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Commentary | PERSPECTIVES ON POLITICS

Plenty of Crudeness, Very Little Class, No Satire

By trying to upstage the president, Paula Jones only embarrassed herself and proved again that she is a political dupe.

April 28, 1998|BILL PRESS | Bill Press is cohost of CNN's "Crossfire."

Paula Jones came to Washington for dinner last Saturday night. She'd have been better off staying home and taking the kids out for Happy Meals in Long Beach.

What a welcome! Upon Jones' arrival at the White House Correspondents' Assn. annual dinner, the crowd of curious clustered at the entrance to the Washington Hilton--and some black-tie guests--actually booed the former Arkansas state employee. Some began chanting: "Honey, this ain't like Little Rock."

Utterly exasperated, one of her hosts later complained: "You should have seen how cruelly Paula was treated by the scum in the lobby." What did he expect? Rose petals?

But Jones' rude treatment outside the banquet hall was still more polite than the treatment she received inside. Guests simply ignored her. She was not mentioned from the podium. She was banished to the worst table in the house. You had to walk half a mile and go out of your way even to gawk at her. Sam Donaldson and Arianna Huffington did. Most didn't, because most people resented her being there.

At the Washington Hilton, Paula Jones was as welcome as James Carville in a trailer park. And her presence there just as mysterious. What I could not understand was why she showed up in the first place. Does she still have to follow Bill Clinton from hotel to hotel?

What one of her former lawyers whom I talked to could not understand was what point Jones was trying to make. That, as she says in her affidavit, Clinton ruined her life to the point that she can't even stand to watch him on television? Then why fly all the way across the country to sit in the same room with him?

What not even conservative Republican officeholders I spoke with could understand was what Jones hoped to prove. That she's really not a pawn of the right wing? Then why attend the dinner as a guest of the virulent anti-Clinton screed "Insight," which not even conservatives identify as "approaching" journalism?

In a way, you can't blame Jones. She's not the first. The White House Correspondents dinner has become an annual circus. Journalists who consider themselves the nation's best compete like schoolboys for who can invite the "Bimbo of the Year." Jones was just naively walking in the footsteps of Donna Rice, Fawn Hall and Marla Maples. But what was a cake walk for them became a death march for Jones. Unlike Donna, Fawn and Marla before her, Paula didn't have the spotlight to herself. She had competition. She was eclipsed by a real star. Paula Jones met Helen Thomas.

Yes, much to her right-wing hosts' dismay, it turned out that the highlight of Saturday night's dinner was not Jones, after all. Not even close. It was veteran White House correspondent Thomas--tough, independent, nobody's pawn--surprised by her colleagues with the group's first "Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award."

Lauded for reporting on and roasting every president since Dwight Eisenhower, Thomas gave a one-sentence acceptance speech: "You're only as good as your last story." The audience stood and roared with approval and gratitude.

Approval because here was a woman worth getting excited about.

Gratitude because, in eight words, Thomas had restored dignity to an event that Jones had tried to destroy. The entire evening, in fact, could be summed up in the contrast between two women: Helen Thomas and Paula Jones. Thomas showed lots of class; Paula Jones showed none.

Coming to the White House correspondents dinner was the second big mistake Jones made this month. In fact, those who advised her to attend must have been the same people who persuaded her to appeal the judge's decision dismissing her lawsuit. People who continue to use Jones for their own personal and political agendas. People who don't know the difference between fantasy and reality.

Chances of Jones winning her appeal are pure fantasy. As fantastic as her chances of outshining Thomas. Jones came to Washington only to embarrass President Clinton. She ended up embarrassing herself--and her whole motley operation.

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