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Etiquette For Surviving A Scandal

Dress for public-relations success. Get some serious lawyers. Gather a small circle of friends who won't sell out. Easy on the makeup.

A vampy magazine photo spread released in the middle of controversy over an alleged affair with the president? Surely not!

Coming back down to earth is no easy feat after twisting in the wind of scandal. Monica Lewinsky is still struggling in the court of public opinion, her image zigzagging from the coquettish intern with the jaunty beret to the demure young woman draped in pearls to the latest incarnation in Vanity Fair.

It's a familiar bind, trying to get a grip on how people see you.

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When reports of Gary Hart's romance with Donna Rice broke, Rice found "this was bigger than anyone could control or manage."

As the senator's 1988 presidential campaign fell apart, so did her tranquility. She went underground. She did a Barbara Walters interview. She disappeared again. "It just drove me to my knees," she says of it all.

Paula Jones eventually got an image-maker, changed lawyers and began accepting advice on how to present herself. "Makeup, clothes - there was a lot to do," reflected Susan Carpenter McMillan, until recently Jones' public relations adviser.

The hard fact is that people who are seen to be smudging a public figure have a knock against them in public esteem, even if they are credible.

"Any of these women who have raised charges or been associated with charges (against President Clinton) are viewed negatively by the public," said Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll. "People just don't think these issues are important enough to think the ship of state should be pulled off course."

Lewinsky has been mum. But for the July edition of Vanity Fair, she posed for five pictures. She's in fuchsia feathers, she's with a flag, she smiles, she strikes a "prom queen" pose, she lounges on grass.

There's been an embarrassed silence from her new advisers, with her spokeswoman refusing to discuss her image. Lewinsky's unconventional and now former lawyer, William Ginsburg, had approved the idea. He said she received no payment for the photos and did not give the magazine an interview.

"If I was her PR (public relations) person I would have dressed her in a very collegiate style, very conservatively," said McMillan, adding she would have opposed the project altogether. "It was a real in-your-face type of layout."

Should she talk publicly? The threat of indictment, if nothing else, has kept her circumspect.

"f I could imagine myself in that position, I would be dying to give a whole lot of people a piece of my mind," said Robin Lakoff, linguistics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. "In general, to be in control of your own narrative is very powerful.

"But if you are not very articulate, or you are somebody who puts your foot in your mouth, maybe it's better you didn't," Lakoff said in an interview.

Ultimately, the veracity of allegations should count for more than cosmetics. But when scandal breaks, all some people can do is hunker down.

"I had to take it on the chin and trust that in time that I could get to the other side," says Donna Rice Hughes, now married.

She, too, dressed down, ducked and leaned on a trusted few, fearing further betrayal after a friend's photos of her and Hart on a weekend cruise surfaced in the press. She modeled for jeans and rejected kiss-and-tell offers.

An early newspaper profile talked about the ex-model's brains and beauty. "My mother was proud," she said. "Within a week the headlines had moved towards the party girl image. A couple of weeks later, they had moved to homewrecker, bimbo."

These days, consistently high disapproval ratings for women in the Clinton controversies have applied to Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, too. "What people are reacting to is this whole idea of derailing the presidency," Newport said.

Kathleen Willey, who like Jones alleged being the subject of unwelcome advances by Mr. Clinton, dropped in public opinion polls after appearing on CBS' 60 Minutes program even though, by most accounts, she told her story well.

Hughes credits a rediscovered religious faith with getting her through. She also recalls making her first speech as communications director for Enough Is Enough, a group that advocates anti-pornography protection for children using the Internet.

"I had my hair pulled back in a bun," she said. "Wire-rimmed glasses, and the most conservative suit I could find.

"No red."


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