W. Joseph Campbell

WaPo commentary off target on ‘sexual misbehavior of prominent men’

In Debunking, Media myths, Washington Post, Watergate myth on May 23, 2011 at 7:20 am

Packwood: Scuzzy guy

“Until recently,” declared a commentary in yesterday’s Washington Post, “we didn’t have to worry so much about how to talk about the sexual misbehavior of prominent men.”

The Post commentary asserted that “until recently, we didn’t talk much about it at all. But that certainly changed in the late 1990s, when Kenneth Starr broke the sexual sound barrier” with his allegations of sexual indiscretions by President Bill Clinton.

That’s nonsense, a misreading of recent history.

By the time Starr, a special federal prosecutor investigating Clinton’s suspected misdeeds, presented his case against the then-president, the “sexual sound barrier” had long been broken.

If anything, the sexual harassment scandal that ended the political career of Republican Senator Bob Packwood in 1995 was more likely a moment when “sexual misbehavior of prominent men” became a topic of considerable discussion.

Packwood was a scuzzy guy who resigned his Senate seat in 1995 in the face of probable expulsion, following release of the Senate Ethics Committee’s 10,000 page document that described a long history of his sexual misconduct.

The allegations against Packwood, a 26-year member of the Senate,  included no fewer than 18 “unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances,” many of which he described in his electronic diary.

One of Packwood’s victims was 17-years-old when, she said, the senator kissed her against her will.

The bipartisan ethics committee accused Packwood of having “engaged in a pattern of abuse of his position of power and authority as a United States Senator by repeatedly committing sexual misconduct, making at least 18 separate unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances between 1969 and 1990.”

He entered the Senate in 1969.

Most of Packwood’s victims were members of his staff, “or individuals whose livelihoods were dependent upon or connected to the power and authority” wielded by the senator, the ethics committee report said.

The ethics committee, moreover, charged Packwood with having “endeavored to obstruct and impede” the ethics committee investigation by “withholding, altering and destroying relevant evidence, including his diary transcripts and audio taped diary material.”

Packwood’s misconduct, the ethics committee said, brought “discredit and dishonor” upon the Senate.

About two months after Packwood resigned his Senate seat, Clinton began his furtive liaison with Monica Lewinsky, who was 27 years his junior.

In a way, Packwood’s execrable conduct probably helped Clinton sidestep political disaster in the Lewinsky affair.

The Lewinsky affair, while unseemly, was neither abusive nor unbidden, as were many of Packwood’s sordid overtures. Simply put, Clinton’s liaison with Lewinsky, and the lies he told about the affair, did not reach the seedy precedent that Packwood had set.

Lewinsky was a White House intern in late 1995 who, Starr later reported, seemed eager to initiate the liaison.

She performed oral sex with Clinton on November 15, 1995, while he spoke by telephone with a congressman. Clinton and Lewinsky had a second similar encounter two days later, and another on New Year’s Eve 1995.

Their liaison continued periodically until 1997.

When asked during a deposition about his sexual relations with Lewinsky, Clinton lied. The deposition was taken in January 1998, as part of Paula Corbin Jones’ civil lawsuit against the president.

Clinton’s lies under oath led to his impeachment in late 1998 by the House of Representatives and his trial and acquittal in 1999 by the Senate .

Clinton, though, was found in contempt of court by federal judge Susan Webber Wright for  “false, misleading and evasive answers” during the deposition in the Jones suit, answers the judge said “were designed to obstruct the judicial process.”

Clinton was ordered to pay nearly $90,000 to Jones’ lawyers and later agreed to a five-year suspension of his license to practice law.

While undeniably egregious, Clinton’s misconduct did not rise to the level of Packwood’s serial misconduct and repeated sexual harassment. Clinton’s misconduct also fell short of Richard Nixon’s criminality in the Watergate scandal — felonious wrongdoing that set a standard for turning a sitting president from office.


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