Year in review

When supermarket tabloids pay attention to politics, you know the story's probably a real doozy. In 1987, the National Enquirer published a picture of Donna Rice sitting on Gary Hart's lap during a maritime jaunt -- making words superfluous and dashing his presidential ambitions. In 1992 The Star published reports on Gennifer Flowers' alleged affair with Bill Clinton. In the summer of 1996, the tabloids were again red all over -- this time with the blood of Dick Morris, one of President Clinton's most powerful political strategists.

In August, The Star splashed a sensational account of Morris' trysts with a call girl, Sherry Rowlands, including what appeared to be a picture of the two on the balcony of a hotel. The story was more than a case of kiss-and-tell. It rolled around inside the beltway and spread across the nation, grabbing headlines and increasing the shadow on a White House already beset by election-year political woes.

To the White House's chagrin, Rowlands not only spilled the beans about her transactions with Morris -- she kept detailed diaries. What Rowlands' prose lacked in terms of style -- she was clearly no Anais Nin -- it more than made up for in terms of content. Morris, it seemed, liked to do more than play with Rowlands' toes. He regaled her with tales of the White House and his role in that hallowed institution. She said Morris expounded at length on his dealings with the President, the first lady, and a host of other major players. To prove his bonafides, Morris, according to Rowlands, let her listen in on telephone conversations with Clinton, and read Hillary Rodham Clinton's speech to the Democratic National Convention several days before it was delivered.

Dick Morris on his resignation -- 239K AIFF or WAV sound

But Morris' reported musings were not restricted to terra firma. Rowlands says Morris also shared what he termed a "military secret" -- that scientists had discovered signs of possible life on Mars.

Needless to say, President Clinton's critics -- from Republicans to radio talk-show hosts -- had a field day with the story, many of them trying to link Morris' escapades with Rowlands to allegations of sexual misconduct leveled at Clinton himself by Paula Jones.

Realizing that his embarrassment could possibly overshadow President Clinton's moment of glory at the Democratic Convention, which he was about to address, Morris resigned, saying he did not want to become an issue in the campaign.

The scandal barely scratched the President's public image. Surveys found it did little to make voters doubt his stated commitment to family values.

In the end, the Morris episode ruined a powerful man's public image, embarrassed his family, and dredged up another story -- that Morris fathered an illegitimate child with a woman in Texas with whom he'd had a 15-year-affair.

The election is history. President Clinton has embarked on a second term, and Republicans and Democrats alike are waiting to see if Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation will yield fruit or wither on the vine.

Among the numerous documents subpoenaed by Starr, incidentally, are the diaries of Sherry Rowlands. Why? It seems that they contain an excerpt in which Morris is quoted as saying that the 700 or so improperly collected FBI files (remember that scandal?) were gathered at the behest of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Stay tuned.

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