Linda Tripp: Victimized or Vicious?

Linda Tripp: Victimized or Vicious?

E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
July 2 1998 3:30 AM

Linda Tripp: Victimized or Vicious?

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Dear Margaret,
       I say you are at a disadvantage, because you do not know Linda personally and therefore cannot speak about her character with the facts on your side. But why should you let facts, or the lack thereof, get in the way of a good character assassination?
       But, let me be clear about what I mean by "facts." Here's a composite of definitions from my desktop dictionary: "things that actually happened, the truth." Let me also be clear about what I think aren't facts: whatever oozing innuendo you happen to collect from the White House.
       Who can guess which White House sock puppet is whispering in your ear--they're all so eager (though I did enjoy the serendipity of seeing you at my favorite Jewish deli last week sharing a "bagel and smear" with Jack Quinn). But considering this White House has the best hardball team in town, it could have been anyone. I mean, it's not as if it's a secret that Time magazine is prominent in their Rolodexes. It is simply not true that Linda was the source of the Bush rumor. It is simply not true about the $68,000 travel office memo. For honesty's sake I must admit I don't know anything about this Army reservist story, but I'm inclined to think that, if true, it's more complicated than you make it out to be (just as White House "sources" admit the president's relationship with Monica was "complicated"). The first two allegations are simply part of a dishonest story line put out by the White House in order to say once again that the fault lies not in the stars but in an inconvenient woman. I am not offering conjecture; friends of mine in the press corps have recounted as much to me.
       As for your other less devastating but probably true accusations, all I can offer is an exasperated "so what?" She called her bosses the "three stooges" in an e-mail. Off with her head! If we were to go through the ranks of the federal government--or Time Warner, for that matter--and count up all the people who shared similar observations on colleagues, you would have enough "scoundrels" for a crowd scene from Ben-Hur. If you can, in good conscience, cast this stone, well, good for you. I'll keep company with the lesser mortals.
       She recounted truthfully, when asked a direct question by a reporter and later by an officer of the court, what she saw of the Kathleen Willey episode. Swallowing my desire to vent sarcasm about how that makes her the great villain compared with a White House that, as a matter of policy, digs into the lives of its enemies either by rummaging through their FBI files or by hiring free-lancers like Terry Lenzner, let me just tip my hat and say, guilty as charged.
       And finally, I can only hope for comic effect, you note with a wink that Linda served Vince Foster his last meal. Gosh, that's about as tasteful as it is clever.
       But while we are on the issue of taste, let me say your attacks on her appearance are not merely distasteful and mean but also border on the sort of pathology and make-it-up-as-you-go psychobabble that until now we have come to expect only from Sid Blumenthal (a k a Hillary's Beria). Maybe he sent you a memo? What demons are you really attacking when you talk about her Schadenfreude, the "chip on her shoulder," her banishment from the "family of man"? Your glib familiarity with what you perceive to be the goings-on in her head are, not to put too fine a point on it, creepy.
       Your magazine recently ran a cover story asking, "Is Feminism Dead?" Judging from your willingness to invoke high-school cheerleader cattiness for logical argument and analysis I would say feminism if not dead already should be interred nevertheless. Ah, Linda had "poodle-bangs" and her nickname in high school was "Gus"; well, we might as well end debate there.
       You and a few others make a great deal out of the villainy of makeovers. You are an attractive lady, but let me ask you, when was the last time you went on Capital Gang without makeup? Are you really trying to tell me that if you were repeatedly and viciously attacked for your looks and impersonated by John Goodman on Saturday Night Live you wouldn't grow concerned about your appearance? Paula Jones was dismissed--mostly by liberal female and feminist pundits--because she looked as if she came from the other side of the tracks. She got a makeover, and then she was dismissed because she wasn't being genuine. You do the exact same thing by mocking Linda for her appearance during the Whitewater hearings and then mocking her again for sprucing herself up. Again, if you can in good conscience cast that stone, good for you.
       As you point out, I believe the case for Linda is largely tied to the case against Bill Clinton. It is quite tempting to make that case at length but I won't for the sake of space. But how you can doubt that all this mess isn't the responsibility of the president is beyond me. I am not prone to quoting Michael Dukakis, but sometimes the fish does rot from the head down. We're talking about the president of the United States doing things that would get the floor manager of J.C. Penney fired. He has admitted to more than Clarence Thomas was ever accused of, and yet the president's defenders all believe in shooting the messengers. When the captain rocks the boat for his own amusement, you cannot blame the passengers for grabbing whatever flotation devices they can find.
       Enter betrayal, which you call the heart of her darkness and which I think is at the heart of most smears against Linda and spins by this White House. I'm out of room here, so I leave it to you to start off on what we both feel is the "heart" of the matter.

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