Mr Paula Jones

 

Ever since a spunky Southerner named Paula Jones filed her sexual harassment suit against President Bill Clinton on May 6th 1994, American political pundits and even a few normal people have been asking "What is this really about? Who is behind this?"

There are several reasons why such questions are appropriate. Filing a lawsuit against the President of the United States is no small feat. Anyone can do so, of course, for the small cost of a court filing fee. But Paula Jones made it clear from the beginning that she wanted an apology from the President and that she would endure if necessary the consequences of a protracted legal battle with arguably the most powerful man in the world.

During hours of gruelling depositions, investigations into her own sexual history, and amid a growing mountain of legal documents, Jones has stood fast. She has endured ridicule from Clinton's advisers and the media, who derided her looks and her lower class background, calling her "trailer trash with big hair".

A former boyfriend emerged from her past to sell (without her consent and over her objections) salacious photos of a scantily-clad Jones to Playboy. Opinion polls have shown that many Americans do not believe her story that then-Governor Clinton exposed himself to her in a Little Rock, Arkansas hotel room in 1991 with a crudely worded request for oral sex.

Some observers charge that Paula Jones is a pawn of the right-wing, a pawn of Clinton's opponents who would do anything to bring the President down. And indeed, Jones's strongest supporters are closely allied with conservative political interests. Her case is now being financed by the Rutherford Institute, a conservative group. Her chief spokeswoman and close adviser, Susan Carpenter McMillan, is a California conservative activist who has been a leader in the fight against legalised abortion in the US.

No one, however, alleges that Jones herself is a political strategist. The more sympathetic commentators characterise her as naive, unaware of the partisan havoc that her little old lawsuit would cause. Others call her a gold-digger who thought she could extract hush money from Clinton.

What many observers overlook, however, is the man behind Paula Jones. He is no high-level Washington power broker. Neither is he a man who appears to be dreaming of big money. He is, however, a commanding personality whose verbal economy can conceal the absolute authority he has over his household - a household that the modern feminist movement has never touched.

He is Steve Jones, Paula's husband, and anyone who wants to understand why Paula Jones is doing what she's doing would be wise to look at Steve.

"I hate the media," he growls over dinner at a Mexican restaurant not far from the couple's rented one-bedroom apartment in Long Beach, California.

Steve is a muscular man, brown-haired, bearded, All-American-looking. He exudes a nervous, even explosive energy. He holds a cigarette between his thumb and index finger, the way real men do. One can understand why nobody wants to get him irritated. (Neighbours note that he answers when you ask Paula a question.)

Even adviser, McMillan, a veteran of brutal political wars in California, will often say, sweetly, "I don't want Steve to get mad". McMillan knows that Steve Jones holds the power; he could, at any moment, pull the plug on her high visibility role as spokeswoman, or even on the case itself.

Paula gazes lovingly at him as their infant son, Preston, fidgets in a highchair. Their other son, Madison, now six, is at home with a babysitter. Preston is hungry and Steve has asked a waiter to bring some chips until the food arrives.

Five minutes have passed, the waiter has not appeared with the chips, and Steve is now clenching his fists, sitting taut and ramrod straight in his chair.

"Where the hell is that guy?" he demands. He soon resumes his diatribe about the media. "They're not interested in the truth. They just want to sell papers." Steve Jones is angry at the media, angry at the way he feels his wife has been portrayed. He is angry at the waiter. One soon senses that Steve Jones is also just a very angry man.

Steve was born 36 years ago in Memphis, Tennessee. In December 1989 he met then 22-year-old Paula Corbin at a Little Rock nightclub called BJ's Star-Studded Honky-Tonk. By that time, Jones was working as a ticket agent for Northwest Airlines and trying to get bit parts as an actor.

(He did in fact play the ghost of Elvis in a quirky film called Mystery Train, directed by Jim Jarmusch.)

Paula was apparently taken with Jones right away. He showered her with gifts, including a Gucci bag and a leather jacket. His job also afforded him free airline travel.

For Paula, Steve Jones was a way out. Born in Lonoke, Arkansas, population just more than 4,000, some 24 miles from Little Rock, Paula grew up in a poor town where pick-up trucks rumble regularly across railroad tracks and soybean and wheat fields are what passes for landscape.

Her father was a janitor in a shirt factory, but also an evangelist for the Bible Missionary Church. Even in the kind of town that supports 19 churches, Bobby Gene Corbin was a strict man who decreed no-nonsense clothes and lots of Bible-reading for his three daughters.

Paula barely graduated from high school, held a series of brief office jobs, and looked for a way to a better life. Steve was the beginning.

In March 1991, she got a job as a documents examiner for the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission at a salary of $10,270 a year. It was two months later that she says her encounter with Clinton occurred. According to her, Clinton saw her manning a conference table at the Governor's Quality Management Conference at the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock. He allegedly dispatched a state trooper to tell her he wanted to see her in his suite.

Paula claims her refusal to have sex with him cost her a job promotion. Clinton's lawyers have argued that Jones got satisfactory evaluations and a 25 per cent rise during her two years in the job. There are conflicting accounts of what she told friends about the encounter.

In any event, she married Steve the next year. In May 1993, the couple moved to California because Northwest Airlines transferred Steve. He also thought the move would help his acting career.

That might be the end of the story but for a January 1994 magazine article that quoted an Arkansas state trooper saying a woman named "Paula" had an affair with the governor.

Jones says she was worried that family and friends would think the "Paula" in the story was her. She demanded a retraction and the magazine refused. So she decided to sue Clinton, demanding that he issue an apology and back up her story. He refused.

Much ado about nothing? Not for Steve Jones. Co-workers remember that Steve Jones had Bush-Quayle stickers all over his locker and gym back in 1992. They say he wore a Bush button on his uniform until he was asked to remove it. They say he despised Clinton.

Today Steve Jones's hate for Clinton is still palpable. His intensity of feeling far outweighs Paula's - she can appear indifferent.

For Steve, the case seems to be about restoring his wife's reputation, and by extension, his own reputation as a man and a husband. The battle with Clinton seems to be a redemptive David and Goliath tale for Steve Jones, and there is something considerable to his assertion that "Clinton picked on the wrong people when he picked on us. I hate the bastard," he says.

The trial, which begat the entire Monica Lewinsky matter for Bill Clinton, begins in May in Arkansas.