Linda Tripp: Victimized or Vicious?

Linda Tripp: Victimized or Vicious?

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
July 1 1998 3:30 AM

Linda Tripp: Victimized or Vicious?

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       You say I'm "at a disadvantage" because you know Linda Tripp firsthand, and I don't. Hmmm, I don't know that knowing Tripp firsthand has turned out to be an advantage for anyone, but I'll take your word on that. Perhaps, if your mom finally lands a Clinton exposé that succeeds. Certainly, knowing Tripp firsthand has turned out to be a terrible disadvantage for Monica Lewinsky.
       So you want to put betrayal off to a later dialogue. That's like skipping Act 1 and heading straight to intermission. Fine, you went first. But let me correct your veering off into the case for Tripp being the case against Clinton. I would say no one deserves Tripp, not even Clinton. But the point we should stick to is whether Monica deserves such a friend, and I would say no. Tripp lost membership in the family of man when day after day she looked into Monica Lewinsky's eyes as a friend and at night hit the "on" button on her Radio Shack tape recorder.
       No, there's enough about Tripp to criticize without getting to the heart of her darkness. While we are trying to make up our minds about the other characters in the drama, she can safely be cast as a villain--the Mark Fuhrman of the Starr investigation--because of her perfect rendition of the friend from hell. The Schadenfreude that gets her out of bed in the morning is twofold: Because she is unhappy, others must be made unhappy as well. We all know the type: the office busybody; the perpetual malcontent; the career secretary typing, fetching and Xeroxing, who thinks she should be boss. According to the Washington Post, she once tattled on an Army reservist and got him fired. In an e-mail message that came out during one of the many investigations, she called her bosses "the three stooges." An equal opportunity squeal, Tripp spread the story that George Bush had an affair with an aide. Her ratting on Kathleen Willey was a twofer: She said the president must have done more than review her résumé in their Oval Office meeting. Take that, Mr. President. But that whatever groping happened, Willey emerged flushed but happy about it. So there, Kathleen. Why harm only one person when you can get two with one zing?
       In the counsel's office she was at the red hot center of privileged information. Vince Foster often complained that everything he did found its way out of the office, often to the pages of the Wall Street Journal. Guess who was the first person to see the memo on the $68,000 in cash missing from the travel office and the lack of competitive bids? Yep, our gal Friday. In a footnote to tragedy, it was Tripp who delivered Foster's last meal to him before he drove to Fort Marcy Park and killed himself.
       You ask whether "Victimized or Vicious?" is the right characterization. I doubt she would like it that victim is what you choose. Sure, she was an itinerant Army brat, called "Gus" in her yearbook after a tall, stocky basketball star of the time. Oprah would have a field day with the fact that her father, who had an affair, left her mother when she was young, and Tripp's marriage ended in divorce as well. Early this morning, before showing up at the courthouse, she had her makeover buffed up, getting her hair and makeup done. She's far removed from the poodle bangs memorialized in the file tapes of her testifying at a congressional hearing on Whitewater when she began her official tattling career, but John Goodman's portrayal of her on Saturday Night Live is only slightly over the top. His stockiness captures that chip on the shoulder she carries around. And how much time does a near 50-year-old woman have on her hands that she can spend so much of it listening to a prattling 90210 chippy? If she had a life, the course of history might be different.
       One of her good friends in the White House was another malcontent, Gary Aldrich, the former FBI agent detailed to the White House, who wrote the widely discredited book which famously devoted a chapter to the pornographic ornament on the official Christmas tree. According to the book Anatomy of a Scandal, by James Retter, Tripp got together with Aldrich 75 times during their mutual tenure. Yes, Tripp's first effort to follow in his footsteps failed (it's notable that her ghostwriter Maggie Gallagher said she adamantly refused when Gallagher suggested she tape their sessions). But her denials of rekindled hopes of a book contract motivating her taping are not--to paraphrase a Bob Bennett comment about her--"to be believed."
       Tripp hadn't talked to your mother for the14 months since her original book proposal failed in August 1996. The first person she calls to ask for advice after the wave of publicity that followed her outing of Kathleen Willey in Newsweek just happens to be ... Lucianne Goldberg, book agent? So Bennett says her depiction of Willey was not to be believed. Words apparently will harm her, so off to the electronics store. A "seeker of the truth," as Tripp refers to herself, might at best need to tape one conversation and hold it in reserve for that dark moment when her veracity was challenged. Instead, she taped 20 hours' worth and offered them up gratuitously, to get the ball, which wasn't moving much, rolling. She could now, as they say, write a book.
       Perhaps there's more to her, as you say, firsthand. Maybe the grand jury will see the inner Tripp, which you find so likable. Or by next week, she may wish she had remained a voice on a machine. Over to you.

Jonah Goldberg is a writer and TV producer living in Washington, D.C. Margaret Carlson is a columnist for Time magazine.