The sex-media-politics nexus

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The year of monica Lewinsky reached its (I hope) denouement in the week of Monica Lewinsky. Having already been questioned 22 times, she was called to Washington under a court order obtained by independent counsel Kenneth Starr for an "informal interview" with the House impeachment managers on Jan. 24. "She's back," The Washington Post breathlessly headlined. Outside the Mayflower hotel a media mob-scene raged.

Ms. Lewinsky told her interviewers she had nothing new to tell them. To escape the paparazzi parade, she returned to Los Angeles. She was summoned back, now under a Senate subpoena. Still no sensational reversal in her Monday appearance, no new nugget of testimony that would arrest the downhill slide of the impeachment proceeding.

At long last, she was "excused," to find more congenial pursuits in an interview with Barbara Walters and a sympathetic book appearing in April, "Monica's Story."

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What has fascinated me is why the anti-Clinton posse became so obsessed with this young woman who had an unfortunate experience with a president that will give her a page in history.

Lewinsky became the pawn in a high-stakes game. It had been clear from the start that the president would not be convicted by two-thirds of the Senate unless there was some electrifying event, on videotape or in person before the Senate, that would engage the sympathy of the public and create pressures on the Senate for conviction. It was meant as a prime example of the sex-media-politics nexus.

"It is the most investigated sexual relationship in history," says former Sen. George Mitchell. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) of Maine, said that if Lewinsky were brought before the Senate, that might turn the proceedings into "The Jerry Springer Show."

Jay Leno may have spoken a profound truth when he told The Washington Post that he looks on the impeachment process as entertainment. He said, "It's like 'The Jerry Springer Show,' except everyone has a law degree."

In the past year, Monicagate has come to rank with the O.J. Simpson trial and perhaps the death of Princess Diana, as made-for-media dramas. Leaks, rumor, and innuendo became weapons of combat in well-orchestrated attempts to manipulate the news industry. Remember 1987, when former Sen. Gary Hart had been discovered to have had relations with a model, Donna Rice? At a news conference in New Hampshire, he was asked whether he had ever committed adultery. That was the politics-sex-media nexus in its early days.

With Monica Lewinsky, the face that launched a thousand inside stories and a thousand paparazzi pursuits, sex-politics-media has reached its zenith.

*Daniel Schorr is senior news analyst for National Public Radio.

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