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CLINTON UNDER FIRE | REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK

Blue Jokes Play Trump in Bridge Games Around Staid Capital

Taboos: All this talk about sex could do for erotica what Betty Ford did for breast cancer, one observer opines.

January 28, 1998|GERALDINE BAUM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — A giddy mix of embarrassment and thrill often emerges when people confront taboos. And that's what's happening with all the below-the-Beltway talk about Bill Clinton.

Americans are titillated by the ubiquitous discussion of a young woman's claim that she had sex with the president. For a week now, people have been gabbing about sex the way they used to discuss the weather. The stuff of blue jokes and comics is right out there at bridge games with the Sanka and pound cake.

"All of our puritanical heritage means that these things seem lewd," says Michele Slung, a Washington-based editor of literary erotica. "But there's no actual reason why all of this has to be taboo."

Relaxing the public discourse around sex, she says, could have benefits. "Maybe it's like Betty Ford having a mastectomy," she says, referring to the impression the former first lady's breast cancer made on American women. "Maybe in 10 years we'll find talk of Clinton's sex life helped people talk about their own."

But Slung also sees how knowing too much about a president makes Americans uncomfortable.

"Not only was he in loco parentis to Monica Lewinsky because she was a young woman within his institutional charge," says Slung, "but the president is also a national parent. None of us likes to visualize our parents having sex."

With all the tittering, in the White House they are hyper self-conscious. The president's speech writers apparently combed the State of the Union address for double-entendres.

This is Washington, after all. Heaven forbid someone should snicker.

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Who's helping whom?

Unless you're tuned in exclusively to the Cartoon Network, there's been no avoiding William H. Ginsburg this week.

Lewinsky's attorney told The Times that he called upon Barbara Walters, the veteran ABC News interviewer, for advice on how to handle the intense media interest in his client. The two did lunch on Saturday, he said.

"Barbara came to offer me her best advice on how to handle the media," said Ginsburg, whose civil-law practice has not made him sought after by Court TV. "She talked to me of her great concern for Monica, as a mother. . . . The essence of her advice was, 'You're doing very well. Remain calm.' She mothered me a little bit."

Walters, however, came away with a different impression. For starters, they did not have lunch: "We met at 4 p.m. I had a Diet Coke. My associate producer had some sparkling water." She could not recall what Ginsburg ate.

Under no circumstances did she offer him "advice," she said. "He certainly doesn't need my media advice. I'm flattered, but he's doing quite well on his own."

They did discuss pressures on Lewinsky, their own children and how children fare under pressure, according to Walters. "If he said I was maternal," she said, "he was paternal."

Was Walters buttering him up to try to become Lewinsky's new best friend (certainly, Monica can't rely on Linda Tripp anymore) and snag the first interview with the woman at the heart of the crisis?

"Whenever we meet with anyone, we hope it will eventually lead to information or an appearance," Walters said. "We didn't meet to discuss the weather in Washington."

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Help is on the way

In a curious bit of chivalry, a San Fernando Valley man who said he once met Lewinsky's father is trying to raise money to hire "heavy-duty criminal attorneys" to represent her.

Joe Issa, 52, said the young woman needs more legal help than Ginsburg can offer. "She is going to be eaten like a lamb by the foxes," said Issa, who identified himself as a family acquaintance, although he has not yet received the Lewinskys' endorsement of his efforts.

Issa said he's creating the Legal Defense of Monica Lewinsky Fund, comparing his gesture to efforts by British people to raise money for a British au pair accused of murder last year.

Issa said he felt compelled to support Lewinsky because her father, an oncologist, has a reputation for helping patients who don't have insurance.

"He has done good," Issa said of the father. "He is as sweet as honey; he is the salt of the earth; and they're going to pick his daughter apart. She is entitled to a good defense."

Are contributions tax-deductible?

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Howdy, neighbor

Bob Dole, who lost to Clinton in the '96 presidential contest, was in the Southland Tuesday to discuss political affairs, but he had little to say about the one everyone else seems to be talking about.

Speaking at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, the former Senate majority leader acknowledged the ironies of the situation.

For starters, Dole lives at the Watergate complex, where the 1972 break-in that led to Nixon's resignation took place. His next-door neighbor is none other than Lewinsky.

Dole said he occasionally greeted Lewinsky and her mother, but didn't know them.

Times staff writers Matea Gold and Lisa Richardson in Los Angeles contributed to this story.

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