KENNETH STARR: BEYOND AN OBITUARY

Michael Carlson
13 min readSep 25, 2022

NOTE: Ten days ago I wrote an obituary of Kenneth Starr for the Guardian. Originally they had asked for something quite short, but later, without my asking, extended my word limit to 1,000. I went to 1,100, trying to explain and set context. For obvious reasons, around the death of the Queen, it wasn’t a priority, and when I was sent the edited version, I was asked for some explainers. I re-inserted only one line, which I’d thought essential, but because of explanations answering their queries, my second draft, which follows below, was over 1,200 words. The explainers were cut out, and a few other cuts were made for space. The difficulty, of course, is trying not to dive too deeply down rabbit holes, and the paper is always concerned at what a British readership, and a younger one, will remember or know (or indeed, care about) from recent American history. And of course when you are writing an obituary, you are following the dictum of nil nisi bonum, or don’t speak ill of the dead.

The Guardian also has a frustrating style in terms of proper nouns, for example, in the edit of my first draft District of Columbia became district of Columbia. I corrected it, and explained why: District of Columbia isn’t one of many districts, it is a place name. Using a lower-case d is like calling South Dakota south Dakota. But they changed it back to lower case anyway. What follows is my longer, second draft; the final obituary, their edit of which I let stand, district of Columbia and all, you can read it as it was published at the Guardian online Monday 19th. Then read the following…

THE SECOND DRAFT

Kenneth Starr, who has died aged 76, was the independent prosecutor whose investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s investment in a real-estate project called Whitewater began in somewhat pious partisanship and descended into prurience. It led to President Clinton’s impeachment for perjury based on his lying about his relationship with a White House aide named Monica Lewinsky.

The Clinton impeachment, which ended in his acquittal in 1999, was an American watershed. Following the OJ Simpson trial of the mid-1990s, it established scandal as the fuel that empowered television’s tabloid news; more importantly it pointed the way to use congressional investigation in order to disrupt a presidency, a tactic followed repeatedly against the Obama administration, including six House investigations, lasting more than two years, of the secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, over the…

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Michael Carlson

Yank doing life w/out parole as UK broadcaster & writer. @carlsonsports. Covers arts, books, film, music, politics & uh, sports. Accept no substitutes