LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- In a prime-time television outburst, Bill Clinton ripped old nemesis Kenneth Starr and what the former president portrayed as a gullible media eager to report every ''sleazy thing" leaked from a prosecutor bent on bringing him down.
The exchange came in an interview with ABC news anchorman Peter Jennings that aired Thursday night, hours after Clinton opened his $165 million presidential library. Clinton blasted Starr and spoke disdainfully of a media that he suggested was complicit in a scheme to ruin his presidency.
''No other president ever had to endure someone like Ken Starr," Clinton said. ''No one ever had to try to save people from ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, and people in Haiti from a military dictator that was murdering them, and all the other problems I dealt with, while every day an entire apparatus was devoted to destroying him."
The former president said he had personal failings but never lied to the American people about his job as president.
Clinton added that he does not care about what his detractors think about him. Jennings then said it seemed to him that Clinton did care.
The former president responded, ''You don't want to go here, Peter. You don't want to go here. Not after what you people did and the way you, your network, what you did with Kenneth Starr. The way your people repeated every, little sleazy thing he leaked. No one has any idea what that's like."
''You never had to live in a time when people you knew and cared about were being indicted, carted off to jail, bankrupted, ruined, because they were Democrats and because they would not lie," he said. ''So, I think we showed a lot of moral fiber to stand up to that. To stand up to these constant investigations, to this constant bodyguard of lies, this avalanche that was thrown at all of us. And, yes, I failed once. And I sure paid for it. And I'm sorry. I'm sorry for the American people. And I'm sorry for the embarrassment they performed."
Starr's former chief deputy said yesterday he understood the difficulty for Clinton, but added that the bipartisan staff did what it had to do and performed honorably in seeking the truth. ''It's not easy being accused of things. We had allegations, and we had to investigate them," Hickman Ewing said. A seven-year, $70 million probe conducted mostly by Starr ranged from Clinton's involvement in the Whitewater land deal in the 1980s to the president's affair with Monica Lewinsky.
Clinton was not among the dozen Arkansans indicted on criminal charges in the Whitewater probe, but his affair with Lewinsky, a onetime White House intern, led to his impeachment by the GOP-controlled House in 1998. He was acquitted following a Senate trial.
Starr, now dean of the Pepperdine University law school, did not immediately return a call seeking comment yesterday.