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Pundits & Prose

She Says, He Says

Clinton's Legacy Hangs In The Balance

By Charles Bierbauer/CNN

WASHINGTON (May 30) -- "See You in Court" said the headlines in the New York Daily News and the Boston Herald this week.

No points for originality. Plenty for uniformity. The tabloids have had a field day with the sexual harassment suit of Paula Jones vs. Bill Clinton. Not just the tabloids. It was everyone's headline when the Supreme Court ruled that she did not have to wait until he leaves the White House to get her day in court. Most were in provocative, though not lurid, terms.

It's a "major embarrassment" or "ugly spectacle" or "smarmy, distracting circus," according to the editorial pages across the country.

Some appeared to take sides: "Bill Clinton's title doesn't shield him from his libido," wrote the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Some weighed the consequences of the court ruling: "It is no longer unthinkable that private citizens with a grudge, real or imagined, would file suit against a president they didn't like," the Baltimore Sun contemplated.

None mistook the gravity of the Supreme Court's unanimity: "It's especially helpful that the often contentious justices spoke with one voice regarding this delicate and divisive controversy," the St. Paul Pioneer Press noted. The box score -- 9-0 -- was an unmistakable signal that even the justices Clinton appointed to the court owe him no special favor.

With every headline screaming, every editorial page warning, every pundit chortling could Clinton not be noticing?

The president -- in Europe where the headlines were only somewhat subdued -- told the traveling White House press corps the Paula Jones case is not affecting the way he's doing his job. Is he kidding?

White House officials insist that's the way it is. As the story broke Tuesday, the president was in Paris signing a treaty with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and NATO leaders. Wednesday in the Hague, he helped celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild post-World War II Europe. Thursday in London, Clinton met with new British Prime Minister Tony Blair who's supposed to have Clinton's political instincts without his extra-curricular distractions.

"I don't know how more intent you can be," said one senior White House official. "Nobody's been sitting here throwing over the schedule."

"This White House is used to crisis," another official acknowledged.

That it is. Whitewater. Gennifer Flowers. John Huang. Webster Hubbell. The Lincoln Bedroom. Paula Jones.

Does any of it matter?

"Would we prefer it (the court ruling) didn't happen? Yes," a seniorWhite House official said. But he also suggested "it's not what captures the imagination of the viewers."

"We continually find the public responds when he does what he was elected to do,