Good Ol' Boys

Good Ol' Boys

Good Ol' Boys

What the foreign papers are saying.
Sept. 16 1998 3:30 AM

Good Ol' Boys

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At the Venice Film Festival, Italian journalists have been clamoring for the opinions of the Hollywood stars about the crisis engulfing their friend Bill Clinton. Will they continue to stand by him now that he is down? Robert De Niro will, at any rate. He told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica Sunday that he regards the president as just another victim of "this wave of McCarthyite persecution of powerful and successful men." Kenneth Starr, De Niro said, is a "maniac" and Monica Lewinsky an "intriguing bitch" (this last phrase being printed in English). "And we mustn't forget the role of the mother who instructed her and who is certainly much more expert than she is at things of this kind."

But in an interview with the same paper, ex-philanderer Warren Beatty took a different view. The Americans are "a moralistic and sexophobic race," he said, but a president has to understand this and make the necessary sacrifices. "To renounce his manhood for four, or even eight, years is a fair price to pay," he said. "People like him--and on another level, people like me--cannot expect a right to privacy." They should recognize that new technology "lays bare throughout the world our most intimate and secret acts--sins which would be quickly forgotten if, for example, the internet didn't render them shameful, obscene and irremovable." The only real difference between De Niro and Beatty is that the first believed in the president's right to privacy, and the second didn't.

While the Clinton drama topped the news in papers around the world, the bulk of editorial comment came from western Europe, where opinion was weighted overall in favor of his survival. Le Monde of Paris, under the striking headline "Hell Is American," was particularly strong in its condemnation of the Starr report, which it likened to the Spanish Inquisition. It accused Starr of treating "the pitiful lie of a seducer" as a state crime that could, in theory, lead to a year's imprisonment. It also criticized Starr for accepting, unchallenged, Lewinsky's version of events. Clinton's main offense, it said, is that he used family values as part of his re-election mandate.

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In London, columnist Matt Ridley of the conservative Daily Telegraph departed from the paper's fiercely anti-Clinton line by saying that "compared with ancient emperors, modern American presidents--even a Kennedy or a Clinton--are models of monogamy." The ancient Chinese emperor Fei-ti, Ridley explained, had a harem of 10,000 virgins and "was expected to make love to two a day, and was trained in special techniques to make sure that he could manage this." "Even at this rate it would take him 14 years to get back to the lady he first thought of," Ridley added. "It is not surprising that some Chinese emperors complained of their onerous amorous duties."

Among a batch of letters to the Telegraph on the Clinton affair, one correspondent wrote: "What hypocrisy! Diana, Princess of Wales, is deified despite her misdemeanours (a robust sex life outside marriage) while President Clinton is castigated for displaying natural human foibles while being excellent at his work." The paper's editorial Monday said it was difficult to imagine Clinton now having the authority George Bush had wielded when he persuaded a reluctant Congress in 1990 to drive Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait: "His presence in the White House is damaging not only to America, but to all those countries which share its values."

Rupert Murdoch's Times of London, which is also anti-Clinton, complained that impeachment "should be a legal, not an electoral device." "In a parliamentary system, Mr. Clinton could be forced to submit his resignation because he has lost the confidence of key colleagues," it said in an editorial Monday. "The American founding fathers presumed that honour would provide that alternative to impeachment. Without it, the United States has been placed in political limbo." The liberal Guardian said that Clinton has behaved "weakly and dishonestly over sex" but agreed with Maureen Dowd of the New York Times that "these are not grounds for impeachment: they are grounds for divorce." "She is right. Let's hope Congress agrees," it concluded.

London's other liberal broad sheet, the Independent, said that "by overreaching himself, Mr. Starr has thrown him [the President] a lifeline. If Mr. Clinton survives, it will be because Mr. Starr published, and was damned." In Dublin, the Irish Independent (owned by the man who owns the British Independent) said the president should resign if he cannot maintain his authority. In the world's current parlous condition, "US leadership and prudent US policies are vital," it said.

In Russia, under the headline "Reds in the White House?" (meaning, luckily, the Russian Duma), the daily Segodnya published a front-page lead story about the expected confirmation Thursday of Yevgeny Primakov as the country's new prime minister. Commenting on his decision to bring Communists into his government, Segodnya said, "The most important thing for the Communists is to get control of money from weapons exports. This money will become a source of financing in the next parliamentary and presidential elections."

In Havana, the government newspaper Granma celebrated the 40th anniversary of the invention of the cha-cha with the unlikely boast "that it was danced by no less than Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales."