Press in a Mess over Monica's Dress

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WASHINGTON: The dress is back. Six months ago, the media made wildly varying and ultimately embarrassing claims that Monica Lewinsky was in possession of a garment stained with the President's semen. Now reports are emerging that the former intern handed said dress over to Ken Starr's prosecutors following her immunity deal. The explanation for its long absence: It had been in her mother's custody all this time.

Special Report Sourcing for the reports was handled a little more carefully this time round: Both the New York Times and CNN were careful to stress that more than one source close to the investigation had passed the news along. However, on Thursday, Ken Starr and Lewinsky's lawyers issued a joint statement, disavowing any connection to the reports. So how much can we trust the dress story this time? "I highly doubt if today's reports are completely accurate," says TIME Washington correspondent Michael Weisskopf, who was one of the first reporters to mention the alleged existence of the dress last time. "We don't know anything more about the dress than we did in January." And what we knew then wasn't too solid either, according to TIME legal correspondent Adam Cohen. "There were reports of a black cocktail dress, a T-shirt-type dress, a gift dress... it was a confused picture at that point," says Cohen, who investigated the history of the dress story back in February. "It's quite possible there was a dress, but things were bounced around the media funhouse and hardly sourced, so it was difficult to know."

As for the latest incarnation of the infamous frock, there's no word yet on shape, style or color. Just excited accounts of FBI labs and DNA testing. Even if there is a dress and it does turn out to be stained, prosecutors may need to issue perhaps their most sordid request yet -- for the President's saliva or blood.