Sunday, April 5, 1998
What can we learn
from Jones mess?

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Top 10 lessons from the Paula Jones lawsuit:

10. Just because something is disgusting doesn't mean it's against the law. U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, dismissing charges against President Clinton, said, ''Although the governor's alleged conduct, if true, may certainly be characterized as boorish and offensive, even a most charitable reading of the record in this case fails to reveal a basis for a claim of criminal sexual assault.''

In other words, the judge says we have no legal recourse for odious behavior. So, I guess we won't be prosecuting greedy lawyers, gossip mongers or highway nose-pickers anytime soon. Too bad.

9. No woman can expect to be taken seriously on a bad hair day. And big hair is bad hair. Paula Jones' mouthpiece and makeover consultant, Susan Carpenter McMillan, called hairdresser Daniel DeCriscio ''very much part of our team.''

And Monica Lewinsky's first move after she ran into trouble? A new do. Kathleen Willey was described in several fawning accounts of her 60 Minutes interview as ''neatly coiffed.''

Meanwhile, not once was the president's hair called into question.

8. Never underestimate the law of the jungle. Troubled over domestic difficulties? Get out of town. Way out. How about a place where safari guides tell the press that lions mate as often as 800 times in five days, leading columnist Maureen Dowd to wonder if this was someone's attempt to put 37 White House visits in perspective.

7. The Supreme Court is woefully disconnected from real life. The court gave its approval for Mrs. Jones to proceed with her damage suit against the president, saying it was ''highly unlikely'' the case would consume a lot of the president's time.

6. The media are woefully disconnected from real life. Asking sex-scandal questions at press conferences with foreign diplomats, pushing and shouting at witnesses on camera, breathlessly predicting that each new revelation would sink the president's approval ratings.

5. If you can't see the damage, it isn't there. Mrs. Jones was unable to show she was harmed even if the incident happened exactly as she described, according to the judge. So the decision basically says ''if a man unzips his pants and exposes himself to you and asks you to perform oral sex on him, that is not outrageous,'' says Billie Dziech, a University of Cincinnati professor. ''I'd say we're pretty much in trouble in the work environment.''

Maybe we should develop the equivalent of the ''whiplash'' collar we could wear as evidence of injury.

4. There's no hog like a media hog. Monica Lewinsky's attorney William Ginsberg filed an argument to bar the press from executive privilege hearings, saying ''the courts should be minimizing pretrial publicity.'' This was shortly before he appeared on the Geraldo Rivera and Larry King shows.

3. There's a dark cloud around every silver lining. Little Rock, Ark., was expecting as many as 800 journalists to visit the city in May and June for the trial. ''Clinton's win in the Paula Jones case means a loss of $50,000 a day,'' according to the Wall Street Journal.

2. You don't have to be proved guilty to be punished by the legal system. Paula Jones may not have won the case, but she certainly was awarded punitive damages. Her case led to public speculation on the ''distinguishing characteristics'' of the president's person, nearly $3 million in legal expenses for Mr. Clinton and a fishing trip for Whitewater investigator Kenneth Starr.

1. We have lovely parting gifts for the losers, provided they have passed the bar. Does anyone doubt that when the book deals have been signed, when the movie rights have been optioned, when the tabloids have paid for photos, that the first in line for proceeds will be attorneys?

(See lesson number 10.)

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com

PULFER ARCHIVE