Linda Tripp: Stabbed in the Front
by L. Brent Bozell III
So the president has delivered his
mea-sort-of-but-not-really-culpa regarding Monicagate and fled to the resort
region of coastal Massachusetts, a place so reflexively pro-Clinton that one
resident told Mary McGrory he was sure that famous dress stain was actually
salad dressing. Until the First Philanderer gets back to town, we'll attend to
a nagging question:
Q.: What's worse than the media's coddling of Clinton?
A.: That same coddling accompanied by the media's
vilification of his adversaries -- Linda Tripp, for example. Pertinent
to this is James Hattori's exploration, on the August 6 edition of CNN's
"NewsStand," of whether mockery of public figures has grown too
vicious of late. The story, which dealt with Tripp at greatest length,
included nasty cracks about her from Jay Leno, David Letterman, and
lesser-known comics like A. Whitney Brown of Comedy Central's "The Daily
Show" ("The way [Tripp has] been treated reflects badly on everyone
in the media, much the same way her taping of her best friend reflects badly
on all ugly, mean, fat women"). The primary voice of restraint was
liberal columnist Ellen Goodman, who said, "It sounds fuddy-duddyish...
but you know what? Nice people don't say certain things."
Brown denied crossing any lines with his jape. "When I
saw [Tripp] whining about people making fun of her appearance," he told
Hattori, "my first thought was, 'Man, what a perfect setup that's going
to be for a great joke about how fat she is.'" Brown's "Daily
Show" colleague Brian Unger declared that Tripp is getting what she
deserves: "When you take what [she] did and you examine its essence,
there's nothing honorable [or] patriotic about it."
The "NewsStand" story wasn't the only recent
rumination on Tripp-bashing. "Politically Incorrect" head writer
Chris Kelly wrote in an off-the-wall August 4 New York Times op-ed that Tripp
has been treated "not worse, or at least not much worse" than Bill,
Hillary, or Monica (she hasn't?); that Tripp suffers from a moral
"infirmity" (and Clinton doesn't?); and that Tripp has been targeted
not because she's unattractive but "because she is, by her own admission,
an informer, a prude, a false friend and a gossip." (Her own admission?)
I have to wonder, though: If you take the professed disdain
for Tripp's supposed betrayal of Lewinsky at face value, why aren't the vast
majority of the jokes about that very betrayal? Are these comedians and comedy
writers so unimaginative, so incapable of witty expressions of moral outrage,
that they have to resort to grade-school-level taunts about Tripp's looks? And
would comedians be as indignant about what she did, or as cutting about her
appearance, if her actions had damaged a Republican administration?
Politics aside, the questions regarding what does and
doesn't constitute appropriate satire are complicated indeed. During the '92
presidential campaign this writer took offense at some of the late-night TV
attacks on Pat Buchanan. In the midst of the contentious early primaries,
Buchanan became regular fodder for Jay Leno, who suggested that the Ku Klux
Klan would have "tough choices" deciding between voting for Buchanan
or ex-Klansman David Duke; that Buchanan wanted to lease Hitler's bunker
"as his campaign headquarters"; and that Buchanan wanted not a third
party but "a Third Reich, maybe."
Dennis Miller, who then had a syndicated weeknight show, was
having similar fun. Buchanan, according to Miller, was "a fascist
journalist whom everybody hates." He yukked that Buchanan was being
protected not by the Secret Service but "by the S.S." One night he
suggested that "the number of white supremacist groups operating in the
United States is up 27 percent ... and that doesn't include the Republican
Party, which takes it up above 30 percent."
I suppose that a Clintonite would respond to my objection
with empathy; the President has been dragged over the satirical coals
mercilessly, and for months. But there is a huge difference: the jokes about
Buchanan were not based on truth; the ones about Clinton/Lewinsky are. In
Hollywood, however, reality is meaningless. It is the perception of reality
that counts, and if the public perceives a certain characteristic about a
public figure, that characteristic becomes acceptable fodder. Thus jokes about
Buchanan's anti-Semitism are as acceptable as jokes about Clinton's libido.
But this is not just ethically (and morally) wrong, it's
dangerous. Like it or not, the power of comedic superstars like Leno and
Letterman to affect the popular culture is unmatched. What their millions of
viewers receive on a nightly basis as entertainment is considered acceptable
discourse. But there are limits. Is it acceptable to make Nazi jokes about
Buchanan? No. Is it acceptable to give private individuals like Linda Tripp
the same treatment as public officials? No. Is it acceptable to make endless
jokes about Clinton's sexual escapades? Yes. And no. After awhile, some things
just aren't funny anymore.
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