'All the President's Women' Grabbing Front Pages Around the Globe
By Charles Trueheart
"President Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," declared the headline in the German paper Die Tageszeitung. "Impeachment for Love," said Russia's Segodnya newspaper. "All the President's Women," proclaimed the Ottawa Citizen. "Naughtygate," tutted the Daily Star in London.
"Here we go again, with another tale of Bedroom Bill and that loose presidential zipper," began the lead editorial in today's respected British newspaper the Guardian. It concluded that President Clinton's alleged affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky "may be as gross as it is foolish. But it is not yet the stuff of impeachment."
David Aaronovitch, in the Independent of London, reflected on a global bewilderment that personal peccadilloes could bring down the leader of the free world. He wrote that if Clinton were to be driven from office, "it will represent the greatest victory yet for monstrous triviality over reasoned debate in the political life of the West."
The story's rapid proliferation confirmed the speed of the global media cycle: Scarcely three days after the story broke in the United States, garage mechanics in Paris pulling at after-work beers were joking about "Monica" and "the creep."
It was the talk of office corridors and cab rides, a source of incredulity, bewilderment and titillation.
Much of the commentary about Clinton in foreign newspapers was harsh -- and personal.
The Italian daily Corriere della Sera referred to Clinton's "inexplicable weakness of character." The Express in London said Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton are "badly flawed and empty people . . . unfit for the high task placed on their shoulders."
But others defended Clinton, questioning the special prosecution system -- and the political culture -- that has brought him to this pass.
"The American public's childish obsession with smut and scandals is not compatible with a well-functioning democracy," sniffed the Danish daily Politiken.
The Israeli press lapped up the Clinton allegations, which have pushed the Middle East peace process from front-page prominence. Interest seemed particularly sharp because Monica Lewinsky is Jewish.
"We innocently thought the fate of the peace process was in the hands of a Jewess, born in Prague, named Madeleine Albright," wrote Nahum Barnes on Thursday's front page of the popular daily Yedioth Aharonoth.
"Apparently, the fate of the peace process is, to no lesser degree, in the hands of another Jewess, named Monica Lewinsky, 24 years old, a Beverly Hills native, who spent a fun-filled summer three years ago as an [intern] at the White House."
There was other news in the world: Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba, the casualty of U.S. coverage diverted to Clinton, still dominated many media in Europe.
The developments from Washington often followed closer-to-home concerns: In Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post carried the White House story on its front page, playing up the possibility of Clinton's impeachment, but the story came well below a banner headline about a new health scare involving "mad cow" disease.
But on inside news pages and in long television segments, people around the world were treated to quick lessons in the impeachment process, thumbnail sketches of Kenneth Starr and Linda Tripp, retrospectives on Watergate and President Kennedy's infidelities, comparisons to local scandals, and a wealth of detail about the Clinton allegations. The Times of London even had its religion writer explain the biblical definition of adultery.
The news brought out more evidence of the self-image among Europeans that they tolerate marital infidelity and respect sexual privacy far more than Americans. But most were able to distinguish quickly between that dimension of the accusations against Clinton and the legal one.
"We should not assume Americans are more foolish than they are," said France's Liberation. "The ferocity with which American politicians are grilled about their private lives has less to do with sex and good morals than it does with telling the truth."
On a late-night program on Russia's NTV, one analyst said such a scandal would not be treated seriously in Russia.
The serious papers took a serious view of the budding scandal's consequences -- an American president distracted from problems that affect the world in general, and their countries in particular.
"What the U.S. needs above all, and what it is probably not going to get, is a rapid resolution to this unhappy affair," wrote the Financial Times of London in an editorial.
Washington Post correspondents John Burgess in London, Lee Hockstader in Jerusalem, Keith B. Richburg in Hong Kong, Howard Schneider in Toronto, Daniel Williams in Moscow, researcher Petra B. Krischok in Berlin, and news services contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company