Readers Dramatize Clinton’s Most Outrageous Moment

Last week, Chatterbox marveled at the revelation in Peter Baker’s new book, The Breach, that when Bill Clinton finally admitted to Hillary (in August 1998) that he’d had an affair with Monica Lewinsky, he did so through an intermediary–their lawyer, David Kendall. Chatterbox found the delegation of this marital errand so appalling that he pronounced himself incapable even to imagine how Clinton posed the request to Kendall. Chatterbox then invited readers to submit playlets depicting the historic scene. Many fine entries came in; we’ll sample the best ones in a moment.

First, though, let’s examine a strikingly parallel incident involving the father of journalistic punditry, Walter Lippmann, as recorded in Ronald Steel’s biography, Walter Lippmann and the American Century. Lippmann was having an affair with Helen Armstrong, wife to Hamilton Fish Armstrong, an editor of Foreign Affairs and Lippmann’s great friend. (They dined twice weekly at New York’s Century Club.) Armstrong found out about the affair when he intercepted one of Lippmann’s love letters to Helen. Although surely the most exciting thing that ever happened between two members of the Council on Foreign Relations–it was briefly considered by ABC as fodder for a made-for-TV movie starring Paul Newman–the betrayal of a fellow clubman wasn’t the really worst part. The worst part was that when Lippmann resolved to divorce his wife Faye and marry Helen, Lippmann had Faye’s father, Ralph Albertson, deliver the bad news! Unlike the Clinton-Kendall exchange, the Lippmann-Albertson exchange has been recorded by history–well, half of it, anyway. Steel’s book quotes a letter Lippmann wrote Albertson:

I do not know whether this will seem to you an indirect way of dealing with the affair, but the fact is, the fundamental fact in our whole relationship, that Faye and I have never been able to discuss anything. We could only quarrel or ignore matters, and I won’t quarrel at this stage of things.… She has had her own way in everything because she has not hesitated to make it either so disagreeable or so plaintive that I submitted. I know that if I did the thing I would like to do, if I went to her and face to face told her the truth, she would dissolve everything in hysteria, real or feigned.Forgive me if I seem to write bitterly–I shall try never to be bitter about her–but the fact is that she is a coward about life and there is no way in which one can deal in a spirit of human charity with cowards. They have to be “managed” for their own good.

Having established that Walter Lippmann was an even bigger creep than Bill Clinton, let’s now proceed to our dramatizations. Chatterbox has arranged them according to genre.


1) By Suzanne Georgette Charpentier:

CLINTON [on the phone]: Hello, Dick. How did that focus group conducted with female attorneys 45-55 and married to chief executives go?Clinton listens as Morris tells him.CLINTON: David, you tell her.

2) By Jamie Melville:

BILL: I’m not much of a lawyer, David, but I recall that if I tell her, the conversation is privileged because she’s my wife and spouses can’t be compelled to testify against each other. Isn’t that right?DAVID: That’s right, Mr. President.BILL: And if you tell her, she can’t be compelled to testify because you’re her lawyer and the solicitor-client privilege would apply?DAVID: That’s also right, Mr. President.BILL: Then you should tell her, David. It’s fairly likely that you’ll always be her lawyer.

3) By “Grant & Judy”:

BILL: Er … David, about that Lewinsky comment on TV. Tell Hillary I put my foot in my mouth. And, eh, then, mmm, tell her it wasn’t really my foot and not, er, my mouth either.

Neil LaBute screenplay.

By Dan Simon:

BILL: Dave? I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you for that favor again. I know, I know, this one’s pretty bad. But I guess they’re all pretty bad, aren’t they? I’d do it myself, but–well, you can imagine. Why don’t you say the same thing you said last time–whatever it was, it worked great. Look, this’ll be the last one, I promise.

Harold Pinter play.

1) By “Englishjg”:

K: Good Evening, Mr. President.C [in a barely audible whisper]: Throat’s acting up.Clinton offers Kendall a Fisherman’s Friend.K: Thanks, Mr. President.Clinton picks up blank page and ballpoint pen and prints: “Hillary needs to know.”K: What do you propose, sir?C: Doctor advises silence for next 24 hours.K: I suppose I could initiate.Clinton writes: “Just frame it for me. Tell her I’ll fill in the details at our Thur. briefing.”K: May I use your phone, sir?Clinton writes: “Am expecting a call, David. Use the secretary’s.”K: Anything else?C: Peace be the journey, David.

2) By David Brandon:

KENDALL: You wanted to see me, Mr. President?CLINTON: Yes, David. I have some instructions for you. [Clinton hands Kendall envelope.]Please read these in private and follow them to the letter.KENDALL [takes envelope]: Yes, sir.CLINTON: Thank you, David. That will be all. Good night.KENDALL [exiting]: Good night, sir.

Courtroom drama.

By Barry Hirschowitz:

CLINTON: As my counsel, the only sure way to “zealously” represent me as the Canons require, is for you to inform Hillary about Monica and what may arise out of it all. Otherwise, she may lose her temper and inadvertently reveal privileged information to my detriment as your client.KENDALL: Given the surrounding circumstances, as your attorney, I agree.

Drawing-room comedy.

1) By Andrew Dardine (Note: This entry technically violates contest rules by depicting not the conversation between Kendall and Bill, but rather the conversation between Kendall and Hillary; Chatterbox, impressed by Dardine’s mastery of the genre, decided to post it anyway.):

KENDALL: Hi, Hillary. Do you have a minute?HILLARY: Sure. What’s up?KENDALL: Well, I have something to tell you. It’s just about the most difficult …HILLARY: Bill did have an affair with Lewinsky.KENDALL: Yes. But …HILLARY: He wished he could tell me himself, but he just didn’t know how in the world to do it.KENDALL: I’m sure he would have …HILLARY: He’s under a lot of pressure.KENDALL: I’m so sorry about this.HILLARY: That’s OK, David. We’re all adults.KENDALL: If there’s anything I can do.HILLARY: As a matter of fact …KENDALL: Yes?HILLARY: I’d like you to go back to Bill and tell him what I’m about to tell you.

2) By Patrick R. Hanes:

CLINTON: Hey, Dave–where’d you park?KENDALL: Well, I, uh, I parked over in the lower lot, Mr. President.CLINTON: Great. Listen, I’ve got these transcripts to read. On your way out, could you stop by the residence and do me a quick favor?

Episode of West Wing.

1) By Jim Stirling:

WJC: Well, David, they have me dead-to-rights with the blue dress, and I am going to have to offer up some sort of confession to the grand jury.DK: If they can indeed tie you to the dress, yes, you have to give them something.WJC: At this point, that’s the least of my problems. The real problem I have is that not only have I been lying to the public about this, I’ve been lying to Hillary and she needs to be told before this thing goes public.DK: That’s really something between you and your wife. I don’t know how I can help you there.WJC: Well it does tie into your services. I really need this burden lifted off me so that I can concentrate on the grand jury testimony. My presidency depends on it.DK: I’m not sure where you’re going with this. What is it you’d like me to do?[slight pause]WJC: You have to understand she will go ballistic, and I will be worthless on that stand if I have to endure that. I need to be on my game. Do you want me up there at anything less than 100 percent?DK: Are you asking me to tell her about all of this?WJC: I just need you to inform her of my testimony and what I will reveal. Nothing more, nothing less. That’s all you know.[long pause]DK: I think I can do that but this really is above and beyond …WJC [interjecting]: I know, David, I know. Just add it to the bill. The defense fund will cover it.DK: Consider it done.

2) By Taylor Hess:

CLINTON: Dave?KENDALL: Yes, Mr. President?CLINTON: Well, I … ah …KENDALL: Mr. President, I can’t tell you what to do.CLINTON: I know that.KENDALL: But, the first lady deserves to know before …CLINTON: Yeah, before I have to tell the jury.KENDALL: Yes, sir.CLINTON: Listen, I would have told her before now, but the pain all this has caused her is just too great …KENDALL: Yes, sir.CLINTON: … and to hear it from me after I all but lied to her about it, after she’s done so much, you know …KENDALL: Yes, sir, not to mention the humiliation of it all. I mean, on national TV …CLINTON: Yeah, the ‘Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy’ gambit, I still wince when I hear that one …KENDALL: Believe me, we all do, sir.CLINTON: Well, what I am getting at here, David, is the need to break this to her in stages, you know, so she can begin to piece things together, you know, herself before I let her know what did and did not happen.KENDALL: Yes, sir.CLINTON: So, I really think that if you were to …KENDALL: Me, sir? Do you think that’s the best approach?CLINTON: I do, David. I think that the first lady already knows the truth, but I want you to prepare her mentally, you know, to receive the … um … news.[silence]CLINTON: David, can I count on you to help the first lady through this?[silence]CLINTON: David, my family needs your help.KENDALL [sighs]: Yes, sir, I know. And I do want to help and do what’s best for your family.CLINTON: And the country.KENDALL: And the county, sir.CLINTON: Thank you, David. I knew I could count on you for this.KENDALL: Don’t mention it, sir.CLINTON [laughing]: You know I won’t.[Clinton slaps Kendall on the back and exits.]Kendall [whispering]: Schmuck.