I Am Truly Sorry

After spending seven years covering politics in Miami, recent events have caused me to realize that I owe several people apologies. Let me start with the most obvious: Joe Gersten.

Joey, I'm sorry. Speaking not only for myself but on behalf of all those "media elites" who ran you out of town, let me apologize for the way we treated you. Compared to President Clinton's shenanigans in the Oval Office, your alleged romp with a hooker in a crack den was pretty mild stuff -- even if you were a county commissioner at the time.

More important, the public's reaction to the president's peccadillo (not to be confused with his Tiparillo) has shown that we in the media need to get over our obsession with the private lives of public people. Sex is sex, and whether it involves crack pipes or cigars, it's nobody's business.

Joey, it's a new day in America. Come on home.
Next I must apologize to State Sen. Daryl Jones. Daryl, believe me, I feel your pain. Imagine my sorrow when I heard the president declare on national television that he had deliberately misled the American people, lied during his deposition in the Paula Jones lawsuit, and according to Kenneth Starr, perjured himself before a federal grand jury. And yet in spite of that, as all the polls show, the American people still want him to be president. They don't want him impeached and they don't want him to resign.

All you did, Daryl, was equivocate before the Senate Armed Services Committee during your confirmation hearing to become Secretary of the Air Force. And for that they rejected you. But if it's okay to lie about sex, it certainly must be okay to lie about hawking Amway products years ago. Good grief, who wouldn't lie about an affiliation with Amway?

For many of the reasons an apology to Daryl Jones is in order, I also feel the need to express a profound sense of regret to Bruce Kaplan. Bruce, can you ever forgive me? So you fudged a little on your mortgage application and filed a false financial disclosure form. Kids' stuff. Hardly worth noting, in retrospect. And yet your prevarications at the time angered me so that I couldn't rest until the State Attorney's Office forced you to resign from your seat on the Miami-Dade County Commission.

Bruce, the president can wag a lying finger at more people in a day than you could in a lifetime. And if he can do that and survive as president, then you should have remained a commissioner. I'm telling you, buddy, this White House scandal is making me rethink my approach. How can I possibly go after dishonest and unethical local politicians when the vast majority of Americans believe it is all right for Clinton to commit perjury, obstruct justice, and spew one bald-faced lie after another?

You could even argue that Miami -- ridiculed over the past year as the most corrupt metropolis in the nation -- should now be revered for its honesty because we hold our local elected officials to standards higher than those required of the President of the United States.

Finally I believe Humberto Hernandez deserves an apology. Bert, if you are reading this in jail, I want you to know I'm typing this portion of my penance on bended knee, hoping you will forgive those of us who share even a trace of responsibility for your unfortunate incarceration. I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling terrible about your recent conviction in the vote fraud case. Judge Roberto Pineiro no doubt is in therapy, suffering from a debilitating sense of guilt over your unjust conviction and harsh sentence.

I don't need to remind you, Humbertico, that despite the jury having found you innocent of any felonies, Pineiro still felt compelled to sentence you to 364 days in jail. For a misdemeanor. One more time, my friend: Just what did you do to earn a year in the slammer and ejection from the city commission? You coached your former secretary about giving false testimony if she were ever questioned in regard to vote fraud.

You tell me, Bert, how is that different from Clinton's conversations with his own secretary, Betty Currie? Calling her into the White House after his deposition in the Paula Jones case, the president told Currie:

*"You were always there when [Lewinsky] was there, right?"
*"We were never really alone."
*"Monica came on to me, and I never touched her, right?"
*"You can see and hear everything, right?"

The president, of course, knew those statements were lies. After all, it wasn't a conversation designed to refresh his memory. Plain and simple, he was prompting her to back up his story so no one would learn he'd just committed perjury.

Oh, the hypocrisy. Poor, poor, Bert! This sort of double-standard cannot stand. To correct it I vow to launch a petition drive demanding that you receive a presidential pardon. I'm even writing an anthem for the cause, a reworking of a Lynyrd Skynyrd classic. I call it "Free Bert." Here's a sample:

Bye, bye, cellmate, it's been neat now, yeah yeah
Though your life sentence I can't change
And please don't take it so badly
Cause Lord knows I deserve some blame
But if I'm jailed here with you, Earl
Life just couldn't be more lame
I should be as free as the president now
Cause his words they were the same
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh

Oh, his words he cannot change
Lord knows, I'm the same
Lord help me, I can change
Won't you free, oh, free Bert, yeah!

This entire Clinton scandal has been very disorienting. When I first heard about it in January, I remember thinking he was doomed. If he really lied under oath about having an affair with Monica Lewinsky, then he would have to resign.

And a few days later, when he wagged his finger into the camera and declared, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," I thought that if it turns out he was lying, resignation would be the least of his worries. I assumed my fellow Americans would hunt him down with pointy sticks and drive him from the country.

By the time the president admitted he was a liar, I'd already whittled down an old tree branch. But then nothing really happened.

Oh sure, 24-hour television news stations have been prattling on endlessly, and senators have made speeches denouncing the president, and editorial pages across the nation have demanded his resignation. But ordinary Americans don't want him to resign and would prefer that the whole thing simply go away.

Earlier this month, when Clinton came to South Florida during the East Coast leg of his national apology tour, he was warmly received. Our own mayor, Alex Penelas, greeted him at the airport, along with a raft of other elected officials. When the president spoke a short time later at a fundraiser, he was introduced by Daryl Jones. "Don't let him stand out there on his own to fight this fight alone," Jones exhorted the crowd. "Let him know that we are with him 1000 percent. It is time for this country to quit cannibalizing itself and stop cannibalizing its leaders."

Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay -- the only man in the world who makes Al Gore seem funky -- stood right by Clinton's side during the speech. Maryland's gubernatorial candidate had the decency to make up some sort of a lame excuse in order to cancel his outing with Clinton. But not Buddy. He's as loyal as the president's dog.

I concluded that the only way local Democrats would back away from the president was if they discovered he had used a Cuban cigar when he turned Lewinsky into a human humidor.

In my search for answers, I've been reading folks like the Herald's Robert Steinback, who has been preaching about America's "new morality." In July, for instance, he rationalized Clinton's conduct by comparing it to someone who placed a bet on the Super Bowl, or told a client he'd been caught in traffic when he'd really overslept, or kicked a golf ball out of the rough, or deliberately chose not to feed a parking meter. Like the president's transgression, these too were immoral acts, Steinback mused, but we wouldn't want someone thrown out of office for such petty offenses. "I'm sorry, but I'm finding it hard to get worked up about this case of shocking immorality," Steinback wrote regarding the Clinton-Lewinsky affair.

The same day that particular Steinback dispatch appeared, the Herald columnist and I participated in a panel discussion about ethics -- a hot topic in South Florida for obvious reasons. At the time, I told Steinback I thought he was full of hooey.

Now I'm not so sure.
Maybe it is acceptable for the president to shake his finger at me and lie as long as I've got money in my pocket and the economy is booming. Maybe demeaning the presidency and lying under oath in a court proceeding and encouraging other people to lie is no big deal. The president's a bum. So what?

I guess I owe Steinback an apology as well. Sorry, Bob. You were right, and for that I'm truly sorry.

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede