Screening Packwood's Diaries
| American Journalism Review
| From AJR, April 1998|
Screening Packwood's Diaries
By Florence George Graves
Florence George Graves, a resident scholar at Brandeis University, is the founding editor of Common Cause Magazine and one of the reporters who broke the Packwood story for the Washington Post. Her research for this story was supported in part by the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Amanda Elk, Bridget Gutierrez and Kathy Killeen provided research assistance.
CAN IT BE TRUE? Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, depicted by the Clintons as the Whitewater villain, frequently depicted in the media as an overzealous, vindictive prosecutor, is the same Judge Starr who little more than four years ago was described in the press as ``courtly" and ``universally trusted"?
Al Kamen of the Washington Post wrote that when serving as a Court of Appeals judge, Starr ``made his name as an honest broker," even leading critics of his decisions to conclude that he was not ``ideologically driven." The accolades flowed after Starr, a former solicitor general for President Bush, was named to give legal advice to the Senate Ethics Committee's investigation of alleged sexual misconduct by Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.).
The probe focused on allegations first published in the Post that he made inappropriate sexual advances to members of his staff, lobbyists and others, even a hotel clerk. Since 1969, Packwood's first year in the Senate, he updated his diary almost daily, often dictating into a tape recorder at night. That translated into thousands of pages of detail about his legislative and sexual conquests and his frank evaluations of various staffers, as well as mind-numbing accounts of his daily life and thoughts--all willed to the Oregon Historical Society.
The diaries were subpoenaed by the committee as possible evidence. After a fight that went to the Supreme Court, Starr was asked to review the passages Packwood wanted to keep secret and make the final determination about which entries committee lawyers could see and which they could not (for example, those concerning lawyer-client confidences and sensitive family and personal health matters).
Anyone who even faintly worried at the time that Starr, a fellow Republican whom Packwood had approved for the delicate task, might be tempted to err on the side of the senator fretted in vain. The diaries--as well as Starr's damning conclusion that, as the committee suspected, Packwood apparently had altered some of the entries--played an enormous role in the senator's downfall.
In the current scandal swirling around President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, Starr is sometimes described in the press as a very conservative Christian who must be highly offended by the president's alleged womanizing. Imagine this Ken Starr reading the unexpurgated Packwood diaries.
Although the public record consists of only excerpts deemed material to the Senate investigation--a tiny fraction of what Starr actually read--even some of these are explosive, revealing Packwood talking in sordid detail about his sexual exploits. In one he described having sex in his Senate office with a staffer whose ``big breasts" stood ``at attention." In another, he remembered having sex with a lonely aide as part of his ``Christian duty."
In still another he recalls a lunch with ABC's Barbara Walters, who was wooing him over baked apples at her Fifth Avenue apartment to appear on ``20/20." Apparently trying to establish that his liaisons had been ``wanted," not ``unwanted," he remembers telling her about the ``22 staff members I'd made love to and probably 75 others I've had a passionate relationship with." (Walters later said she didn't remember this revelation, which was not included in her sympathetic profile.)
After the committee's report was released in the fall of 1995, public and congressional pressure began to build for Packwood's expulsion. The senator, who had become a regular target of David Letterman's monologue, decided to resign, collect a fat pension and become a lobbyist. Recently named by Washingtonian magazine as one of the top 50 lobbyists in the capital, the former senator told the New York Daily News earlier this year that he doesn't blame Starr for his troubles. ``I thought he was fair and certainly thorough," Packwood said.
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