A year or so from now, when the various TV and movie versions of the Bill-and-Monica affair start reaching the screen, the same people who are now defending Ken Starr will be condemning Hollywood for vulgarizing our media. The trouble with venal studio chiefs and network heads, they will argue, is that they never consider the plight of the average parent who has to explain things to his kids.
Yet, if you clear away the rhetorical fog, here’s the central irony of the Starr Report: It is the righteous right that has now dropped the ultimate pollutants into the nation’s media bloodstream. It isn’t because of Jerry Springer or Oliver Stone that our children are now educated in the psychosexual uses of cigars or the expansive variations of oral sex. And it isn’t because the public demands to know — polls show that easily two-thirds of the public doesn’t want to know the sexual details in Ken Starr’s report and doesn’t want to see the Clinton videotape that the prosecutor now insists on showing us.
It is because of Ken Starr, not those prurient Hollywood honchos, that the public, against its will, has learned the following weighty details about the presidency:
- Though Monica had oral sex with the President nine times, he never was hospitable enough to reciprocate.
- The President preferred oral sex while leaning against the doorway of his bathroom across from the study because that position eased his sore back.
- Though the President “touched” her on 10 occasions, Monica only experienced orgasm twice.
- The couple was so intent on keeping the noise level down that she frequently bit her hand — apparently that’s all she bit — in order to remain quiet.
- The President never ejaculated during their encounters until their last two meetings because he said he didn’t know her well enough.
- Monica kept calling him “handsome,” but all she could elicit from him was “sweetie” or “dear.”
- Because Monica experienced difficulty with his button fly, the President switched to zippers.
- The President seemed so pleased by receiving a Hugo Boss tie from Monica that he reciprocated by suggesting she insert his cigar into her vagina.
Now, why did Ken Starr, the preacher’s son, the Pepperdine paragon, choose to inflict this vital data on the public? To understand his true motivations, perhaps it would be useful to think of Starr, not as a prosecutor, but as a film director who has come to realize that his movie is in trouble.
To begin with, he has spent four years and $40 million on what is at best a confined, small-canvass story. Not only has he gone over budget, but he’s also changed characters and storylines faster than Stanley Kubrick. And despite his overages, he’s nonetheless found time during the production to shoot some cigarette commercials. Indeed, his dedication to the tobacco industry is such that one wonders whether this recurrent business with cigars represents an arcane form of product placement.
Finally, panicked that his show won’t capture an audience, he’s decided to abandon his PG-13 rating and go for the hard stuff. A colleague apparently told him that old director’s axiom, “If it ain’t good, at least make it graphic.”
OK, I can already hear that rustle of dissent among my readers, so let us pause for a moment to let the Starr camp defend its decision. Only by introducing explicit sexual detail, they argue, could they expose the fact that the President perjured himself by indulging in absurd sexual word games. So intent was the President on hiding these sexual acts that he abused his power in letting aides lie in his defense. It was this cover-up that led the Clinton presidency down the road to what constitutional experts call “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
So says the Starr camp, and political orthodoxy decrees that no one disagree with them. It is considered inappropriate to point out that the “cover-up” here involved acts of sex, not acts of treason. As Richard N. Rosenfeld reminds us, the fathers of our constitution in 1792-93 decided that Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the treasury in George Washington’s cabinet, did not commit “high crimes and misdemeanors” when he tried to cover up his own sexual peccadilloes. Hamilton, it seems, not only had a flagrant affair with the wife of a convicted securities swindler, but helped gain his release from prison provided he kept quiet about the libidinous encounters involving his wife and Hamilton.
But Ken Starr and his followers seemingly are not interested in precedent; they’re interested in attention. In the 445 pages of the Starr Report, Whitewater, which started this whole thing, is mentioned only twice while oral sex averages three or four mentions per page.
And since that document got Starr media attention, he decided to top himself with the Clinton video, which is to be released this morning.
The only problem Ken Starr faces is that no one really wants to know. He’s like a film director who, having made a movie no one wants to see, now insists on flogging it relentlessly.
Certainly no one can accuse Bill Clinton of bringing much in the way of civility or class to the presidency, but it remained for Ken Starr to force-feed us a media diet of self-degradation.