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Readers of The Chicago Tribune ain’t too happy with their paper this week. Most of them, it seems, felt the paper went too far in canning popular columnist Bob Greene over some sexual byplay with a teenybopper some 10 years ago.
Seems a high school girl came to the Tribune Tower way back then to interview the columnist as part of a newspaper journalism project. Greene, who has a long reputation of flirting with the ladies (young and old), invited her out to dinner.
Later, according to Tribune reporters Jim Kirk and Monica Davey, “Greene and the girl met at a hotel and had a sexual encounter that stopped short of intercourse,” which is a journalistic way of saying the sweet young thing probably did a Lewinsky on Greene.
As I said Monday, Greene’s behavior should have cost him his job, just as some of the advantages I took of women while writing a newspaper column in the 1970s should have sent me packing.
However, at least 60 percent of Tribune readers who have taken the time to email or call the paper think Greene’s romps with high school girls are no reason to fire him. They want the paper to reinstate the columnist.
The same level of support came from talk show callers who demanded to know why the Trib fired Greene “so quickly,” says WLS afternoon host Garry Meier.
Likewise, the majority of email that found its way to my inbox Monday afternoon thought I was too harsh on Greene and that his sex life was (1) none of the public’s business and (2) not enough of a reason to can Greene after 24 years with the paper.
All of this has a familiar ring. A few years ago, I waded through a ton of email from readers who thought a philandering President shouldn’t be impeached simply because he got his knob polished by a willing young intern.
True, Monica Lewinsky was older than 17 (though not that much), but by getting down on her knees and servicing Bill Clinton, the President of the United States, she not only cheapened herself, but the Presidency itself and the country he was supposed to serve.
Bill Clinton dismissed his dalliances with Lewinksy as “not really sex,” (just as he claimed that lying under oath was “not really perjury”) while his polished team of spinmeisters claimed it was “just sex’ and not that big a thing.
Which were the same words used by more than one emailer on Monday.
“All we’re talking about here is sex,” said one woman who said Greene should be reinstated by the Trib. “It was just sex and the girl was past the age of consent,” said another.
The girl who “had a sexual encounter that stopped short of intercourse” was 17, which is the legal age of consent in Illinois. Greene was 45 and married.
Yet the response by Trib readers and some of our readers suggests some at least no longer consider adultery or sex between a middle-aged man and a teenaged girl to be that big a deal.
During Bill Clinton’s oral encounters with young Lewinsky, Hollywood awarded a Best Picture Oscar to American Beauty, a film about a middle-aged man’s obsession with a blonde high-school cheerleader.
This year, the best director honor at the Sundance Film Festival went to Gary Winick, whose film, Tadpole, tells the story of a 15-year-old boy whose sexual obsession with his stepmother is sidetracked when he sleeps with her best friend.
When the boy’s father and stepmother discover the affair, they don’t threaten to toss the woman in jail for statutory rape, but simply ask both if they know what they are doing.
Before Bill Clinton left office, junior high school girls in Arlington, Virginia, told The Washington Post they regularly perform oral sex on boys because “it’s no big thing and even the President says it’s not really sex.”
Well I hate to be out of step with the trendsetters here, but it should be a big deal.
Bill Clinton didn’t lose his job after he used the power of his position to get oral sex from a star-struck young intern.
He should have.
Bob Greene did lose his job when he used his celebrity status to coax sexual favors from a star-struck teenager.
He deserved it.
What we don’t deserve is the yawn that Greene’s indiscretions get from a numbed public that apparently has seen it all and could care less.
That’s the legacy left by a whoremonger named William Jefferson Clinton.