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Tuesday, September 15, 1998 Published at 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK

The Starr Report: not in front of the children

"What is oral sex, Mommy?"

The most powerful man in the world and a young girl barely out of her teens involved in sex by phone, mouth, cigar. These kind of lurid descriptions, normally tucked away, were published in the official Starr report and then broadcast around the globe.

The graphic details provided in Kenneth Starr's report on President Clinton's sexual adventures with Monica Lewinsky have left many American citizens blushing with embarrassment. But worse, it has forced many parents to confront difficult questions about sex from the kids.

[ image: Gergen: 'Many parents want this off the TV']
Gergen: 'Many parents want this off the TV'
"A growing number of Americans, especially those who have kids, say 'I don't want to have to explain this to my 12-year-old. I want to get this off my television set and I don't want to go through a year of hearings about this. Just get the hell out!'" David Gergen, a former adviser to President Clinton said last week.

In a country renown for its puritanical leanings, some believe parents' concern could deal a final blow to a president that many otherwise regard as a fine leader.

Health warnings

The media's battle with the tawdry Starr report is the most obvious example of America's dilemma. To report or not report was the question. Many media outlets feared that publishing or reading out parts of the document would offend.

The major news networks - CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC - issued warnings that the report was sexually explicit.

In Mr Clinton's home state, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette decided to publish the Starr report as a separate pull-out adding, "Many passages in the report contain descriptions and language that are frankly unsuitable for a family newspaper."

Its online version also contained a caution: "The report contains material that readers may find offensive and may not want their children to read."

Indeed publication on the Internet of the whole document reinforced an image of the Web as purveyor of porn. About 11% of those who accessed the Starr report came to it via X-rated sex sites. The Lycos search engine warned prospective readers, "Some of the contents of this report may be offensive."

Lurid details 'a good thing'

Mr Starr's supporters have justified the nature of the report by claiming they were obliged to specify sexual activities because of Mr Clinton's own strenuous denials.

At least one priest agreed. Rev J Philip Wogaman of the Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, the president's own church, says the lurid details may actually help to save Bill the Sinner if not Clinton the President.

True, the report was pornographic, Rey Wogaman said. But it "could even be viewed as a blessing, because it forced him to face up to things. And he committed himself to the hard work of repentance".

Separating leader from lecher

Religious leaders and religious politicians may be ready to forgive Bill the Sinner but many still feel Clinton the President should go - for the sake of the children.

[ image: Senator Lieberman: moral outrage]
Senator Lieberman: moral outrage
"It is hard to ignore the impact of the misconduct the president has admitted to on our culture, on our character and on our children," Connecticut Democrat Senator Joseph Lieberman said.

Nevertheless Clinton the President still retains much of his support.

The latest polls show most Americans believe the Starr report was politically motivated and revealed too much about the Clinton-Lewinsky sexual relationship.

Still, if Americans want to spare their children further media ruminations over the actual details, they will have to get the president off the TV set. And, unfortunately for Mr Clinton, that might mean getting him out of the White House.

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