I have just read the text of Paula Corbin Jones' complaint of sexual harassment against President Clinton and can honestly say that if it's true, the man is a beast. This is not the tale of a minor indiscretion. The accusations read like a recipe for the sleazy souffle of the year:
Take one young, low-level female state employee. Add one randy governor who asks her up to his hotel room. Mix with the flattered and hopeful way she feels because he has picked her out of the crowd. Spice with a suggestion from him that she perform oral sex, stir in her horrified reaction, and voila !
Garnish with his head on a platter.
So how come Jones waited three years? As she explains it, the time-lapse makes sense. Jones did not come forward, she says, until a story in the January issue of American Spectator magazine gave her no choice.
That story quoted an Arkansas state trooper as having approached a woman named "Paula" on Clinton's behalf at a May, 1991, state-sponsored conference at a Little Rock hotel.
"Paula," the trooper said, met privately with the governor in a hotel room as the trooper waited outside. Then, the trooper said, when "Paula" left the hotel room, she told him that she was willing to be Clinton's "girlfriend."
In the federal lawsuit she filed last week, Jones says that the American Spectator piece implied that she had "a consummated and satisfying sexual encounter with Clinton," and that "she feared that the statements in the magazine would damage her relationship with her husband, her family and her friends and acquaintances, some of whom might have believed that she had agreed to be Clinton's girlfriend at a time when she was engaged to (her future husband)."
Although one of Jones' lawyers has admitted that Jones unsuccessfully tried to extract money from Clinton in exchange for her silence, Jones now says any money she receives from her lawsuit will be donated to charity.
Such behavior may stain her motives, but it doesn't mean she fabricated the charges. It is possible for a woman to be sexually harassed and demand money in exchange for silence.
Anyway, Jones' motives are not the important issue; Clinton's behavior is.
If he and Jones were ever in that Little Rock hotel room in May, 1991, they were in there alone. She can't prove he dropped his pants; he can't prove he kept them zipped.
Much as we would like to rush to judgment based on what we think or feel or wish, we may never know what really happened. All we will know is what a jury decides.
If the case ever makes it to trial.
In the meantime, the controversy spawned by Jones' lawsuit is a salacious godsend for Clinton's political enemies and a disturbing issue for his supporters. It is being cynically exploited by the right in order to bludgeon feminists who have supported Clinton.
In an Opinion Page essay in The Times on Monday, attorney Alan Dershowitz wrote that feminists--who supported Anita Hill when she accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment--are at risk of hypocrisy and inconsistency if they don't support Jones.
"As the world awaits Clinton's response," he wrote, "it also awaits the response of the feminists who did not accord Thomas any presumption of innocence."
Dershowitz conveniently ignored the fact that the world was indeed treated to a feminist response a full three days before his essay appeared in print. Last Friday, National Organization for Women President Patricia Ireland issued a two-page statement on Jones' lawsuit.
"Sexual harassment," Ireland said, "is a serious allegation, and we think both Paula Jones and President Clinton deserve their day in court. We will continue to monitor this case, but we will not take the right wing's bait by heralding or attacking either person."
It's repulsive that Dershowitz plays into the hands of the right-wingers trying to rewrite history. Women's groups rallied behind Hill because the Senate Judiciary Committee failed to fully investigate her allegations. Her charges needed to be heard. Only after both Hill and Thomas testified did NOW add harassment of Hill to the list of reasons it opposed Thomas.
The burden is not on feminists to demonstrate support of Paula Jones. Feminists have been struggling for decades for the rights of women such as Jones. It is thanks to the atmospheric changes wrought by feminists that Jones even came forward. It is thanks to feminists that Jones' allegations even have a name .
No, the burden is on the forces of the right--Randall Terry, Pat Robertson and all the others who have gleefully rallied behind Jones. Let them explain why, after years of trying to keep women down, they are suddenly so concerned about women's rights.
Their anti-woman agendas speak for themselves.
* Robin Abcarian's column is published Wednesdays and Sundays.