Clinton's dog days

The New York Times gives Buddy a bone.

Published September 1, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

In this season of White House firsts -- first sitting president to testify before a grand jury, first to tell the American people he had a "not appropriate" relationship, etc. -- now add this one: first time the New York Times has published a picture of the president's dog's penis.

I cannot say this with full certainty, for though I am a native of the Bronx and devoted Times reader, there was a gap of several years when I did not regularly see the paper. I moved to San Francisco in 1978 and the Times did not inaugurate its national edition until the early '80s, thus removing the last reason for me to move back to New York. I ordered home delivery.

It was my father's practice to read the Times at the breakfast table. Mine is to un-rubberband it as I walk my son to the school bus, glance at the headlines, re-rubberband it, and only begin my study of the paper in earnest after returning home. This way my son and I can speculate about why the bus is late, or I can try to explain to him why the school where we are waiting for the bus has recently been handed over to a private corporation to run. But Monday, stunned by what I had seen on Page 1 of the Times, I said little.

Buddy's penis appears there in a large color photo captioned "Vacation Farewell." The top right corner of the picture shows Hillary, one foot inside Air Force One, wearing dark glasses and a hat and waving. Chelsea follows, walking up a stairway to the plane, eyes down, and then comes Buddy, his head obscured by Chelsea's right leg. At the bottom left, finally, trails Our President, right hand on the rail of the ladder, left hand holding a baseball cap and Buddy's leash.

"Reuters," says the photo credit in 6-point type.

Was it accident? Could the photographer have been unaware that Buddy's procreative organ would appear silhouetted against the Massachusetts summer sky? That if you draw a line on the photo from the president's nose to Buddy's penis, and another from Buddy's penis to Hillary's hand, it forms a perfect check mark, as if to say, "Vacation successfully completed! The first family is doing fine!"

Draw another line from the president's baseball cap, through Buddy's penis, and you arrive at a paragraph in a neighboring article that reads: "It is hard to conduct government by consensus if there is no consensus. And seldom, it seems, have two political bedmates been more incompatible than these two." (This paragraph is not about Bill and Hillary; it is about Yeltsin and the Communists.)

Am I reading too much into this?

This I know: The editors of the New York Times are curators of an august journalistic tradition. They do not print dog penises lightly. In running the photo, at the size they ran it, and above the fold, they are making a statement. But what statement? "We are not the stuffy New York Times of old"? "We should keep the president on a short leash"? "We accept that the Leader of the Free World, like his dog, has no control over his libido; still, we recognize his strides toward the formulation of a sensible foreign policy"?

I checked the editorial page. Sometimes the editors comment or expand there on front-page matter. Nothing.

I do expect there will be an op-ed piece soon from an animal-rights activist protesting that Buddy never consented to the photograph, and opining that it is indecent and wrong for a newspaper to print a photograph showing a dog's genitals and not his face. One way or another, I'll have a reason to un-rubberband my Times on Tuesday.

By Charlie Varon

Charlie Varon is a humorist and playwright. His works include "Ralph Nader Is Missing" and "Rush Limbaugh in Night School."

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