WHAT a bewildering week it has been. One man wins a libel action, because his friends thought that he had written some articles that were clearly identified as being by someone else, while another man loses a libel action even though his mum was offended when she saw him described as a "conniving little shit". Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the rule seems to be that it's all right for the President to have extra-marital affairs, but it's an impeachable offence if he asks his lovers not to tell anyone. To judge from the extensive coverage of these matters, the newspapers are as bewildered as the rest of us. What is the world coming to if its most powerful man cannot abuse his position to gain sexual favours from a naive employee half his age?

The Express headed its coverage of the Alan Clark case with a page ostensibly torn from the great man's diary: "Victory! Those pinko journalists should have known better than to spoof my diaries. It was so obviously inaccurate ... nowhere near enough sex." In brackets underneath were the words "Just kidding, Alan. Please don't sue." The Daily Telegraph managed to resist the temptation to report the case in the style of the successful litigant. Beneath the headline: "Jan 21st: Taught newspaper a lesson over spoof diaries", it carried a detailed account of the case, the judge's ruling, and the reactions to it. Its editorial columns even had some praise for the spoofed MP: "The moral? Mr Clark, though a most traditional Tory, is not a conventional fellow. He is something else, far rarer, and even praiseworthy: an original."

The Times had a shorter report, but a longer leading article: "Der Tag has arrived, victory is mine - total, crushing, sweet. My defeat of Hitler Hastings is as complete as the Allies' in 1945, and as just ... Mr Justice Lightman, a prince of his profession, has seen how cruelly my name and reputation were taken in vain by reptiles trying to raise a cheap laugh." On the subject of damages, it suggested: "Crushing reparations are too much to ask. Might it not be more gentlemanly to hope that the judge does not impose another Carthaginian peace with salt sown on the razed ground of the Standard's offices?" All very witty, but strangely similar to the Evening Standard's own instalment of "Not Alan Clark's Diary" which appeared on the previous day: "Was this how Montgomery felt at El Alamein? I shall now call for the offices of the Evening Standard to be razed to the ground like Rosemary West's house in Gloucester, so that it does not become a grotesque shrine and place of pilgrimage for undesirables."

The second feature in the libel double-bill had an unhappy ending for Rupert Allason, suing over a remark in the book Have I Got 1997 For You. The Daily Mail, the Times and the Telegraph all said that the book had called him a "conniving little shit", though more meticulous reports gave the precise quotation: "Indeed, given Mr Allason's fondness for pursuing libel actions, there are also excellent reasons for not referring to him as a conniving little shit." Few papers could resist a little parody of their own in the headlines: "Have I got bad news for you" said the Mail; "Have we got bad news for you" said the Telegraph; but the Times had the best of them with "Have I got a pounds 50,000 legal bill for you". None of the papers, however, dared to say whether or not the judgment established that Mr Allason is or is not a conniving little shit.

The Times's spoof of the spoof of the Clark diary included a reference to the author's well documented sexual adventures: "Surely a man wise enough to grace the bench should have realised that the stallion can have his way with mare and foal?" It could as well have been a comment on America's news of the week - a week that started with intense discussion of whether military action would be necessary against Iraq, and ended with the question of how many women the president had slept with.

The Times said: "Clinton faces perjury and sex inquiry" and mentioned reports that he had left messages on Ms Lewinsky's answering machine saying: "Sorry I missed you" and "Sorry I couldn't get together with you". The Guardian called it "Sex, lies and Clinton". The Telegraph gave us a pictorial guide to "All the President's Women", though to make his muses up to nine, they had to include his wife, daughter and late mother as well as the woman he employed to protect his 1992 campaign from "bimbo eruptions".

As the Lewinsky show gathered momentum, we all forgot about Monday's report in the Telegraph: "Clinton wanted sex in the White House, says aide". That was not Monica Lewinsky, but Kathleen Willey who "said under oath that the President kissed her and pressed her for sex in a room next to the Oval office". At least "pressed her for sex" sounds a little more affectionate than "asked her to perform a sex act", which was how the Daily Mail insisted on referring to what Paula Jones says Clinton requested. The Mail performs a splendid sex act itself as it tries to balance on parallel tightropes of prurience and prudery, but it wobbled into a void of boggling irrelevance over a Clinton gal: "Ms Lewinsky, a doctor's daughter, was educated at Beverly Hills High School, the subject of the hit show Beverly Hills 90210. Other ex-pupils include actors Nicholas Cage, Richard Dreyfus and David Schwimmer from Friends." Okay, but did she bonk Bill? Perhaps the best summary of the business came from David Aaronovich in the Independent: "If Clinton goes ... it will represent the greatest victory yet for monstrous triviality over reasoned debate in the political life of the West."

Finally, the great nude surfing mystery. The Times on Tuesday reported briefly: "An annual Bondi Beach nude surfing contest, which attracts about 50 surfers and up to 4,000 spectators, has been put off until next Monday because of undersized waves and a shark." The Guardian carried a longer report, complete with a picture of a naked man doing a handstand on a surfboard, of how "naked surfers fled the water" when a 10ft shark was seen offshore. The Sport carried the same picture, but with a huge shark looming in front of the surfer and a slightly more colourful account: "Surfers have called off their nude championship after a competitor had his BALLS bitten off by a shark." There's one surfer who knows just how Mr Clinton must be feeling.

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