Susan McDougal, Celebrity Crook

The women in Bill Clinton's past get vastly differing receptions from the media. Gennifer Flowers was a trash-for-cash bimbo. Paula Jones was a big-hair nightmare out of a trailer park. And Susan McDougal, who looted a failed savings and loan that cost the taxpayers more than $50 million, who fraudulently took a $300,000 Small Business Administration loan and never paid it back, is a victim.

But she's better than a victim. Since her conviction on multiple felony counts, she's a celebrity, appearing from prison via satellite to condemn the man who persuaded a jury she was a crook: independent counsel Ken Starr. Almost everywhere she goes, the media kneel in strange respect:

On February 24, she appeared on CNN's Larry King Live. Among King's questions: "Is this a witch-hunt?... Why do you think Starr's popularity is so low?...In a sense, do you feel like you're a political prisoner?" When McDougal protested questioning of Monica Lewinsky's mother, King added: "Germany did it, too." When McDougal said she wouldn't testify out of principle, King replied: "That's why a lot of the country respects you."

On February 7, ABC World News Tonight reporter Michel McQueen argued: "Whitewater figure Susan McDougal has long maintained that she's in jail on contempt charges only because she won't invent facts to fit Starr's story."

On February 5, McDougal appeared on Dateline NBC, where Stone Phillips offered her take on the Lewinsky case: "Susan McDougal claims two years ago, before she went to jail, another Whitewater figure who had been meeting with Starr's staff to cut a deal for leniency paid her a visit." She claimed ex-husband and co-conspirator Jim McDougal told her to say she had an affair with Clinton. Phillips let Starr's office deny the story, then added: "McDougal says the current investigation is about prying into people's sex lives. Reaching into the gutter."

McDougal appeared on Dateline NBC last October to compare Starr to the Nazis. Stone Phillips explained: "Kenneth Starr a Nazi?....Susan McDougal's mother Lorette Henley knows all about standing firm under pressure. As a teenager in Nazi-occupied Belgium she saw first-hand how the Gestapo turned neighbor against neighbor, forcing people to lie about loved ones who were then arrested or shot. She says her family defied them, going so far as to hide Resistance fighters in their basement." Phillips compared that to "September 1996, the night before Susan was to testify before a Whitewater grand jury."

Last year, everyone from CBS's Phil Jones ("she claims she's in solitary confinement for up to 22 hours a day") to NPR's Nina Totenberg ("with food being shoved through a slot in the door, literally") to NBC's Jim Miklaszewski ("being served oatmeal that's cold and gluey") underlined her "inhuman" treatment while she's in contempt of court.

Rarely in these sob stories did the networks allow an opposing viewpoint. So why are the networks' anti-Starr poll numbers a mystery? The media have been working to discredit Starr for a very long time, using a less-than-credible S&L crook to do it. - Tim Graham