The Ken Starr report says many things about this president of ours, and his most ethical administration in history. The public reaction to the report also says something about the rest of us.
Namely, we - pundits and public alike - are just about as hypocritical, cynical, and shameless as Bill Clinton.
Twenty-four hours after the press got its hands on the report came the inevitable backlash. In one national news report after another, and on the (endless) talk show circuit, the question was raised: Did Starr have to be so graphic? "Did this report have to be that detailed, that explicit?" NBC's "Dateline" anchor Stone Phillips asked Republican Congressman Bill McCollum. "I mean, you cringe when you read it. Does the Congress need it, do the American people need to hear it, should the President be subjected to this kind of embarrassment?"
On ABC's "20/20" the day of the release, Barbara Walters was equally puzzled: "When you read this report it is so salacious, it is so graphic. There could be a backlash against Ken Starr. I asked the prosecutor's office today why it had to be so salacious and was told the answer is in the report."
Oh, come now. Any journalist with the IQ of an orangutan knows precisely why it was so graphic: Bill Clinton under oath (and publicly to the entire nation) denied a sexual relationship using slippery legal mumbo-jumbo, which could be disproved only by a detailed description of the affair.
This mock shock-job at the specifics was an exercise in media cynicism, as reporters rushed breathlessly to the nearest microphone to be the first to break the story to the American people. Some tried to edit out a word here, a line there, but the message was clear.
Others made no effort whatsoever to restrict their reporting. After trashing Starr for issuing such a tawdry report, Geraldo Rivera proceeded to ask this question: "According to Miss Lewinsky, she performed oral sex on the President on nine occasions. On all nine of those occasions the President fondled and kissed her bare breasts. He touched her genitals both through her underwear and directly, bringing her to orgasm on two occasions. On one occasion the President inserted a cigar into her vagina. On another occasion she and the President had brief genital contact... High crime or low blow?"
There was no need for Geraldo to say that, except that he wanted to say that. Hypocrisy.
But nothing is more shameless than the reaction coming from some quarters of the American public, specifically in the never-ending "man-on-the-street" interviews wherein Starr is being excoriated for including such material in his report. How awful! How obscene! How repugnant!
Spare me, you hypocrites. Turn on the television tonight and tell me what's on the prime time schedule. Show after show will feature the very same subject matter as comedic entertainment, and tens of millions of Americans will watch it in the comfort of their living rooms, laughing all the way. Where's the outrage there?
Turn on your radio. Listen to the disc jockeys - the ones your children are listening to - as they try to out-do one another with the raunchiest skits imaginable based on the Lewinsky scandal. And not a peep of protest from you.
How about the movies? "There's Something About Mary" was produced with a paltry (in Hollywood terms) $25 million, boasts no real stars, and yet sits at the top of the charts. According to one report, no one "has been able to recall a movie that had so much durability that it finally hit number one in its eighth week in wide release, as 'Mary' did over the Labor Day weekend."
On one level the film is absolutely hilarious, and could have been a terrific PG-13 rated comedy. But the producers had something else in mind. No, there isn't a credible film critic in America who will graphically describe it in his review - there are limits, you know. And no, this writer won't discuss it either - one doesn't say those things in a family paper, of course.
But millions upon millions of people - adults and children - know all about the "hair-gel" scene, and word-of-mouth pass along the details to their friends, and presto! It's the "smash" of the season, projected to make $200 million.
And yet Ken Starr is out of line for doing his job, and telling the truth. We are a nation of hypocrites.