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I happened to be in Irvington, Virginia, when a month otherwise characterized by deliberate insolence (and air as thick and heady as the molasses voices of ruffled hired help) erupted suddenly and sent the nation's pundits back to work mopping clean a flood of oligarchs and spin doctors and clandestine messages behind Tommy Hilfiger ads and months-old dirt. And, being a budding pundit cursed by that uniquely Southern dearth of decent newspapers (the local paper's business section, to be sure, boasted a fascinating cover feature on nutritional tips for cows), I planted myself in the "parlor" by a mahogany trimmed TV. They sneered at first, in their golf gear and diamonds. "Ah jus' have hudd e-nough!" crowed one. (Ha ha, wait till you hear the one about the cigar!) But somewhere amidst the nauseating nonstop blur of C-Span commentary, between "Rivera" and Larry King, it hit. They watched a little closer, a little angrier. They'd been "misled." Maybe it wasn't gonna be alright, after all. Maybe that bubble economy would burst, maybe those other, piddly nations could affect us, and maybe that charming drawl that had won women and voters and changes of topic so many times before could not ensure their security. But this was Virginia, and 65 percent of them hadn't cared for the louse in the first place. They shook their heads, turned on their heels and left. CNN had done its job, and they were righteous and indignant and entitled to another scotch. It wasn't until the next morning, when I switched the channel from the nonstop Clinton coverage to a Mase video, that I understood the awesome scope of this "watershed" confession. MTV News was pissed. Wielding phrases like "big embarrassment" and "lack of contrition," a panel of racially and sexually diverse viewers the network convened in its hip, gen-x newsroom assailed William Jefferson Clinton. They separated the sinner from the flourishing (?) economy and state of national well-being. Arms folded in indignance, they demanded "humility" from the president. This, from the news show that has become somewhat of a cable-TV Hamptons, a retreat from the stuffy so-called "objective'' networks. This from the network that threw its first Inaugural Ball when Clinton was elected. The network that eulogized Tupac, that never stopped playing TLC just because Left Eye was an arsonist, that never banned the label Death Row just because Snoop Doggy was almost sent there. It was unanimous. The panel members had deemed the mea culpa pathetic. And in doing so, they were not simply agreeing with stuffy old Orrin Hatch, they were making an obvious but ground-breaking differentiation. The title of President is different from the title of, say, "Material Girl" or "King of Pop," or even "The Artist." And while Clinton may have been a bit confused about this when People magazine proclaimed him "sexiest man alive," his inauguration -- and his second inauguration -- did not, according to this panel, give him sudden license to become the most oversexed man alive. Hugh Heffner, perhaps -- but even Hugh Grant had to apologize when he -- uh, she -- blew it. But certainly, you say, Bill Clinton is not the first president to philander like a movie star. Fortunately, however, the status of women in society has evolved since JFK's day. The media no longer turns a blind eye to men who mess around with the chick who carries in the newspaper, or to sexual harrassment suits, for that matter. No matter, said Clinton. The prez, like Kennedy before him, was loved in Hollywood, loved at the Hamptons. His rhetoric about race and the evils of Big Tobacco was more popular than Richard Gere's Tibet musings (and it was a lot easier to forget how Clinton signed the welfare reform bill than it was to erase the memory of Gere's, uh, antics). Clinton was in with the MTV Generation, and they were the "in" crowd. And the women who accused him, who spoke out about him? Trailer trash, hussies. If Clinton was MTV, they were more like the Nashville Network, but more low-rent. Go after Bill Clinton, they contemptuously warned, and prepare for a complete debasement of any character you ever hoped to uphold. It is unlikely that MTV News will ever badger Paula Jones for an interview, even with that unsightly deviated septum all taken care of. And once Monica gets her life back, it's doubtful that she'll ever make People's 50 Most Beautiful People list.

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