can of Pringles. At this point, there could emerge evidence that the president is a cannibal, and it would be summarized in a footnote: (8. POTUS eats human legs, viz. Currie affid., op. cit. p. 2,467.)

But the most intriguing material in the new documents is what is not in them. The pages are streaked with lines and paragraphs and even pages of paragraphs that have been deleted with a heavy marker. Some were made to protect people's privacy, but many merely delete vulgarities. These efforts are only partially successful.

From the transcript:

Ms. Lewinsky: Erskine and those [redacted]heads were standing there . . .

Or:

Ms. Tripp: [redact] you and the horse you rode in on.

Or:

Ms. Tripp: My temptation would be to blast Betty a new [redaction].

What we learn from the uncensored materials is of dubious value. There is no editing of transcripts for idiocy, and so we are treated to this historic line:

Ms. Lewinsky: Oh, my feet itch!

And this one:

Ms. Lewinsky: Is there any toilet paper here?

Also, we learn that Linda Tripp considers President Clinton to be a "schwonk."

Also, that Lewinsky once told Clinton: "I love you, butthead."

What fascinate, however, are the deletions. Starr's theater of the mind opens to rave reviews.

One of the longest continuous blackouts occurs during a conversation between Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky, after Lewinsky tells Tripp she couldn't figure out how to use a leaf blower.

Ms. Lewinsky: I don't know. The idea of a leaf blower, it's like you blow -- don't they just move somewhere else?

An astonishing nine pages of black lines follow.


In several cases the censor appears to have slipped up. Persons whose identities are deleted because they are -- perhaps without foundation -- accused of, say, having behaved with the president in a manner not consistent with Victorian standards of propriety are clearly identified by name elsewhere. There is one moment where, despite scrupulous deletion of minor vulgarities and the discreet blacking out of details of Tripp's and Lewinsky's weight loss from recent diets, Tripp is permitted to specifically indicate which portion of a certain person's anatomy maneuvered its way into which portion of another person's anatomy. Tripp refers to these parts in what can only be called the extreme vernacular.


Some of the redactions are protective of the president's security. And yet enough detail remains to underscore the overwhelming lack of privacy the president enjoys. His movements are tracked by the minute, as in: POTUS moves from Residence to Oval Office. POTUS moves to Oval Office study. It is dehumanizing, as though the president were some ungainly piece of furniture, an armoire or a credenza, being stevedored from one room to another. ("POTUS" is not an elegant acronym anyway. It has always sounded vaguely disgusting, like a bodily fluid: "When lancing boil, avoid leakage of potus . . .")


At one point, Lewinsky recites for Tripp a crude, vaguely antisemitic joke she told Clinton. She reports that Clinton responded with a joke of his own. It is carefully blacked out. Then Lewinsky tells him another, and it is also deleted -- but the punch line unaccountably isn't:

"A bad job still sucks after 20 years."

(What we need here is Carnac the Magnificent.)


When Lewinsky is discussing writing a letter to the president, she says she wants to throw in a big word.

Tripp answers: "Like what? He's never been attracted to you because you use big words."

There follow 10 lines of deleted dialogue.

At another point, Tripp tells Lewinsky she is certain that Kathleen Willey had been kissed because "it's hard to fake beard burn."

The ensuing conversation lasts a page, and is entirely blacked out.


In all, the deletions suggest the salacious, the irreverent and, in some cases, the immeasurably sad.

At one point, Lewinsky is talking about a man -- unnamed but possibly the president -- who acted coldly toward her at a public event.

This is followed by three pages of deleted conversation. The only words that remain are one moment where Tripp sighs, and another where Lewinsky sighs. Only the sighing survives.

Then, finally, Lewinsky says:

"The men get to keep their lives, you know?"

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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