Cover Girl Monica Lewinsky

If you haven’t seen it yet, this week’s Time magazine’s cover features an arresting picture of Madcap Monica in full groupie ecstasy. Her lips gleam scarlet-woman red as she gleefully embraces the Big He at a 1996 fund-raiser. Since this photograph is far more suggestive than the “God do I have to see it again” TV tape of Monica in her DKNY beret in another presidential embrace, Chatterbox was curious how this new picture managed to stay under wraps for six months in the midst of the breathless Washington media frenzy.

The mystery was unraveled by one phone call to Dirck Halstead, the Time photographer who has saved us from ever seeing that bloody beret again. Back in February, Halstead had an inkling that sometime, somewhere “I knew I had photographed that face with Clinton.” As Halstead, a veteran White House photographer, put it, “We remember things in terms of the photographs we shoot. Your mind creates folders.” After sorting through maybe 5,000 Clinton out-takes, he hit pay dirt. “It was an extraordinarily lucky moment,” Halstead recalled. “If I had posed and lit the whole scene, I couldn’t have done it any better.” When Halstead sent the photo to Time, the magazine did something unprecedented in the current scandalrama–it kept a juicy secret for five months. “We decided that we’d wait until the story came back,” Halstead said.

The picture was snapped during an Oct. 23, 1996, fund-raiser at the Washington Sheraton. With that date in hand, your dogged investigative reporter raced to the White House archives to discover what Clinton said on that memorable occasion. Now it can be told: On taking the microphone, the president said in words that I’m certain Monica thought only referred to her, “I was tired when I walked in, but I’m not tired any more. You’ve given me a lot of energy.” Later in the speech, in a passage that also could have double-edged meaning, Clinton exuberantly told the crowd of adoring young voters, “You’ll have more opportunities to live out your dreams, to imagine things and then make them happen in your lives than any generation of people in all of human history.”

Wait, it gets better. The president then mused, “But it will only happen if you can preserve some of the old-fashioned virtues that have gotten us here after 220 years.” Chatterbox wonders precisely which “old-fashioned virtues” were weighing so heavily on the president’s mind.

(Unless you work for Steve Brill, readers can skip the obligatory full-disclosure announcement that Chatterbox knows Halstead from our days together at Time, a magazine that Chatterbox still writes for occasionally.)

Walter Shapiro