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Media: Lift Paula Jones Gag Order

February 4, 1998

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Media groups today urged a judge to unseal documents in Paula Jones’ sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton and to lift a gag order, arguing it promotes innuendo and rumor.

Lawyers for a dozen media groups, including The Associated Press, said the order is too broad, restricts free speech without good reason and does nothing to ensure a fair trial.

``To the contrary, instead of reducing the possibility of prejudice, the order is potentially promoting prejudice,″ the media groups wrote. ``The order, without any intention to do so, promotes misinformation, speculation, innuendo and rumor.″

The president’s lawyers earlier this week had asked U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright to move the trial from May 27 to March 23 in an attempt to squelch false information they say is based on leaks.

The media groups said lifting the gag order would give them an opportunity to disseminate facts from the court record, rather than relying on anonymous sources with their own motives.

``Given the magnitude of recent revelations there is absolutely no way to eliminate the `anonymous sources and rumor’ cited in the president’s motion short of removing the secrecy by which it is fueled,″ lawyer Robert B. Hoemeke argued on behalf of the media groups.

For example, according to sources speaking on condition of anonymity, Clinton denied under oath during his Jan. 17 deposition for Mrs. Jones’ lawsuit that he had any sexual relations with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

However, there is nothing in the public court record about it.

In addition to the AP, today’s request was made by Pulitzer Publishing Co., publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; The New York Times; USA Today; Newsday; NBC; CBS; ABC; CNN; Time; Little Rock Newspapers, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette; and The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Mrs. Jones’ lawsuit claims Clinton asked her for oral sex at a Little Rock hotel in 1991 while he was governor and she was a state employee. Her lawyers have been questioning other women in an attempt to show a pattern of misbehavior by Clinton.

Wright already was considering a motion by Judicial Watch, a Washington-based conservative group, to modify the gag and open Clinton’s deposition to the public.

That request, filed Jan. 28, also cited the ineffectiveness of the gag order while arguing it would be in the public’s interest to know the reason for allegations that Clinton may have perjured himself in the deposition.

Under local court rules, parties have two weeks to respond to such motions.

Media groups also filed motions in 1996 seeking access to Clinton’s videotaped testimony in two Whitewater-related trials.

Wright, who presided over one of those cases, rejected that request but released an edited transcript of Clinton’s testimony in the trial of bankers Herby Branscum Jr. and Robert Hill.

In the other case, U.S. District Judge George Howard Jr. refused to release the videotape but made public the full transcript of Clinton’s testimony in the trial of the president’s former Whitewater business partners, James and Susan McDougal, and then-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker.

A panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision, citing the potential for misuse of the videotape through cutting, erasing and splicing.

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