The Leaky Wheel Gets the Grease
By Joel Achenbach
The latest news is that independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who once was investigating a real-estate deal in the Ozarks, a godforsaken mountainous region in Arkansas, is now pursuing White House staffers and Clinton loyalists who may have leaked to the media negative information about Starr's deputies. White House officials, in turn, say this shows that Starr is a maniac who should spend less time investigating leaks and more time confirming that his own deputies are sickos, thieves, pyromaniacs, mouth-breathers and armpit-scratchers.
Journalists, meanwhile, are alarmed. They say Starr's tactics could have a "chilling effect" on the media's ability to gather politically motivated innuendo. They point out that if it weren't for leaked information they would never have learned about the stained dress that didn't exist, the damaging testimony of the valet that was never given, or the "hundreds" of Clinton girlfriends who were figments of someone's imagination.
Reporters fear that the leakers in the White House, whom they cannot name other than to say that one of them rhymes with Bidney Slumenthal, will be forced to tell the grand jury the names of the journalists to whom the leaks were leaked. Correspondingly there are fears at the White House that some journalists have been leaking themselves, letting Starr's deputies know the names of the White House leakers, and that Starr's deputies may soon leak this information to other journalists, who will then leak it back to the White House, finally resulting in total pandemonium and confusion, and everyone will feel bad.
Starr may soon have to subpoena himself to find out what he knows, according to a senior White House official disguised as a rosebush. Already the stakes have gotten so high that some newspaper stories are appearing with no bylines, because the reporters are ethically bound not to reveal who they are. Certain TV correspondents reporting from the White House are standing behind trees, in dark shadows or having their faces electronically blurred.
In the grimmest scenario of all, the leaks from the Clinton and Starr camps could simply evaporate, requiring journalists to rely solely on William Ginsburg to leak them information. The voluble attorney for Lewinsky has appeared on all the broadcast networks as well as CNN, MSNBC, ESPN, Nickleodeon and the Cartoon Channel, and has had an antenna and a microwave dish permanently mounted on his skull so that he can be uplinked by satellite at any time anywhere in the world. Some critics say Ginsburg is not serving his client's interests. He replied that he has to be outspoken because his client is a liar and a stalker, "in the best meaning of those words."
Lewinsky herself has been largely in seclusion except for brief visits to watch her sister Tara perform in the Olympics and to provide support for her jailed cousin Ted, also known as the Unabomber.
United Nations inspectors, meanwhile, are probing a tip that Lewinsky was originally developed by Saddam Hussein to use against President Clinton as a "biological weapon."
What's certain is that both Starr and the White House are playing hardball. Starr has shown that he will do whatever it takes -- even if it means making Lewinsky's mother cry, even if it means hauling Clinton's dog Buddy in front of the grand jury and denying it a delicious-looking doggie biscuit -- to find out if the president had certain moments of panting blissful inappropriateness with a young staffer who, everyone has to admit, has been looking better and better in the most recent photographs.
Clinton, in turn, has shown that he will do whatever it takes, even if it means watching his friends and staffers dragged through the mud and the entire government nearly immobilized, to maintain the aura of dignity around the presidency by declining to admit stuff that everyone knows is true. Clinton apparently feels that if the American people thought he groped and exploited a staffer, they might start to think that he sometimes shades the truth. They might lose respect for him and not introduce him to their sisters, daughters, wives and surprisingly vixenish mothers.
Vernon Jordan, Clinton's friend, golf partner and alleged co-conspirator, has been trying to keep a low profile in recent weeks, focusing on his work as an attorney, power luncher, board member for dozens of corporations and philanthropist who gets jobs not just for Monica Lewinsky but for all young people who might be interrogated about their complicated human relationships with the president.
Press secretary Mike McCurry, asked recently to explain why he has had no comment on any substantive matter involving the scandal, said he couldn't comment on that. He then went "on background" and said that he was not Mike McCurry and had never met Mike McCurry. He then paralyzed the press corps with a Boredom Ray from his forehead.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company