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From the February 1999 MediaWatch

Interviewers Work to Reinforce Negative Image

No Valentines for Tripp "The Betrayer"

Over the Valentineís Day weekend, Linda Tripp made a "series of media appearances she has scheduled in an effort to rehabilitate her image," as The New York Times described it. But the media outlets she selected were not about to allow her to rehabilitate the negative image they worked so hard to create.

None of Trippís questioners brought up the news stories that might complicate the picture: the White Houseís look at her FBI file or the Pentagonís leak of her personnel file to Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, which is still under investigation by Kenneth Starr.

The New York Times. On February 12, Times reporter Don Van Natta Jr. began his summary of a two-hour interview: "Linda R. Tripp, the woman whose secret tape recordings made her the reviled symbol of a double-crossing friend, now says her deepest regret is the pain she caused Monica S. Lewinsky...Mrs. Tripp said she betrayed Ms. Lewinsky to save the young woman from being abused by the President of the United States." But Tripp never described her behavior as betrayal, saying instead, "I would hope some other mom would do for my daughter what I did for Monica, despite the fact that it looks horrible, that it looks like betrayal."

The Times kept reinforcing Trippís negative image inside the paper, where the subhead above her interview read in capital letters: "THE BETRAYER." Van Natta reiterated his lead paragraph: "Americans view Mrs. Tripp as the villain in the Clinton sex scandal and see her as an archetype of a girlfriend betraying a girlfriend. They were incensed at Mrs. Trippís advice to Ms. Lewinsky not to dry clean that stained navy blue dress from the Gap."

NBC. Katie Couric implied Monicagate wasnít Clintonís fault on the February 12 Today: "This morning, Matt, front and center, the woman who started it all. For the past year or so, four words have described Linda Trippís relationship with Monica Lewinsky: perhaps those four words are Ďwith friends like these.í Well, Linda Tripp knows full well that her reputation proceeds her, that many people think of her as the ultimate betrayer, so sheís, in an effort to rehabilitate her image, is speaking out and sheís done so with our national correspondent Jamie Gangel."

Gangel badgered Tripp, first about her treatment of Lewinsky: "The one thing that no one can understand is why you did this. How you could betray a friend?...Linda, people just donít think itís right for girlfriends to tape girlfriends....people donít think what you did was right. They think you betrayed her....Why didnít you leave this to her mother to take care of? Why was this your role?...How would you feel if someone did to your daughter what you did to Monica?"

Then Gangel started knocking Trippís motives: "Letís talk about motive. Most people think one of two things about you. That you did this to write a book and make money....Or you did it to bring down President Clinton, or both?" She noted Tripp felt that Clintonís behavior with women "has to stop, or should at least be exposed," and claimed: "That sounds like youíre trying to bring down the President." Then she added: "Your pal in all this is Lucianne Goldberg, who is a self-proclaimed Clinton-hater. You put on a wire for Ken Starr, to try to get Monica to implicate the President. How can you say you werenít out to get him?" After asking a series of questions about how Tripp felt her life was in danger, Gangel came back around: "You say you wanted this exposed. What did you think would happen once it would be exposed, if it wasnít going to take down the President?"

The one piece of tape Gangel played was Tripp urging Lewinsky to save the Gap dress: "It sounds like youíre setting up Monica. You tell her to save the dress. You make suggestions to send the President a suggestive audio tape. You tell her to push the President to help her get a job. It sounds like youíre manipulating Monica to implicate the President."

Finally, Gangel hit on Tripp's unpopularity: "After you testified to the grand jury, you said...íI am you.í And I think America resoundingly said, ĎNo, youíre not.í Your name has become synonymous with betrayal. Youíve been vilified. Your poll ratings last fall, your approval ratings were three percent. What has been the worst part of this?"

Gangel concluded by blaming Tripp, not Clinton, for the scandal: "When all is said and done, Monicaís life has been ruined. President Clinton remains in office. The country has gone through a year of scandal which many people blame you for. Was it worth it?"

Gangel did allow Tripp to suggest Lewinsky made suicide threats, and that she believed Lewinsky was still lying to save the Presidentís skin. But at no point in over 45 questions did Gangel suggest Tripp has been improperly maligned or should be credited as a whistle-blower who exposed improprieties and abuses by the President. Although Tripp demanded the 20-minute interview be aired unedited, Gangel chopped it up for a shorter, hostile Dateline profile that night.

CNN. Tripp appeared for an hour on Larry King Live on February 15, without the sort of fawning King has given to convicted felon Susan McDougal, who refuses to testify about Clinton. Kingís questions werenít all hostile, but some sounded like NBC: "Now were you coming from the position here of an anti-Clinton zealot?"

King couldnít understand why Tripp didnít just join the club of liars: "When they asked you to go along ó this is the President, Monica is your friend ó why didnít you?" Then he wondered: "Why not just say, as some said when they knew you were coming here, they said if this were my friend, and I got a call, I would tell her, donít speak to me any more because youíre going to be in trouble. Just donít talk to me, and if I ask you about this, just say you donít want to discuss it anymore....Thatís being loyal to a friend and itís not illegal."

King also asked: "The thing that got you in the most trouble for Linda Trippís popularity is betraying a friend. How do you defend that?" Trippís terse retort: "Friends donít ask friends to commit crime."

Some of King's questions were less than savvy: "Was it Kenneth Starr that asked you to document [Lewinsky]?" After Tripp explained she didnít give the tapes to Starr until January, and that she began taping in October, King replied: "And Mr. Starr approved?" After talking about how Tripp came to see the very stained Gap dress in Lewinskyís Watergate apartment, King asked: "Are you saying that no dress, there never would have been an admission by the President of any relationship?" Tripp replied: "Youíre asking me that seriously?"



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