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Style Showcase In Lewinsky Saga,
A Cast of Dozens

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 2, 1998; Page C01

Forty-one days after the Monica Lewinsky story broke, we are reading about Kenneth Starr's cross-dressing.

True, it's just the National Enquirer hyping an anecdote about the independent prosecutor once donning a costume for a high school play. But it seems to capture perfectly how far this runaway vehicle of a story has careened from the original sex and perjury allegations against President Clinton.

Unfortunately for journalists, who have gorged on this saga even as they berate themselves for doing so, not much has happened with America's most famous former intern since the crazed early days of the story. The main plot line is as stalled as the immunity negotiations between Starr and Lewinsky. But the press craves a new installment each day beyond the latest sighting of William Ginsburg and some media honcho dining in yet another fancy restaurant.

And so the cast of characters keeps expanding:

Lewinsky's father, with Barbara Walters (he has no idea whether Monica had an affair with the president but finds the idea "ludicrous"). Starr's 90-year-old mother (who told the Enquirer that Clinton should be satisfied with his wife). Lewinsky's married ex-boyfriend. Lewinsky's mother's fiance. Linda Tripp's agent. Sidney Blumenthal, the White House aide hauled before a grand jury for saying unkind things about the independent counsel. Terry Lenzner, the private eye doing unspecified dirt-digging for Clinton's lawyers. Bruce Lindsey, the Clinton confidant whose grand jury subpoena has sparked a battle over executive privilege. Paula Jones fund-raisers raising money that doesn't go to the case. And, to bring things full circle, two private investigators in Arkansas who once checked out rumors about an alleged Starr affair.

What all these charges and counter-charges have in common is that they fill the media vacuum but are increasingly remote from what Lewinsky did or didn't do with the commander in chief. Obviously, reporters have no choice but to cover the latest machinations of the combatants. But the hue and cry may persuade the public, which already doubts the importance of the adultery allegations, that this is nothing but partisan warfare as usual.

Imagine having visited the moon for the last six weeks and returning to pick up the papers. Clinton's people are accusing Starr's people of leaking. Starr's folks are accusing Clinton's folks of leaking and blaming the prosecutors for the leaks. White House aides say the "out-of-control" Starr is trampling their First Amendment right to make him look bad. Starr says the administration is burying him under an "avalanche of lies." What sane person can follow it all?

The grand constitutional principles cited in news stories seem a little less grand on closer inspection. Blumenthal, a former Washington Post and New Yorker writer, goes before the cameras to assail Starr for forcing him to testify about his confidential contacts with reporters. How dare a prosecutor intrude into the sanctity of the journalist-source relationship?

But Blumenthal is demanding that another reporter reveal his own sources. In his $30‚million libel suit against cyber-gossip Matt Drudge, Blumenthal is understandably seeking retribution for a false story that he had a history of spousal abuse. But the Clinton aide is also trying to force Drudge to disclose his unnamed sources, thus using the very maneuver for which he has denounced Starr. (Drudge may have a tough legal fight, but it's only made him more famous: He just got his own Fox News Channel show.)

After weeks of shadow-boxing, CBS's Scott Pelley reported Friday what seemed to be a significant advance in the story: that unnamed sources say Clinton and Lewinsky had a kissing relationship, but nothing more. The White House disputed the report, and many news organizations gave the allegation little or no attention.

Perhaps one day, Lewinsky, Blumenthal and Drudge will seem as colorful and vivid as John Dean, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy did in an earlier era. But Watergate took 26 months from break-in to resignation; the MTV culture doesn't like to wait that long. The press had better hope the story moves on from cross-dressing and other window dressing before the public goes channel-surfing in another direction.

Not a Kodak Moment
Mike Wallace scored a big coup when he accompanied Kofi Annan on the U.N. secretary-general's peacemaking mission to Baghdad.

As a cameraman, though, the "60 Minutes" reporter was kind of a flop.

Since Wallace was the only CBS newsman on the flight, he was given a small digital camera to record the action. CBS staffers later scrambled around the Middle East trying to process the tape, only to find that much of it was overexposed or otherwise useless.

Wallace says he did get a good picture of Annan taking a nap and that Nizar Hamdoon, Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, shot some of the footage for him. But Wallace doesn't deny that he flunked the audition.

"A lot of it was unusable because I fumbled around," he says. "For someone who is as technically challenged as I am, this was a big task."

The Big Creep
It is a quirky ad campaign aimed at Gen X readers. The New Republic, owned by Martin Peretz, is unveiling TV spots this week featuring an obnoxious creep who rambles on about why there is no reason to read the magazine.

The director apparently had connections. He is Jesse Peretz, the owner's son and an award-winning filmmaker whose clients include Nike and MTV. The New Republic ads will air on Comedy Central, CNN, MTV, VH1 and ABC's "Politically Incorrect."

Modesty Watch
"In many ways the history of Time is the history of the 20th century" – Time news release on the magazine's 75th anniversary, to be celebrated this week at Radio City Music Hall with the likes of President Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev, Toni Morrison and Mary Tyler Moore.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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