Linda Tripp: Victimized or Vicious?

Dear Margaret,

       I must confess to being flabbergasted. I thought the charge that you were betraying feminist, let alone humanist, principles by judging people by their looks would elicit some backpedaling. Instead you defend the practice. I’m sorely tempted to run through a long list of aesthetically impaired but wonderful people or to count off an even longer list of attractive yet horrible people. This, of course, would be a cul-de-sac. I would be stuck insulting the good and complimenting the bad: Mother Teresa looked cranky and mean, serial killer Ted Bundy (played by Mark Harmon in the made-for-TV movie) was dreamy–I’m told. Eva Braun was hot. I simply reject any notion of a “belle” curve, where the good-looking people are the good guys. And I would be shocked, considering your reputation as a nice person, if on a personal level you really believed that too.
       Regardless, this is way, way off-topic.
       Your spirited defense of the journalists who report Clinton-helpful news is fine by me, I guess. I’m no fan of Jane Mayer’s reporting or of Time magazine’s in regard to this scandal. At times, it seems to me that the magazine has been doing metaphorically for Bill Clinton what Nina Burleigh says she wanted to do literally.
       As for John King’s report. I’ve got no brief for or against the man. He certainly looks honest–which apparently is all that matters. I’m sure he honestly reported what people told him. If you’re willing to concede that whatever rumor or allegation a reporter reveals is automatically the truth, I’m sure you’ll join me in demanding that Clinton be fitted for one of those orange jumpsuits they wear in the federal big house. You did not mention, by the way, the travel office memo, which, I am told by several reporters, is a White House-spun piece of claptrap.
       Anyway, this too is beside the point. The presidential damage team will continue to spin to the point of risking scrotal torque no matter what I say.
       The central point does not lie with your views of aesthetics or, alas, with my views about the depths to which this White House will stoop to blame others for events that begin with them. I believe this is tragic but true nevertheless.
       Unfortunately, the real issue for most of our readers is whether Linda was wrong to make these tapes and whether her motives are relevant. The head of the sainted National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and free-lance White House flack Larry Pozner musters all his legal acumen and shouts on every TV program he can, “friends don’t tape friends.”
       Betrayal is trickier than it appears. Brutus betrayed Caesar and saved the republic. Though I prize my friends dearly, friendship is certainly not the highest value in the world. After all, the saying isn’t “friends first, God second, country a distant third.” If the Tripp tapes revealed that President Clinton was involved in a conspiracy to sell state secrets to China, surely at some level you would agree her taping were justified. If not, then surely during wartime. But, you might say, treason is a greater betrayal and is, unlike sex, against the law to boot (forgetting adultery laws and the various obstruction/perjury charges). True enough, but it does demonstrate that the betrayal of Monica at some level would be warranted. Take a closer parallel. What if Linda had been taping evidence that the president, though dependent on African-American support, was a rabid and disgusting racist behind closed doors. Racist views are not against the law. Nevertheless, I would bet Linda would not be dragged through the mud as she has been for exposing presidential hypocrisy.
       But, you might say, racism is vile, and all Linda did was tape evidence of sexual behavior between two consenting adults. Well, what if the president’s public image is that of the great protector of women’s rights? What if he invited the nation into his marriage by saying they’d get “two for the price of one”? What if the president applied feminist litmus tests to judges and policies? What if he and his wife campaigned arguing that their marriage was no “arrangement” but that it signaled a new feminist paradigm of a partnership of equals?
       And then he had an inappropriate relationship with an intern in the White House.
       Clinton has done these things. Monica asked Linda to take a great personal risk in order to hide this secret. Seems to me that friends don’t bribe friends to commit crimes by offering them real estate in Australia .
       The issue of motives bores me to no end. What were Deep Throat’s motives? He was a betrayer who didn’t have the guts to come forward. We have to leave it to Bob Woodward to tell us if DT did any taping. But would that change the story?
       Linda is being attacked for taping a friend. JFK–the most adored president of the century–taped his friends, his family, everybody. So did FDR, until he decided the system didn’t work well. And so, of course, did LBJ and Tricky Dick. Do you think any of your reporter friends tape incoming phone calls? None? Any? I’ve learned firsthand that one of the pillars of the journalistic profession is the art of gaining the trust of people only to betray them. How many episodes of 60 Minutes exposed wrongdoing by secretly videotaping people? I’m not accusing Don Hewitt of anything unethical or even anything wrong. But they made their bones on betraying people, and they justify it by saying that they were revealing a greater wrong. And they are right. Indeed if Linda were a journalist she would be a hero. Everyone says she’s in it just for a book. Not true, but what would be so wrong with that? Woodward and Bernstein, it could easily be said, were just in it for the book(s) or “to peddle a story.” But we have special rules for this secular priesthood. So instead Linda is a villain, because she is a secretary and doesn’t look like Fawn Hall.
       Since I’m done with this dialogue–you may have the last word–I would like to say one more thing. You–understandably–speak about “my side” in all this. In one sense the ranks of my side are far thinner than you might think. Larry Klayman may be working on the side of the angels, but he does not speak for me. I may root for them from time to time, but I belong to no movements, conspiracies, parties, or marching bands with the prefix “right-wing.” Conservatism, rightly understood, offers at best two cheers for ideology or excessive political enthusiasm.
       I am not shocked by Chris Matthews being friends with Jack Quinn in the slightest. I have dozens of left-wing and liberal friends. Character is not determined by politics but by actions, and Quinn, I’m sure, earned Matthews’ friendship and yours. Clinton’s character is not determined by politics either but by his actions. This fact seems to have been lost by nearly all the feminist and liberal supporters who ever said the “personal is political” and “you just don’t get it” without irony. I guess what does shock me is the number of smart, experienced reporters who acknowledge publicly and privately the White House’s orchestrations but play the role assigned to them anyway. That I don’t get.