TWO DAYS AFTER THE WHITE HOUSE sex story broke in the United States, Al Hayat, an influential Arabic-language newspaper published in London, ran large, above-the-fold photographs of Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton. " President's Relationship With Daughter of Jewish Doctor May Be Cause of His Resignation," explained the bold headline. For readers who missed the point, the accompanying story identified Lewinsky as "the daughter of a famous Jewish doctor in Beverly Hills, California."
Few American news outlets have reported on Lewinsky's religious background, and Dana Sandarusi, the Washington-based correspondent who wrote the story for Al Hayat, is hesitant to reveal where he learned that the world's most famous intern is, in fact, Jewish. "I really can't comment on that," he says cryptically. Sandarusi does say that the people who read Al Hayat will be very interested to know about Lewinsky's heritage. "People's backgrounds are of interest to our readers," he explains. "People like to know who people are. The first question that comes to mind is, who is saying something, as much as what they are saying."
Actually, the first question that comes to mind is, Why is the foreign press so appallingly bad? Pick an unflattering stereotype of the foreign media, and a brief survey of the coverage of the Lewinsky affair will confirm it as true. And no stereotype turns out to be more true than the perception that British newspapers are inaccurate, shallow, and trashy.
Consider a recent front-page story in the London Guardian, "Sex, Lies, and Bill Clinton." Much of the story clearly is derived from American wire- service accounts. Yet somehow the reporter has managed to insert a significant error or false implication into almost every paragraph. According to the account, written by Guardian Washington correspondent Martin Kettle, it was not a semi-anonymous panel of judges who expanded Ken Starr's investigation to include Monica Lewinsky, but "Chief Justice William Rehnquist" himself. As for Lewinsky, Kettle reports that she is not, as was previously assumed, jobless and facing the prospect of serious criminal charges. Instead, Miss Lewinsky is "about to start work" at the United Nations.
To these facts, the Daily Telegraph added color. In a story meant to provide background on the Lewinsky matter, the Telegraph last week recounted, without a cited source, country singer Tammy Wynette's reaction to Hillary Clinton's famous "stand by your man" comments on 60 Minutes six years ago: "'How dare that bitch say that about me,' [Wynette] said, leaping up from the television set in Nashville, Tennessee." Citing an unnamed source from another publication, the Telegraph had Mrs. Clinton " complaining that since she, too, is a woman, she has need of [the president's] husbandly attention herself, and more than three times a year."
The center-left Independent, meanwhile, refused to join in the anti- Clinton frenzy. In an ostensibly straight news account, the Independent suggested that Monica Lewinsky was a "star-struck, fame-seeking fantasist unable to repress the temptation to tell Ms. Tripp a tall story on tape." Indeed, the whole scandal, the paper implied, was probably the work of " Clinton-haters on the Republican right who, out of despair and frustration at their failure to make Whitewater and a whole host of other charges against the president stick, have now concocted this latest allegation from nothing." Keep in mind that the Telegraph and the Independent are broadsheets. The British tabloids are even zestier.
North of London, and in much of the rest of the English-speaking world, the reaction to the scandal has been less graphic, but considerably more disapproving. "It is not for us to lecture the American people on their attitude on political leadership," conceded an editorial in Friday's Scotsman. On the other hand, scolded the paper, Clinton's behavior may very well have "dangerous implications -- for all nations." And not just Clinton's behavior. Striking a particularly dour note, the Scotsman pointed out that something has been terribly wrong in the White House for at least 40 years. The United States, it concluded, "has deserved better these four decades past."
Canada's Globe and Mail agreed ("Mr. Clinton's promiscuity and adultery seem unspeakably prolific and foolish," said an editorial), as did the Economist, which made reference to the president's "sleaze" problem and " wandering hands" in the first two sentences of a news story.
Monica Lewinsky, of course, wasn't big news everywhere. In Asia, business remained Story Number One. The only American politician quoted in last Friday's final edition of the Japan Times, for instance, was Republican Jim Leach of Iowa, chairman of the House Banking and Financial Services Committee, and he had nothing to say about interns. A front-page story in the Straits Times of Singapore likewise left readers no clue that ordinary political life in Washington had all but stopped. "Clinton Launches Drive to Get More Funding for IMF," it blared. For its story of the week, China Daily, the "national English-language newspaper" of the Communist mainland, chose "New Plan Outlined to Boost Agriculture," while the North Korean version of the AP -- the Korean Central News Agency of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- didn't stray from the usual assortment of Socialist Triumphs. "Reservoirs Built in Burkina Faso with DPRK Help," boasted one headline.
But it wasn't just Stalinist countries that ignored the White House scandal. By the end of last week, the Liechtenstein News (the English-language edition of "the largest daily newspaper of the Principality of Liechtenstein") remained perhaps the last newspaper in the Free World still untouched by Monica Lewinsky. As of Friday, the paper's front page still reflected the placid tastes of its readership: "New Insurance Company," "Golf Practising Range for Everybody," and "Government in No Hurry."
Not very exciting, to be sure, but every word of it unimpeachably true.
Tucker Carlson is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD.