Will the Real Muckraker Please Stand Up

Lucianne Goldberg’s reptilian and marginally literate review of Uncovering Clinton in Slate says that “it is not sporting” for Mike Isikoff to dump on Linda Tripp. “Isikoff and Linda were performing the same task, exposing the president,” Goldberg writes. “Isikoff had a powerful weekly newsmagazine and all its resources. Linda had a cheap tape recorder, a like-minded and determined friend in New York, and an iron will.” Chatterbox doesn’t dispute that Isikoff faced some moral ambiguities in reporting Flytrap. Still, the moral equivalence Goldberg posits is pure hooey. For Isikoff, exposing the president entailed conducting interviews on some fairly seamy topics and attempting–unsuccessfully–to cajole his sources into keeping their information secret until Newsweek went to press. It would take a fairly rarified sensibility to consider such activities serious ethical breaches. For Tripp, however, exposing the president entailed entrapment (the tapes show Tripp endlessly egging Lewinsky on), dishonesty (to tape a phone conversation secretly is illegal in Maryland, where Tripp lives, and immoral in all jurisdictions), and betrayal of a friend. Since Goldberg herself encouraged Tripp in these activities, her behavior must be judged reprehensible also; and as a bonus, Goldberg secretly taped Tripp. “Note to anyone who calls me after closing time: Expect to be taped,” Goldberg writes in her review. “It’s legal and saves me pawing around on my night table for paper and pen.” Oh, so it’s all about convenience, is it? If that’s the case, why did Goldberg hang on to her Tripp tapes long after whatever information she needed had presumably been scribbled down somewhere?

–Timothy Noah