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Lewinsky in middle of new political flap

Monday, December 16, 2002

ROME -- Monica Lewinsky has again found herself caught in a political storm, this time after Italy's state TV decided that a Sunday afternoon chat with her would be too spicy for families watching a popular variety show.

"What is it about me?" the former White House intern asked, with a wry laugh.

Lewinsky spoke with The Associated Press in her Rome hotel while Italian viewers were tuned in to the program she was supposed to be on, "Domenica In," a decades-old Sunday afternoon fixture on RAI, the nation's state broadcaster.

For days, Lewinsky, whose relationship with Bill Clinton triggered a perjury probe which almost ended his presidency, had been advertised as a special guest on the show.

But members of Premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservative coalition, including the communications minister, have been howling that -- given the scandal with Clinton -- her appearance during family-viewing time would be inappropriate.

While touted as family fare, the show's standard format includes a glamorous woman as the host and a backdrop of often scantily clad young women prancing across the stage in musical numbers.

Finally, it was announced Saturday that Lewinsky was off the show.

Her dark hair divided in two long braids, each decorated with a red fabric flower, Lewinsky, 29, said Sunday she had hoped to tell viewers about how the White House scandal turned out to be for her "an experience of strength," how it affected her family -- and about what she is doing now, designing handbags.

"It is a family show and it would have been fine for me to have been on the show. I have a family and what happened to me also affected them," she said. "I am someone's daughter and someone's sister."

Lewinsky's publicist, Barbara Hutson, accused the communications minister, RAI executives and "influential members of the church and state" of acting like "judge and jury."

Lewinsky apparently didn't know she was entering a beehive of nasty politics: Italian state broadcasting.

Critics have accused Berlusconi's government of imposing its conservative ideology on the station. Berlusconi is owner of Italy's three major private networks and, as premier, also has ultimate control of the three state TV networks. Three of the five RAI board members resigned several weeks ago, saying they were frustrated by conservatives' domination, and venomous accusations have been traded over administration of the stations.

After Lewinsky was told that the "Domenica In" appearance was scrapped, journalist Bruno Vespa invited her to appear on his late-night talk show, "Porta a Porta" (Door to Door), also on RAI.

"Porta a Porta" gets more raucous than the daytime fare: One show a few years ago ended in a scuffle between a Communist minister and a lawmaker who is the granddaughter of Benito Mussolini, the late fascist dictator.

When Lewinsky showed up Saturday to tape Vespa's show, she quickly walked out.

Hutson said her client was hastily shown a three-page legal contract in Italian to be signed and that they refused because they hadn't time to properly understand it.

"Porta a Porta" gave a different version.

"Monica Lewinsky entered the (studio) room and saw of picture of her and one of Clinton on the wall," said Lilli Fabiani of the show's press office. "As a result she canceled the interview. She walked out."

RAI's director-general, Agostino Sacca, defended the decision to book Lewinsky for "Domenica In."

"I would have liked a serious, clean interview of this woman," Sacca said told Rome daily La Repubblica. "She is a girl who was crushed by the mechanisms of power, like thousands of other girls in the world."


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