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Should Bill Confess to Messing the Dress?

News Weeklies Indulge Wishful Thinking That A Late Apology Will Make Clinton Scandals Go Away

All three news magazines this week felt it impossible to keep Monicagate off the cover. But their approaches to coverage were quite different:

Newsweek was the only one to run a transcript of Linda Tripp's press statement, and the only one to note Tripp said Lewinsky relayed her children would be "in danger" if she didn't change her Kathleen Willey story.

Ex-Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos penned a commentary imploring the President to tell the truth before the grand jury, confess if necessary to the public, and then "he should vow never to discuss the matter again, and immediately return to running the country." Stephanopoulos made no mea culpa for his own repeated deceptions during his tenure with Clinton.

U.S. News & World Report's summary of the week's big scandal events strangely argued: "If Clinton did confess to misstatements, however, the Lewinsky matter would lose much of its significance." U.S. News is the only magazine to devote an article to public apathy, headlined "The Mood in Middle America: It's time to move on, the people say." Warren Cohen traveled to Janesville, Wisconsin to find those real Americans who don't care about Clinton's sex life. "'I've got more import-ant things to do,' says Kim Demrow, 31, a hardware store employee, 'like worry about my own life.'" Cohen ran eight dismissive quotes about Monicagate, followed by three people who think if Clinton lied, it's wrong.

Ex-Clinton aide David Gergen's commentary argued Clinton would obviously confess: "As someone who has worked with and known the man for more than a dozen years, I believe that in a crisis, Bill Clinton steps up to the challenge. He can certainly do the damnedest things. But down deep, he has a good heart and tries very hard to serve a higher good. That remains his saving grace - and will save him here." This from the same guy who advised Clinton in print after the '96 election that he "must talk to the country in an open, contrite manner about the ethical clouds that hang over him."

Time's poll asked: "If Clinton were to admit that he had sex with Lewinsky and lied about it, and then apologized, should Starr's investigation end or continue?" (69 percent say end.)

In the main news story, Nancy Gibbs floridly argued: "Clinton over the years has shown a great capacity for self-pity, but in this sense it would be partly deserved: no ordinary citizen would face Clinton's present excruciating legal bind. No ordinary errant male would face a special prosecutor with four years of relatively slim results and an ever expanding mandate to search for potential illegality....But legal rights are for ordinary folks, not the man elevated to the office that transmutes a lifetime of ambition, dealmaking, and supercharged hormones into a symbol of dignity, power and promise to serve the greater good."

Eric Pooley's report on Clinton's legacy called for an end to the independent-counsel law, "which is hard-wired to launch witch hunts." He bemoaned how Monicagate could distort the 2000 horse race: "The danger, of course, is a field of cardboard candidates, life-like creatures who can pass any background check but lack heart, instinct, and fire. Already, Dan Quayle and Trent Lott have announced that they have never committed adultery. It's enough to make you start missing Clinton."- Tim Graham