The Scent of a Woman
D ee Dee Myers was at her desk at headquarters in Little Rock one Thursday in mid-January, fielding a call from a reporter, when the first small chunk of sky fell on Bill Clinton. An assistant had just brought over a note, and Myers, the governor's pert young press secretary, scanned it as unhappily as if it said the biopsy had come up positive.
"Uh oh," she said, reading aloud to herself. "'Star magazine links BC with five women.' I'd better kill this."
It was the moment Clinton's people had dreaded from the beginning: the whispers about Clinton's supposed sexual athletics had escalated from vague rumor to cold print, with names, times, and places attached. The Star exposé, when they saw it, was not itself the stuff of their bad dreams; it was a rehash of the old Larry Nichols case, the lawsuit brought by a state employee who claimed to have been fired because he knew too much about the governor's womanizing. His accusations and his list of Bill's girls had melted under scrutiny when he first filed the suit, and their revival in a lurid supermarket scandal sheet did little to heighten their credibility. For forty-eight hours, Myers thought she actually could kill the story, or at least contain it. She hit the phones, and so did Stephanopoulos, on the road with the candidate. In a day's frantic pleading for sanity, they managed to talk the major networks and the mainstream pencil press into spiking the allegations.
But another media food chain was forming around them, one they hadn't anticipated and were powerless to stop. The story squirted from the bottom-feeding Star onto Fox Television's evening newscasts that night and from there to the raunchier big-city tabloid dailies the next day. Their interest in turn attracted the attention of the respectable media, and their loud headlines -- WILD BILL, shrieked the New York Post -- made useful visuals for even the more sober-sided TV newscasts; they could hardly be blamed for showing how badly the penny press was behaving. The story of the story had become the story,