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Tuesday, February 10, 1998 Published at 16:34 GMT

Talking Point

Analysis: What you think of Bill Clinton
image: [ President Clinton passionately refutes accusations ]
President Clinton passionately refutes accusations

"Damned liar and global disgrace" ... "a good president" ... "sexually fit" ... "media frenzy" ... "right-wing conspiracy" - just a taste of some of your emails to Talking Point.

In recent days Bill Clinton, present incumbent of the most powerful position in world politics, has been put under the media spotlight more than ever.

In Talking Point, the interactive area of BBC News Online, we asked you "Is Bill Clinton fit to be President of the USA?".

We had a very strong response and clearly this question hit a nerve with our users.

[ image: We asked you ...]
We asked you ...
Overall you voted 57% to 43% in favour of the president - a fact that seems to be borne out in a CBS opinion poll which suggests that Bill Clinton's popularity has increased through the affair.

Essentially your opinion can be divided into two groups - whether it is a public matter, or a private matter. But your views reflected every part of the story, from conspiracy and media management to the state of the president's libido.

Beyond that many of you erred on the side of caution and reminded us that in America a person is innocent until proven guilty.

Presented below is a summary of the story behind the question, and a closer exploration of your views.

Your reactions

The story so far

Already under investigation over land deals made when Governor of Arkansas, President Clinton is being sued by Paula Jones. She has accused him of sexual harassment and defamation of character.

[ image: Monica Lewinsky]
Monica Lewinsky
Former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, now 24, was discovered by Paula Jones's lawyers whilst they were interviewing former White House staff in their hunt for a pattern of sexual misconduct in the president's behaviour.

It is reported that the Jones lawyers possess secretly taped conversations with Ms Lewinsky in which she claims that she and the president had an affair which lasted a year and that they had sex in the White House. It has also been reported that Ms Lewinsky suggested that the president had asked her to lie about the affair.

If the allegations are true, and, more importantly can be proved, then this would constitute perjury, a federal crime, as well as obstruction of justice. This could lead to the president's impeachment.

He has strongly denied the accusations: "I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," he said. His voice was shaking as he spoke to the assembled media at a White House news conference. With a raised clenched fist, Mr Clinton went on: "I never told anyone to lie, not a single time, never. These allegations are false and I need to go back to work for the American people."

President Clinton refutes accusations (24")
First Lady Hilary Rodham Clinton has characteristically fiercely defended her husband. Speaking on television she accused Kenneth Starr, the independent prosecutor investigating the allegations, of conducting a smear campaign against her husband. "I do believe that this is a battle. The great story here is a vast right-wing conspiracy who have been conspiring against my husband since he first ran for office."

New legal moves in Washington have eased the pressure on President Clinton. The judge in the case of Paula Jones has ruled that she cannot use evidence from Monica Lewinsky. Ms Lewinsky now looks increasingly unlikely to get immunity from criminal prosecution in exchange for telling her story.

Your reactions:

Conspiracy and the media

Many of you felt that media involvement in the President's affairs has a lot to answer for.

"Why does the media demand instant answer?" asked D.White (USA). The issue was taken up by another American, Jim Wells: "The news media, in their frenzy to attain higher ratings, seem intent upon bearing false witness and spreading what is so far only malicious gossip."

David Kennard (England) was clearly disappointed by the media's behaviour: "Clinton seems to have replaced Diana as the person whose sex life most fascinates the media. At least he's better able to defend himself."

The question of timing was raised by several correspondents. "It wouldn't be surprising if we had a war in the gulf to deflect attention", said Ramu from Malaysia. One of our Slovac users blamed the affair for diverting US attentions away from the Pope's visit to Cuba and the "unjust sanctions."

[ image:
"A matter for Hilary"
Many went further and, in sympathy with Mrs Clinton, blamed far Right groups for what Adrian Dightman from Los Angeles described as "the assassination of Bill Clinton - without the bullets!".

Various users thought that much of the blame stood with Republican politicians, including Kenneth Starr and with the Rutherford Institute - which funds the Paula Jones case.

Political Life

Political affiliations came through your American users' emails in strongly personal terms. Either Clinton is a good president whose private life bears no relation to his work - or a man who should never have got to that exalted position in the first place. Whatever the political opinions, John O'Hara (USA) pointed out that "fitness for the job was decided at the election."

What bothered correspondents more was the moral standing of the man. Jerry Sebastian (Texas, USA) wrote: "This man will say and do anything that is politically expedient" and others pointed out: "If the man will lie to his wife, he will lie to the country."

Mr Clinton's image is ruining the office of President according to Kate McCartney (USA): "He has denigrated the office of the presidency, and if proven should be impeached."

Private Life

Mr Clinton's position as an American role model worried some users, as is summed up by Paris Arcediano (USA): "As a mother of impressionable boys I am appalled at the role-modelling of our president. Are there no morals left in our country?"

[ image: President John F Kennedy]
President John F Kennedy
On the other hand many of you felt that public and private life should be kept entirely separate. "The president is not some demi-god, he is HUMAN after all ... it doesn't matter or not if he did have sex with on (or all three at the same time), just that he does his job to the best of his ability: defend and preserve the Constitution", wrote Will Korin (USA).

This issue was taken up by other users who pointed out that i) other presidents, JFK for example, had "got away with it" ii) if President Clinton was thrown out of office then "we'd better ride most of Congress out as well" and iii) the comparison was made with European heads of state - as S.F.Joseph (Belgium) said: "On the continent, a head of state can have a love child, or keep his mistress in an official residence, and nobody will turn a hair."

There were some of you who felt President Clinton's popularity had actually gone up with the scandal - as has been suggested by some recent US public opinion polls. One said: "So we elected a president with a libido for once!! Is that such a problem??"

Criminal Offence

[ image: An American role model?]
An American role model?
If there was one theme that continued throughout the majority of submissions it was that "this boils down to a criminal offence, not a question of morals" (Langley McKelvy, USA). As many people said, the president is innocent until proven guilty. "Clinton is a draft-dodging womaniser - neither of which make him unfit to be the president. If proved to be a liar - that will disqualify him." said Gerry Howland (UK).

Support for the Clintons

Other than political supporters of the Democrats, we also received many messages of personal support for the Clinton family. One particularly personal email came from Sammi Ridgeway, who says she grew up with the Clintons. She commented how Chelsea Clinton's "heart must be breaking" and that all in all "I've had enough of the whole thing... leave the man and his family alone."

We have not posted all the email we were sent, but to read a broad selection Click here.

Thankyou for all your correspondence, we hope you will continue to use Talking Point as a place for informed debate on the top news stories.

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