Clinton's Senate Trial: Child claim may stick like no other

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The Independent Online
FOR MONTHS it has been taken as read that the political composition of the Senate ensures that President Bill Clinton, even if tried, will not be convicted. But even if the votes simply are not there to convict and remove him from office, the sharks of scandal, gossip and innuendo are none the less circling - sensing, perhaps, that this President and this White House are injured and weak.

Last weekend saw the resurgence of a long-rumbling rumour that Mr Clinton might be the father of an illegitimate child in his home state of Arkansas - a child born to a black woman who was a prostitute in the months before the birth. There were reports, too, that Larry Flynt, publisher of Hustler magazine, was preparing to publish unsavoury details of the private lives of at least one prominent politician in the next week.

Reports that Hustler was preparing an expose on theman nominated to become the next Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bob Livingston, led to his admission of extramarital affairs and his subsequent resignation.

Mr Livingston used his decision to step down - strongly encouraged, it was reported, by the right wing of his party - to draw the contrast between his own attitude and that of Mr Clinton, who had declared, just days before, that resignation had "never crossed my mind".

But it was the rumour of an illegitimate child in Mr Clinton's past that cast the bigger shadow. The rumour was revived after reports that a so- called "supermarket" tabloid, the Star - which has a good track record in Clinton-related exposes - had signed up the mother, Bobbie Ann Williams, for her story, and had arranged for the son, Danny, 13, to have a DNA test. It had also assigned reporters to investigate whether the sample given "matched" the scientific description of Mr Clinton's DNA as found on the notorious semen-stained dress of Monica Lewinsky.

The Star has previously broken the story of Gennifer Flowers, who had answering machine tapes of Bill Clinton, with whom she claimed to have had a 12-year affair, and of Dick Morris, Mr Clinton's campaign and White House adviser, who was caught in flagrante with a prostitute while conducting official business on the telephone. The Flowers story was first discredited - during Mr Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign - then at least partially corroborated (by Mr Clinton) in sworn testimony last year. The Morris story resulted in the adviser's swift resignation.

The Star's latest story was reported - before it had even been considered for publication - on the Internet by the anti- establishment "gossip", Matt Drudge. Mr Drudge, who is pilloried by the media establishment and infuriates it when, as during the Lewinsky saga, his "rumours" prove true, also peddled the story on his half-hour talkshow on Rupert Murdoch's Fox News. The story was also printed on Sunday in the tabloid New York Post. Fox took the opportunity, in several of its shows, to review lurking accusations - all denied - that the Clinton camp may have intimidated a number of women to be silent about past encounters with Mr Clinton.

As with the Flowers story and, initially, the Monica Lewinsky disclosures, the updated version of the Danny Williams rumour was shunned by the mainstream media. It was, however, taken up enthusiastically by radio talkshows, which found callers wanting to talk about nothing else, and on the Internet. From Wednesday, the mainstream could no longer ignore it and used a White House refusal to broach the rumour, even to rebut it, to report the story that "everyone is talking about" but the media had "declined to publish".

While the White House and media have long tried to avoid discussion of this and other salacious and generally uncorroborated details about politicians' private lives, the Lewin-sky case, with its politics, sex, law and lies, forced the lifting of at least some of the covers.