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Tuesday, August 18, 1998 Published at 03:51 GMT 04:51 UK


Sorry seems to be the hardest word



BBC Washington Correspondent, Tom Carver, spent a surreal day in Bill Clinton's garden, waiting to hear the word "sorry" from the president - but it never came.


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The Showdown. D Day. The Moment of Truth. The White under Fire. The Day of Reckoning.

It took you 208 days but you did - finally - fulfil your promise to tell the American people what happened between you and the White House trainee.

Or did you?

You didn't go into much detail, that's for sure. I'm not much clearer now than I was before. You variously described the affair as "not appropriate", "wrong" and a "matter between the two people I love most in the world and my God".

That's hardly going to be enough to satisfy the American media. Well, I mean four minutes and 10 seconds of confessional, half of which was a swipe at Kenneth Starr, is not much for the 24-hour news channels to be going on with.

And from the country of instant gratification, here are some instant reactions:

"It wasn't as contrite as I expected" - (your old friend George Stephanopolos)

"I don't think he explained his behaviour" - (John Ashcroft, Republican Senator)

"We knew he was slick Willie when we elected him and he's still slick Willie" - (a female Democrat supporter)

Within 20 minutes, ABC were bored with the analysis and returned to live coverage of the New England Patriots Vs Dallas Cowboys.

It was a surreal day all round. I spent all of it standing at the bottom of your garden under a canvas sheet answering the same questions again and again from presenters in London, mercilessly fending off tourists who wanted to shelter from the summer thunderstorms under our tarpaulin and wondering how America, the world's most powerful country, could be consumed by something so, well frankly, so ordinary.

I mean, an affair between the chairman and the office secretary would hardly bring down a multinational. How can the world's superpower be hijacked by something so tawdry?

I can only answer that the presidency was always designed to be on human scale.

Having thrown off the shackles of monarchy, the last thing the Founding Fathers wanted was a leader of divine or superhuman qualities. And you certainly fit the bill.

It may be humiliating to see the highest office of state brought down by this sort of scandal but I suspect that the Founding Fathers would have been delighted to find that no president was above the law.

Nothing leaked out - they even played soft music at the courthouse to stop reporters overhearing any of the your testimony as it was being relayed on the secure videolink.

Those grand jurors will certainly have some stories with which to entertain their grandchildren.

And talking of monarchy, as I was traipsing home after 13 hours feeling dehydrated and sweaty, a family runs up and asks if they can have their picture taken with me.

Why? I don't look like Stone Phillips, I say. No, they say, you're the nearest we'll ever get to Prince William. It's enough to make Thomas Jefferson turn in his grave.

Enjoy Martha's Vineyard - I'm going to be there with you!


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