The weekend buildup was particularly intense: "White House sources began by leaking a story that Hillary was shocked and angry at the President," says TIME Washington correspondent Jef McAllister. "Then Jesse Jackson shows up for a long session of prayer, and the media is led to believe that the speech would be contrite. Finally, the President comes out attacking Starr, and immediately afterwards the spin is that Hillary had insisted he do it. The media management by the White House has been remarkably cynical." A reminder once again that politics in the '90s is the art of the spinnable.
A steady rhythm of leaks and informed speculation prepared America for the President's Lewinsky confessional -- and gave the White House ample opportunity to test the waters of public opinion. "The leaks definitely softened the ground for Clinton," says TIME White House correspondent Jay Branegan. "The President's speech was based on a careful reading of the polls. Attacking Ken Starr, for example, wouldn't have been as easy had Starr enjoyed a strong approval rating."