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Jewish World Review / August 27, 1998 / 5 Elul, 5758

Roger Simon

Roger Simon Cigars?

WASHINGTON -- The following column contains information -- and I use the term loosely -- of a salacious nature that you could easily live without. And if you are as sick and tired of the Monica Lewinsky story as the polls say you are, you will want to skip this column entirely.

OK? Here's the column:

It was last week, and a bunch of reporters were sitting in a restaurant talking about the cigar.

OK, OK. We couldn't help ourselves.
"Appalling," one reporter said.

"Disgusting," another reporter said.

And so, of course, we talked about it for the next 20 minutes.

The cigar, as some of you may have heard, allegedly plays a part in the Clinton-Lewinsky saga.

The part it plays, if true, involves a sexual encounter between the president and the intern.

"I don't think we're printing it," one reporter said.

And then, we discussed whether that was a good decision or not.

The discussion centered around a) whether the allegation was true, b) how any news operation could really confirm it and c) if we knew it to be true, does that mean we should automatically print it?

In other words, are there things that should not be printed or broadcast even if true?

If those things involve an ordinary citizen, the decision becomes easier: Ordinary citizens have certain rights of privacy.

But does a president? Or is anything a president does (or is alleged to have done) fair game?

I don't want to pretend that the discussion among the reporters was all serious and academic. Part of the discussion was pretty raunchy and silly.

But that was OK because we were just discussing things among ourselves. We were not publishing the information.

And, as it turned out, nobody at the table printed the story.

Everybody practiced some restraint. In fact, as far as I could determine, no American mainstream publication printed the cigar story last week.

So what happened?

On Monday, the Hotline began with the cigar story.

The Hotline is a very respectable on-line service that reviews hundreds of newspapers, radio and TV shows and prints a summary, along with polls and other items of political interest.

In just a few years, Hotline has become essential reading in Washington, where just about every news operation I know subscribes to it.

And Monday, Hotline led with a story quoting the London Times quoting Matt Drudge about the cigar. Then, Hotline quoted the Drudge Report as saying: "So just what are these salacious details that journalists are wrestling with this weekend? Let's just say one episode allegedly involves a cigar. And I've learned they weren't smoking it."

Tuesday, the Hotline's "Quote of the Day" was as follows: "I had to close Hotline, because my 10-year-old son was looking over my shoulder," said Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.).

And then, Hotline reported on how the cigar story had now been reported in the New York Post and how Jay Leno was now making jokes about it.

Leno, according to Hotline, said Clinton's pet name for Lewinsky was "My little humidor" and "For the last five years (Kenneth Starr) has been looking for a smoking gun, when he should have been looking for a smoking cigar."

Wednesday, The Washington Post came out with a story by media writer Howard Kurtz saying, "The mainstream media, meanwhile, are still grappling with how to deal with the seamier details of the affair between President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky." Then, Kurtz quotes Republican commentator Mary Matalin as making a "cryptic reference" to "cigars" on "Meet the Press."

Got all that?

At first, mainstream American publications refuse to print the story because either they can't confirm it or they think it's not anything that their readers need to know.

But then, Matt Drudge prints it as "allegedly" happening, and the London Times picks it up, which leads to Hotline picking it up, which leads to Jay Leno joking about it on the air and the New York Post and then The Washington Post writing about it.

Yet nobody along the way really knows with any certainty whether it is truth or fiction.

But everybody gets to make the same defense: They didn't say it was true; they were just quoting the other guy.

They used to call this gossip. Now, they call it journalism.


8/25/98: Why it's all-Lewinsky-all-day-all-night
8/21/98: From magnifying glass to microscope
8/19/98: Let's be blunt: Bubba really needs a shrink --- and fast!
8/13/98: At home, with real, live FOBs
8/11/98: Bubba's new secret weapon: the Marine Band
8/07/98: Has the presidency been reduced to a 'Leno' joke?
8/05/98: Tell the truth?
7/30/98: All ya need is luv...and to deny, deny, deny
7/28/98: 'Man-of-da-people,' huh?
7/23/98: Can frequent-flyer miles alone earn Bubba a Nobel Prize?
7/21/98: San Francisco: not only 'gay,' but happy
7/17/98: Why Bubba claims Y2K is US' biggest problem
7/14/98: Close Amtrak --- PLEASE!
7/9/98: Flag burning is for nuts!
7/7/98: Forget about his legal defense fund, buy Bubba shirts!
7/1/98: Wall-nuts
6/26/98: Perks and the press
6/23/98: There's a good reason Bubba wants gun-control...
6/19/98: Why Clinton can get away with going to Tiananmen Square
6/16/98: Maybe Big Brother ain't so bad after all
6/11/98: He claimed responsibility for Rwanda, so why isn't Bubba stopping Serbian genocide?
6/9/98: The Internet president?
6/4/98: You can call me ‘slick;' and you can call me ‘sick;' but never call me ‘Dick' .... as in Nixon, that is
6/2/98: Being a 'talkin'-head' is hard work
5/29/98 Pay the pol, pick the policy
5/27/98 A 'loo' in London
5/21/98Buba is back from Europe ... but what did he accomplish?
5/18/98Roses for Buba
5/12/98: Just who is "Mr. Republican" these days?"
5/7/98:"Why Clinton keeeps "going and going and going""
5/1/98:"Bubba v. Tabacka"
4/29/98:"You may ask, but should they tell?"
4/24/98:"McCurry and the kids from the ‘hood "
4/23/98: "NOW" should change its name to "THEN"
4/20/98: Freedom to be a jerk?
4/14/98: Bill is Hef's kinda guy
4/7/98: South African memories --- and a paradise not yet found
3/24/98: Bill's 12-day safari
3/20/98: Peace for Ireland?
3/18/98: Flat tire? Spare me
3/13/98: Latrell Sprewell's genius
3/10/98: On truth and reality
3/5/98: No, I'm not harrassing Hillary
3/3/98: The Unforgettable Henny Youngman
2/26/98: Grow up, boys!
2/24/98: Go get 'em, Bill!
2/19/98: My 15 minutes
2/17/98: The manic-depressive presidency
2/12/98: Drip, Drip, Drip
2/10/98: Clinton tunes out the networks
2/5/98: The flight of the Beast: America's love-hate relationship with scandal
2/3/98: Speaking Clintonese
1/29/98: What the president has going for him
1/27/98: Judgment call: how Americans view President Clinton
1/22/98: Bimbo eruptions past and present
1/20/98: Feeding the beast: Paula Jones gets the full O.J.
1/15/98: Let's get it over with: it's time to deal with Saddam, already
1/13/98: Sonny Bono is dead, let the good times roll
1/8/98: Carribbean Cheesecake: First couple has cake, eats cake
1/6/98: PO'ed: a suspected druggie jumps through the employment hoops
1/1/98: Cures for that holiday hangover
12/30/97: Buy stuff now
12/25/97: Peace to all squirrelkind
12/23/97: Home for the Holidays: Where John Hinckley, never convicted, will not be
12/18/97: Bill's B-list Bacchanalia: Press and politicos get cozy, to a point
12/16/97: All dressed up... (White House flack Mike McCurry speculates on his next career)

©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.