What fools (and hypocrites) these mortals be. Two decades have passed since Linda Tripp blew the whistle on sexual hijinks in high places with her tapes of Monica Lewinsky, the young intern, describing to her confidant and colleague the passionate ordeal of a sexual liaison with the president of the United States. She blew the whistle, she says, to protect her friend, but 20 years on she’s still a villain for many women who remember those times.
But history’s on her side.
Ms. Tripp withdrew to a private life after the scandal, and now she comes in from the cold to reappear on a changed landscape littered with the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey and Charlie Rose. She suggests that the former president, Bill Clinton, should take his place on the pedestal of predators, up there with current celebrities of stage, screen and politics.
“When the president gets a pass for something that egregious, ” she tells the London Daily Mail, “he essentially gave tacit permission to all those who followed to do the same.”
In the revival of memories of those dark days of revelation, Linda Tripp emerges as the heroine before her time was ripe, going out on a fragile limb to protect a friend who would hate her for what she was doing. “He was the leader of the free world and she was an intern, a kid, who happened to be extremely emotionally young for her age,” she says of Monica. “This was part of his pattern, where women were a means to an end. It was almost a servicing agreement, but she romanticized it.”
Although Bubba didn’t lose his job, as many of the current batch of exposed offenders did, one U.S. senator, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a Democrat, now says he should have. She thinks he should have resigned in shame. Other women are reassessing their earlier conclusions, now armed with fresh attitudes about sexual harassment. The reassessment should put Linda Tripp on the side of the good angels, but she told The Weekly Standard that the reassessment “is a day late and a dollar short.” She wants to know what information the reassessors have today they didn’t have 20 years ago. The reckoning isn’t about black and white, left and right, but about right and wrong.
Anyone familiar with the record hears Monica naively asking Bubba why, in their sexual encounters, he never asks her about herself: “Is this just about sex or do you have some interest in trying to get to know me as a person?” The plaintive cry of the child emerges.
But she had no appeal to sympathy when the Drudge Report broke the story in January 1998 with the power of a rotten egg, and Hillary Clinton went on the attack on NBC’s “Today Show” in January 1998. The accusations against her husband, she said, were merely the work of a “vast right-wing media conspiracy.” The abuse of a young woman by a male boss twice her age was reduced to partisan politics.
The “even vaster left-wing media conspiracy” joined the White House and closed ranks with the first lady and the president, treating Monica Lewinsky and Bubba’s “bimbo eruptions” like clay ducks in a shooting gallery. Maureen Dowd of The New York Times called the White House approach “the slander strategy.” But she observes that “at least some of the veteran Clinton shooters feel a little nauseated this time around, after smearing so many women who were probably telling the truth as trashy bimbos.”
One reader says writing about the Clinton scandals is “so yesterday.” Why bother with a rehash of the Clintons in the White House? But news of the Clintons is never yesterday’s news. Their story demonstrates over and over how power and the press create villains and heroines with exaggeration, distortion and rearranging of truth.
When Monica Lewinsky decided to go public with her remembrance of things past two years ago in Vanity Fair, she learned how personal humiliation fits with our culture of humiliation, where gossip and half-truths take root on the Internet, where nothing ever dies, and festers on social media, giving everyone an opportunity to revel in Schadenfreude.
With a 24/7 news cycle hungry for something, anything, to feed the hysteria for tales of the lowest human experience, the world where Monica Lewinsky lived 20 years ago is revealed as the same world we live in today, only more so. The power centers are occupied by a different cast of characters, but everything is familiar.
Amazon Studios has acquired the rights for a movie to be called “Linda and Monica,” to explore the recorded intimate confidential telephone conversations about Bubba between the two women. It’s coming soon to a theater near you.
• Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.