By Howard Kurtz
The New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and New York Post were among the papers that went to the expense of reproducing Kenneth W. Starr's compilation of potentially impeachable offenses, despite concerns about its sexually explicit nature. Hundreds of newspapers posted the report on their Web sites. And both electronic and print versions generally carried warnings about the salacious content.
"The following report contains material that readers may find offensive or objectionable," said the Denver Post.
"We urge parental guidance for children reading the full report," said the Los Angeles Times.
"Some material in these unedited texts is inappropriate for children and younger readers, and some of the material will be offensive to some adults," said The Washington Post.
The printing of the report, which cost some papers more than $100,000, was perhaps the biggest such undertaking since the 1974 release of Richard M. Nixon's Oval Office tapes, whose salty language was often replaced by the phrase "expletive deleted." That bit of self-restraint seemed almost quaint compared to the lurid passages concerning oral sex and phone sex between Clinton and Monica S. Lewinsky, which ordinarily would be deemed unfit to print. The report contained 62 references to "breasts" and 19 to "semen."
Boston Globe spokesman Richard Gulla said the editors believed that "for people to make a real informed judgment about this guy and potential perjury, you really needed to have a text of the entire report. There was no hesitation." One staff member said the paper had sold out at many newsstands.
Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr., whose paper printed 60,000 extra copies yesterday, said that "we became queasy" after reading the Starr report. "There were things in there that never in a million years would be published under normal circumstances," he said, adding that Publisher Donald E. Graham "felt very, very uncomfortable, as did the rest of us."
Downie said the paper ran the unexpurgated version because "this is the document from the special prosecutor, released by the leadership of the House, and they put it on the Internet. . . . It's central to a debate about what happens to the future of this president."
Chicago Tribune Editor Howard Tyner told his paper that the Starr report is "almost impossible to edit. . . . Which term is too salacious and which isn't? Once you get into that, you open the door to criticism that you're trying to alter the meaning. The contentious parts are the core of the report. That's what it's about. If you take them out, you may as well not run it at all."
The report's dissemination was a case study in how news travels in the information age. Television provided the first accounts to millions, with several correspondents reading excerpts from Congress's own internal computer network because hard copies were not yet available. The World Wide Web, a bottomless pit for lengthy documents, carried the text to millions more, creating online traffic jams.
But those who wanted an old-fashioned, paper-and-ink version had to wait for the newspapers, a slower medium that nevertheless has far greater capacity for detail than its broadcast cousins.
The sheer tonnage of print coverage -- 20 stories in the New York Times, 15 in The Washington Post, plus either the full text or excerpts of the White House rebuttal in these and other papers -- all but eclipsed other national and world events, from the naming of a Russian prime minister to the stock market's 180-point rebound. Time, Newsweek and National Journal are among magazines planning to publish excerpts.
The Philadelphia Inquirer and Detroit Free Press yesterday joined a small but growing number of papers -- including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Des Moines Register, Denver Post, Orlando Sentinel and Washington Times -- that have urged the president to step down.
"Bill Clinton should resign," the Inquirer said. "He should resign because his repeated, reckless deceits have dishonored his presidency beyond repair."
The Los Angeles Times said: "The picture of Clinton that now emerges is that of a middle-aged man with a pathetic inability to control his sexual fancies."
Until now, said the New York Times, "no citizen . . . could have grasped the completeness of President Clinton's mendacity or the magnitude of his recklessness."
But some editorial pages took a more laid-back approach. "He's a liar. He's an unfaithful husband. He's tarnished the White House," said the San Francisco Examiner. "He's also a world-class actor who admitted the truth only when he found his lies no longer worked.
"So what else is new?"
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