Why is the press doggedly pursuing a rumor -- not an allegation but a rumor -- that George W. Bush used cocaine in the past, while ignoring the allegations made by Gennifer Flowers on the Aug. 18 broadcast of Fox News' "Hannity and Colmes" show that Bill Clinton not only admitted to her that he'd used cocaine but also told Ms. Flowers that he could get it for her if ever she wished to try it? These admissions, alleges Ms. Flowers, were made by Mr. Clinton when he was Arkansas attorney general and later when he was governor.

Do you see a double standard here? Is the press corps holding a Republican presidential candidate to a different and higher standard than a sitting Democratic president? Sure does look that way to me.

I also have a big problem with mainstream journalists and editors who've decided to lower the bar of journalistic ethics to include investigating rumors, then presenting their finding in a way that suggests to the public that the story arose from legitimate allegations instead of a mere rumor.

CAROLINE BROWN

Far Rockaway, N.Y.

Politicians and journalists coming to the defense of Texas Gov. George W. Bush over rumors of his use of cocaine are telling us that a zone of privacy should be respected and that the sins of youth should not be a factor now.

If these arguments are valid for politicians, then they also should be valid for all Americans. If drug use is a private issue, then government should get out of controlling private decisions, and it should clear criminal records when citizens reach a certain age.

Politicians are telling us that we did not dig into their personal lives in the old days, and we should not be digging today. In the old days, politicians garnered many special privileges for themselves that made it easy for them to hide their past and be undetected hypocrites.

Do we want to go back?

RICHARD PRAWDZIENSKI

Edmond, Okla.

One of the things that will have to be considered before the question of possible youthful drug use by George W. Bush can be put to rest is whether he lied to the Air Force or the Texas Air National Guard about the matter. Fighter pilots, even National Guard fighter pilots, must have security clearances. One of the questions on the background clearance form involves drug use. Eventually someone will ask how Gov. Bush answered that question.

EDWARD L. DUNLAY

Harrison Township, Mich.

As I read "Bush Goes Further on Question of Drugs" [front page, Aug. 20], I was outraged by the hypocrisy of Gov. Bush's Republican supporters. Gov. Bush is quoted as saying, "I made mistakes, and . . . I have learned from my mistakes." Am I the only one who hears Bill Clinton saying almost the same words? Words that were ridiculed by Republicans nationwide.

Gov. Bush then continues, "Enough is enough when it comes to trying to dig up people's backgrounds in politics." The president and Mrs. Clinton argued this point, and again it was mocked by the Republicans.

I am not a Clinton apologist. But like most Americans, I am looking for a leader in the White House -- someone who doesn't have any footnotes, ands, ifs or buts. The Republicans say they want this too, but I don't believe it. And they better watch out. They have lost more than one speaker of the House as well as other elected officials along their self-righteous road to ruling the country. They could have just lost the presidency as well.

CHRISTINA JULIANO

Washington

There has been a lot of talk about George W. Bush's past "lifestyle" and rumored cocaine use. Cocaine use alone is a felony. It has no statute of limitations as a federal crime.

I believe the media should stop asking Gov. Bush if he used cocaine in his past. It is now obvious to me that he has at some point in his life. He just won't say when.

Instead, I propose the question for George W. Bush now should be: If elected president, will you issue pardons to the tens of thousands of men and women in prison as a result of cocaine use prior to their 28th birthday if they make the statement that they have now grown up, as you have done?

The follow-up: If not, why is your situation of achieving adulthood at age 40 different from theirs?

JACK ALLAN JONES

Wylie, S.C.

I think a cocaine-besmirched George W. Bush should run for president only after he has waited out the number of years that a cocaine possessor might be sentenced under his own Texas drug-prohibition law. Fair's fair.

PAUL M. BISCHKE

Saint Paul, Minn.

Why does anyone care what George W. Bush smoked, drank or said 25 years ago? I don't.

I care what he does now and plans to do with our future. In fact, people who have experienced different things in life generally have a much better outlook and broader perspective.

Most all of us have some sort of skeleton in our closets, and it doesn't mean we don't have the best interests of ourselves and our fellow human beings at heart.

DEBRA L. ORR

Silver Spring

The uproar about whether George W. Bush used cocaine highlights the primary Republican indiscretion of middle and old age: hypocrisy. Whether Mr. Bush was a youthful user of illegal drugs is not the core issue, especially with a constituency that has largely forgiven him, innocent or guilty. The correct issue is that Republican criminals who weren't caught now support and apply Draconian penalties against our present youth for indiscretions of all sorts.

Further, their hypocrisy confuses priorities. Most drug abusers and adulterers do well in later life. Some are qualified to be president. The Republican obsession with lesser indiscretions obscures those that are more dangerous -- those that undermine our capitalism and freedom.

I would rather see more attention paid to bankers who launder money for Russian criminals and to campaign contributors who really are paying bribes than to Gov. Bush's rumored drug use. And if some Republicans are so concerned about the privacy of Gov. Bush's indiscreet youth, are they equally concerned about government and commercial intrusions into the privacy of every other American? I think not. We now have drugs against impotence. It's too bad there are no drugs against the Republican indiscretion of middle and old age.

WILLIAM CLINE

Washington