What the foreign papers are saying.
Jan. 28 1998 3:30 AM

The world's press is still far from agreeing on a name for it. "Monicagate" seems to be quite popular, having been used in countries as far apart as India (the Asian Age) and France (Libération). But the Paris evening newspaper France-Soir calls it "Sexgate," and the Italian newspapers have generally plumped for the even more ludicrous "Sexygate." "Zippergate" was taken up by the Irish Sunday Independent. The serious German newspapers, which tend to avoid catch lines anyway, are calling it nothing at all, while the British ones have so far sensibly resisted "gates" of any kind, using straightforward catch lines like "The White House Scandal" or "The Clinton Scandal." But the British Sunday tabloids excelled themselves by managing to demean even a sleazy sex scandal with revolting front-page headlines of which perhaps the worst was in the Sunday People--"I'll Give You My Baby Gravy."


Monday was a day on which the European pundits who hadn't yet managed to get their hands on the story rushed to have their belated say, many of them posing as Old World sophisticates bewildered by the simple-minded puritanism of the United States. In La Repubblica of Rome, its main female columnist, Natalia Aspesi, wrote: "Seen from Italy, the drama which is imprisoning Clinton and his loyal wife, which is endangering not only his presidency but even the economy and politics of the United States, if not of the entire planet, appears an amusing, absurd and incomprehensible triviality. Our presidents and prime ministers have never had such problems, partly because they are almost always Christian Democrats, or at any rate very Catholic, at least in words, and partly because they are almost always ugly and old and shadowed by energetic wives who do not permit them any distractions, or they are widowers pledged to chastity." But if they did commit such indiscretions, she added, they would be much more popular.

In La Stampa of Turin, Italy, Gabriele Romagnoli wrote that even Houdini couldn't have got himself out of Clinton's mess, because America could not have tolerated the commonplace nature of his offence. "A society based on hypocrisy can forgive the sins which don't belong to it, those which it dreams of committing, but not those which it commits every day," he explained.

In the conservative Daily Telegraph of London, Barbara Amiel, the Canadian columnist who is married to the newspaper's Canadian proprietor, Conrad Black, wrote in an op-ed article headlined "Stop this madness" that Clinton was a victim of political correctness. "It has come to this: the natural desire of a young woman for an aggressive, handsome and powerful middle-aged man and the reciprocal pleasure that such a man has in the flattering attention of a pretty young girl--these totally mutual and consensual instincts that are built into the human psyche, whether one likes it or not--have created a tempest in the United States that could lead to a constitutional crisis. Indeed, this natural libidinous reaction could well have a major impact on the lives of Palestinians, Israelis and Iraqis, not to mention the world economy."

After saying that "the one great contribution that Clinton could make" would be to "expose the sexual political correctness that distorts our law and our lives," Amiel concluded, "One wonders what Mrs. Clinton is really feeling through all this as she manages Bill's defence team. My own view is that, like Lorena Bobbitt, she is sharpening the knife to remove the one major impediment that stands between her and her shadow presidency."

The president's member featured as a subject in numerous tasteless cartoons. One on the front page of Corriere della Sera of Milan showed Bill lying disconsolately in a double bed beside Hillary, who is saying, "So it's the dollar that's dropped, then?" The liberal Guardian of London had a cartoon on its editorial page showing Monica Lewinsky dragging Clinton by his penis off his presidential pedestal into a throng of hysterical, knife-waving enemies. Beside it the paper's editorial--titled "Tell the truth, Hillary"--said the first lady "needs to tell Americans why she is still standing by her man--why the peace and prosperity of the 1990s are an achievement for which he deserves credit. She persuaded her nation why Bill Clinton was fit to be president once before. She needs to do so again. And she cannot afford to fail."

In Israel, the daily Ha'aretz reported from Washington Sunday that the Clinton sex scandal might trigger a wave of anti-Semitism in the United States. It quoted an official of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith as saying that the fact that the fate of the administration hung on the word of a 24-year-old Jewish woman had already produced accusations of a "Jewish conspiracy" against the American people on Internet sites operated by radical right-wing and white supremacist organizations. Another Israeli daily, Yediot Aharonot, commented, "We used to think, in all good faith, that the fate of the peace process was in the hands of a Jew born in Prague calling herself Madeleine Albright. Apparently it's in the hands of another Jew, Monica Lewinsky, born in Beverly Hills."

Monday, Ha'aretz published an op-ed article by Danny Rubinstein, saying, "In the Arab world and among the Palestinians, many people believe that because Monica Lewinsky is Jewish the Washington sex scandal is nothing but another stunt by the Israeli Mossad, intended to distract the attention of the American public and of President Bill Clinton away from the peace process. In East Jerusalem on Saturday you could hear perfectly serious people saying the timing of the new scandal could not possibly be a coincidence. According to that version, the Israelis were alarmed by the possibility the president might take a pro-Palestinian stance, and quickly cooked up the new sex scandal."

The daily El País of Madrid devoted a whole column to the unpromising scandal of Domingogate--a story from its Washington correspondent about how Monica's mother, Marcia Lewis, had included in the original manuscript of her book The Private Lives of the Three Tenors a passage "imagining" a love affair between her and Plácido Domingo. The tenor had issued a statement admitting to having seen her around the place at the Los Angeles Opera but denying she had even interviewed him for her book--let alone participated with him in an "imagined" romance. The same newspaper had a scoop over the weekend about how Fidel Castro's daughter had applied for asylum in Spain, but was likely to be denied it.