Newspapers Publish Starr Report
ERIC R. QUINONES
Sep. 12, 1998
Headlines such as ``Sex and Lies'' and ``The XXX Files'' screamed from newsstands Saturday, along with warnings to readers to expect more than their usual breakfast-table fare.
The graphic sexual accounts from Kenneth Starr's massive report on President Clinton were reprinted in newspapers nationwide, as concerns about offending readers were outweighed by the implications of accusations that Clinton committed impeachable offenses.
``We think this was an historic enough event in our country that people would want to have as many facts before them as possible to reach their own conclusions,'' said Raul Reyes, managing editor for news at the San Antonio Express-News.
Papers big and small published special sections, added pages to their often-thin Saturday editions and printed extra copies. Whether they published all or part of Starr's report, most papers included warnings about the X-rated tales of Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky.
In St. Louis, where home-run king Mark McGwire dominated this past week's pages, readers will have to wait until Monday to get their full version of the report in print.
The Washington Post printed the report in a 25-page special section with a three-paragraph, large-type advisory about the lurid contents atop the section's front page. The Arizona Republic also ran a special section with the complete report and a disclaimer.
The New York Times printed the entire report as a special section and devoted five of its six front-page stories to Clinton, but did not print a warning.
``We felt that it was almost impossible that an individual reader could pick up the report without knowing what was in it after everything that had been on television last night and everything they would read on our front page,'' said Joseph Lelyveld, executive editor.
``To X-rate the section is equivalent to saying `Juicy Bits Here' and we thought that was a little condescending,'' Lelyveld said.
The Leader of Corning, N.Y., like most papers, tried to balance the legal and rubber-necking interests in its one-page excerpt of the report.
``I wanted to make sure it wasn't just one big smutty novel,'' said Stella Wood, news editor.
Clinton's hometown newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock, published the entire report in a 22-page special section and devoted three-quarters of its front page to the story under the banner headline: ``Starr Report: Sex and Lies.''
Tabloids, of course, got in their gibes. The New York Daily News headline called the report ``THE XXX FILES,'' and the New York Post proclaimed it Clinton's ``DAY OF SHAME.'' The Philadelphia Daily News screamed ``YUCK!''
Newspapers in New Hampshire refused to print explicit sexual content. The Union Leader of Manchester included a two-page excerpt but, reminiscent of the Nixon-era ``expletive deleted,'' printed ``(sexual details deleted).''
Other papers in New Hampshire that omitted explicit details from their pages did publish addresses for their Web sites with the complete text, as did many newspapers elsewhere.
Ben Bagdikian, a former assistant managing editor and ombudsman for The Washington Post, said many readers, especially parents, would likely view reprinting the sexual accounts as overkill given the report's exposure on TV and the Internet.
Some readers will say, ```We knew all of this all along; did they have to print all of these salacious details for my kids to see?''' said Bagdikian, professor emeritus and former dean of the University of California-Berkeley graduate school of journalism.
Some papers that published the explicit accounts did so with regret.
Ann Charles, editor and publisher of the Parsons (Kan.) Sun, wrote in a column that it was with ``an enormous amount of sadness'' that the newspaper was printing the full report in a joint effort with two other Kansas papers, the Chanute Tribune and the Ottawa Herald.
Charles said her paper printed the report in fairness to the many readers don't have Internet access. She said criticism should be directed to the members of Congress who decided to release the report online.
Although industrywide figures were unavailable, many papers published extra copies to satisfy the expected surge in demand. USA Today, which publishes Monday through Friday, updated its Web site Saturday with news including Clinton's rebuttal.
The Starr report capped an incredibly busy week for editors just after McGwire gripped the nation by breaking baseball's 37-year-old home run record.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch published the Starr report and rebuttal on its Web site Saturday. But because of McGwire coverage, it had no room in the paper Saturday or Sunday, when it was running a special commemorative for homer No. 62.
``The Starr report just pales in comparison in terms of what is going on about Mark McGwire,'' said Dick Weil, managing editor.
Other editors were also convinced that the long-running sexual saga surrounding the president would captivate readers as much as Big Mac, Princess Diana and O.J. Simpson have in recent years.
``We sold a lot more papers with the Mark McGwire story than we will with this,'' said Andrew Gully, managing editor at the Boston Herald. ``This definitely excites some, but Mark McGwire was a feel-good story. A lot of people are turned off by this.''