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"Oh Say Can You See It's All A Show":
Bill and Gennifer and Bob
and Paula and Jay and Monica
and Dave and Hillary and
Vernon and Karla rush for
Coverage on the 6
:00 Uterine
News (A Review-Enactment)

Kassia Fleisher

William O'Rourke
Campaign America 96:
The View from the Couch.
Marlowe, 1997. $24.95.

2/96 "The angry white male phenomenon has effectively been institutionalized over the last two decades."
-- William O'Rourke, Campaign America 96: The View from the Couch.

 

1/20/98

CNN interrupts three hours of programming - including Show Biz Today and World View - to "cover" a "breaking news story".

I turn it on an hour in, after a day of work, looking to feed my media habit. I'm a marginal member of the media myself, and I like to keep up. It takes me a long time to figure out what's happening.

And what's happening is that nothing is happening.

What's "happening" is that broadcast news editors have been surfing the Internet.

What's "happening" is that there's been a leak of sealed court documents that suggest that President Clinton, three years ago, had a sexual relationship with a then-21-year-old White House intern. What's "happening" is that Newsweek has published on its website a story by Mike Isikoff, and The Drudge Report is running "documents" that "support" the allegations.

What's "happening" is that someone has released tapes made some time ago by some woman, said woman being apparently the "mentor" of the now-24-year-old. The former intern had last week testified in the Paula Jones case that she did not have a relationship with the President. The mentor tricked her into talking about her testimony on tape, and the tapes dispute her claim that she didn't have sex with the president. Then the FBI set her up and taped her too, for good measure.

It's all Kenneth Starr's doing. He's now investigating whether Clinton and Vernon Jordan pressured the intern to perjure herself.

CNN quotes no sources. They quote Newsweek and Drudge.

Three things occur to me as I begin to grasp what I'm seeing. First, I suspect that Clarence Thomas' Long Dong Silver has been upright and crowing all afternoon now.

The second is, it's feminism that's going to be damaged here. Not Clinton. Feminism.

I feel sick.

The third is, I wonder how (political prisoner) Susan McDougal feels about all of this.

My husband, a wonderful person - you'd love him if you met him - watches the coverage for five minutes. "He's guilty!" he shouts. "Don't you think so? Don't you?"

I have no answer for this, which only pisses him off, so he leaves the room. It's his turn to cook dinner anyway.

Rush Limbaugh 320k, QT

3/10/96 There's an AP article on James Stewart's book, Blood Sport. Last sentence of the wire copy: "Clinton told Susan McDougal that he loved being governor because of all the female attention it brought."

5/24/96 On CNN, Clinton, after a visit to the National Geographic Society, I learn, thinks the fifteen-year-old ancient mummy in the news is good-looking. You know, if I were a single man I might ask that mummy out, he says. Bill's got his own version of White House cabin fever.

7/5/96 Jay Leno is onto Clinton's school-uniform initiative, doubtless a Dick Morris idea. Jay shows, for boys a picture of a guy in a cardigan; for the girls, a woman in a bra, panty, garters, and stockings.

7/22/96 Rush calls MSNBC the PMS-NBC network. It's Rush's women problem. Rush goes on: Dole should hold a press conference in the Paula Jones hotel room, have a naked woman run by.

2/23/96 Speaking of small donations, the Times does an article headlined "Donations Drop at Year's End for Clintons' Legal Defense." In the small-world department, William Bennett's brother Bob is defending the prez, and his firm (Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom) has been paid, according to the Times, $891,880.... Nearly $900,000 for Paula Jones-associated work? Jones claims she was summoned to a hotel room in Little Rock by Bill Clinton, and she went, thinking the governor was going to offer her "a job." Evidently, he did, but not the kind of job she had in mind. The hovering Paula Jones case has become the O.J. civil trial of this campaign. Why not just give her all the money Bennett is getting? Obviously, Skadden, Arps lawyers on call have better pay scales than call girls. Or, in Paula's case, girls who come when they are called. What does Bennett bill per hour? This is the scandal.

 

 

1/21/98

How bizarre that I find myself reviewing William O'Rourke's Campaign America 96: The View from the Couch, just when this breaks.

His prose, though often difficult to follow, is eerily prophetic.

CNN airs a brief news conference in which Vernon Jordan says Ms. Lewinsky specifically told him "in no uncertain terms" (what - NO euphemisms??) that she "did not have a sexual relationship" with the president.

Why this came up in their interview at all is unclear, and anyway, I'm finding Jordan's involvement in this brouhaha a bit bizarre. It's nice to have a president whose best friend is black. But Jordan is arguably the head of what Lewis Lapham and others call the inside-the-beltway "permanent government." He and his wife together hold "a record" number of corporate directorships, according to NPR's Morning Edition - making them leaders of the corporate forces that have a good bit more to do with U.S. policy than does Clinton's "provisional government". (In an interview, Sally Quinn admits that Clinton needs Jordan more than Jordan needs Clinton. No one asks whether either of them really needed Lewinsky.)

Jordan must have been in a charitable mood that day.

CNN shows self-righteous video of what Judy Woodruff blandly calls "the feeding frenzy." The media swarms on this story, and on Monica Lewinsky herself, like vultures on roadkill.

I can find no real news anywhere on TV or radio. I want to know what's going on now in Algeria. It's taken broadcast media four years to start covering Algeria; they've been reporting the Ramadan killings, and I want to know what's happening there as the holiday ends. No luck. Netan-yahoo is in town; what's happening there? Era-fat will visit Clinton tomorrow and no one cares. Karla Faye Tucker's scheduled execution date is approaching, and there is no coverage of the appeals being made by Pat Robber-Son to save her, nor of the fact that Jerry Falls-well disagrees with Robber-Son in this instance.

I feel sick, but there are two kinds of sickness. One is a sort of professional rage. I can see that the press has abandoned any pretense of maintaining its standards for accuracy - "Get it first, but first get it second." Nothing is corroborated. They quote only each other - and each other's reports of minor segments of massive, out-of-context grand jury proceedings which by law are supposed to be secret.

The media ecology supports survival of the fastest.

The second kind of sickness is something I experience often, something I call Sleeping Feminist Sickness. All of my physio-logical feminist alarm bells are going off, but I can't yet figure out why.

My husband watches little of the coverage. He flits in for a minute, flits out, makes proclamations. "He did it!" he bellows. "No doubt in my mind! You agree, right? You're a feminist - you agree, right?"

1/23/96 All politicians need to be calculating, but one wonders at what point it desists. No point, perhaps. At least not in public, and that is one reason why scandal is so captivating in any society, for it is the only chance people get to see the unscripted, the out-of-control, and those episodes that surface tend to make public figures human.

 

 

1/22/98

Starr gives a press conference and I determine to watch it myself, see what I can figure out on my own without the media filter editing and disrupting.

It's nothing but an animal mob scene. I conclude nothing except that when I decided not to become a news reporter, way back during the Watergate era, back when reporters felt they had to get too many confirmations on a story, I made exactly the right choice. Bernie Shaw asks why Starr would be so foolish as to hold an uncontrolled conference outside, given the foolishness of the media interest. Starr is pronounced "not a media sophisticate." Unlike those who work at CNN, I guess.

My husband flits in, watches for a few minutes while Starr says pretty much nothing, is furious with me. "Why aren't you outraged by this?" he shouts. "Where is your feminist outrage? You should be up in arms!"

He flits out and, sick, I leave the TV on as CNN & Company begins, female "experts" talking about the event of the day.

My sickness begins to ease. This is the most even-toned, reasonable conversation I have heard about the "scandal". They surface things I've been rolling around in my mind.

Like, almost every woman who's testified that they had a relationship with Clinton has been forced to testify against her will about a consensual relationship she wished to keep secret. Kathleen Willey, Monica Lewinsky, others who are not household names yet. Even Gennifer Flowers was flushed out by media reports. Even Paula Jones was flushed out by the state troopers and David Brock (who of late has disowned the troopers). As an advocate for anti-sexual-harassment laws, I must admit that the specter of women being forced to describe private sexual encounters about which they have no objection, or being "outed" when they did object but have not yet taken action -

sickening. Not what I had in mind.

And like, there is vast historical precedent for chasing after women who may have slept with male figures central to criminal investigations. C.f., Judith Exner, JFK's connection to the Mafia. C.f., women in Ollie North's life (there were women in Ollie North's life? Ew!) .

This is the first time, however, that women who may have had consensual relationships with a major political figure have been forced into the spotlight via the excuse of a sexual harassment case.

Some useless discussion ensues about whether Monica Lewinsky was old enough to make her own choices in regard to the president. In response to the comment that at 21, Lewinsky could hardly be expected to keep her head about her in the Oval Office, one expert accuses the other of perpetuating "victim feminism".

This irritates me enough to make me turn off the set. Here's one annoying non-debate for you, much akin to what happens in communities of color, when one person accuses another of not being "brown enough". I guess "power feminists" think women are treated equally today, paid equally, respected equally, educated equally. If that's happened, I guess I didn't get the memo. Meanwhile, in our culture of anti-complaint, all you have to do to be accused of bitterness and unresolved anger is comment mildly that women still get paid 70 cents to the male dollar.

"You should be really pissed off about this," my husband declares. "All your talk about sexual harassment. You should be really pissed."

1/23/96 When I watched Princess Di's televised interview late last year it brought to mind Hillary and Bill's 60 Minutes appearance after 1992 Super Bowl. Whatever subtle compromises Hillary Rodham made with herself to go off with her man to Arkansas after life in the fast lane, now echoed back in even larger compromises in order to get out of Arkansas forever. That seemed to be her motto: I'll do anything to get out of Arkansas. Who wouldn't? That might have been her actual pact with the devil.

She was ready to admit more than Bill was. Yes, he's played around and we've worked it out, she conveys to the eager audience. Bill hems and haws, claims he didn't have an "affair" with Gennifer Flowers. A more direct question would have been harder to finesse. He most likely doesn't consider what was going on between him and Ms. Flowers an "affair."

 

 

1/23/98

The President gives three interviews in one day to broadcast organizations. I can't think of one crisis in contemporary history in which this has occurred.

Clips of the denials are repeated till we have them memorized.

CNN treats us to the lovely image of Bernie Shaw - at 5:00 in the afternoon central time - announcing that there are new details about the White House Sex Scandal, but that we should be warned that this discussion will be "for adults only".

Then he goes to commercial, to give us time to - what? Gather our sex toys? Put the kids to bed without supper?

Wolf Blitzer looks wildly uncomfortable with the words "oral sex" in his mouth.

So to speak.

A lengthy discussion of the legal definition of "sex" ensues. Is oral sex legally equivalent to sexual intercourse? Please, Mr. President, define "inappropriate".

Sexual semantics.

My husband and I attend a lecture that evening by a renowned literary critic. "Clinton's finished," she announces to us. "I'm never wrong about these things. I knew it when Nixon was finished too. He's done. He's out. He'll have to resign."

My husband glances at me. Say something, his look says. Take a stand.

I smile blandly.

A male colleague sends me a joke that's circulating on the Internet:

What's the difference between the Titanic, and Clinton?

Only 1500 people went down on the Titanic.

6/19/96 The Clintons have generated more books than Bush, Reagan, and Carter combined. You need to go back to Nixon, and his haul was over a lifetime, not a mere three years in office. But it is odd how Partners in Power, the Roger Morris book, is getting treated. As one political wife once told another, the bimbos get better looking as your husband goes upward in political office, from local to national. In fact they go from being bimbos to being accomplished women.

 

 

1/24/98

The Dallas Morning News,which has had trouble with its Internet hastiness before, is forced to retract the story it ran on its website alleging that Secret Service personnel have testified to having seen Clinton and Lewinsky in a "compromising" position. This story has been run - without confirmation - by most of the major "news organizations" (this latter a phrase quickly becoming an oxymoron).

No one is talking about Janet Reno's role in this. Why did she so quickly approve the expansion of Starr's jurisdiction?

It is becoming clear that we are nearly at war with Iraq again, though no one is discussing it. Things began to brew again just before Lewinsky was outed. No one is talking about this.

Earlier this week, Arafat stood to the side of the White House and gave an impromptu press conference about his meeting with Clinton - to the foreign press corps. The American press corps crammed the front of the White House, badgering Mike McCurry for more leaks of sealed grand jury proceedings.

My advance copy of the Sunday Chicago Tribune contains lengthy articles about the history of the "crisis." This is the first I hear about Lucianne Goldberg - which causes yet another sickness. So the publishing industry was behind this whole thing. Goldberg, who - legendarily - hates Clinton and spied on McGovern for Nixon - encouraged Tripp, who has long craved a tell-all book contract, to trick Lewinsky and make the tapes. Goldberg's office has already fielded a $2 million dollar offer for the tapes, and the price is rising. Newsweek knew about the tapes back in October, but didn't go with the story then, and may have more lately been impelled to do so when Goldberg released some of the tapes to Matt Drudge.

Cool. Fuck over a young woman (who may already have been fucked) for a blockbuster - with the primary purpose of bringing down Clinton. Way to men-tore, Linda.

Jay Leno 395k, QT

7/2/96 There's an American Spectator commercial on Rush: Who is the twenty-five-year-old blonde coming into the White House in the afternoon? It's referring to the Spectators' article (May), "Who is Cousin Catherine Cornelius?", a mixture of Travelgate and Ozarkian hanky-panky with kissing cousins.

It's followed by a "fake" commercial, but these days, it's hard to tell: "Vince Foster, the film, coming to a theatre near you. 'There's no blood!'"

 

 

1/25/98

The Sunday shows are what you would expect - pretend media-self-criticism, insistence that lies and cover-ups and obstructions of justice are issues Americans should care about, replays of the Vernon Jordan denial. V.J., O.J., whatever. I'm quickly coming to disbelieve that Jordan got Lewinsky a lawyer, because William Ginsburg sounds like an idiot. He all but confesses for his client. Maybe he has some strategy up his sleeve I can't guess. Disinformation? Hyperinformation? That evening the TV organizations run clips of him saying that if Clinton did do this, he's a misogynist.

I can't remember when I've ever seen this word broadcast in the news before. I wonder if Americans are running for their dictionaries. The pendulum has inevitably swung, and now - in an effort to be fair? - the news carries fewer nasty comments about Clinton and more nasty comments about Lewinsky. They say horrible things about her. She's a liar, she slept with her drama teacher, she likes drama, she's power-obsessed, she's star-struck, she's ambitious, she's fat, she's crazy enough to save a dress with "emission" stains. Sheesh. If you knew what I was like when I was 21. And as for whether she was involved in a cover-up, I have a news flash for you: once, in another life, I had an affair with a married man. And you know what? I lied about it and tried to cover it up.

A male colleague sends me the latest Internet joke: Euphemisms for Clinton's You-Know-What:

10. The White House Staff

9. His Tiny Advisor

8. The Nuclear Button

7. The Executive Branch

6. The Little Pollster

5. His Soft Contribution

4. His Pocket Veto

3. The Secret Servicer

2. The Presidential Caucus

1. Little Rock

4/17/96 Garry Wills knows well the pricey suburbs of Chicago and so does Ms. Clinton, and he makes proper sport with the "Dogpatch Connections" of Hillary's adopted state.... [I]t is easy to imagine the delight of the dishing the backwoods afforded Ms. Clinton and Garry. But there's always the sorry irony for Ms. Clinton that her husband has a deep DNA strain of yokel in him, too, which comes out of remission quite often, most often in connection with beguiling ladies; but the most sophisticated guy can be turned into a yokel when kissed by a country princess (say, JFK and Judith Exner, the Las Vegas-Mafia gal).

 

 

1/26/98

Mrs. Clinton is on Good Morning America . She does not mention the feminist issues inherent in the scandal. She blames a right-wing conspiracy that's been after her husband since Day One. Two conclusions: 1) It's not a right-wing conspiracy that threatens your husband, Mrs. Clinton, but rather an anti-civil rights, anti-feminist one, driven by capitalist-centrist forces you yourself have hitched your star to. 2) Women's bodies are still a primary site for political contest, and it's the battle ground itself which will be most scarred. Even if Clinton is forced to resign, he'll still be a former president (c.f. Nixon). Monica Lewinsky, her Beverly Hills and Watergate real estate aside, will always be the "immature" "young girl" who shamed herself (c.f. Anita Hill). And Hillary Rodham herself now sports a new image as the Thrice Blind Wife (Gennifer, Paula, Monica) that may have destroyed her credibility forever. All this and to boot, the complete discrediting of the National Organization for Women's stand against consensual workplace relationships between management and lower ranking workers. Clarence Thomas is having a blast, watching the "power feminists" shriek at the "victim feminists". Neither of which can bring themselves to condemn Clinton. Hence, Clinton will survive. It's feminism that's forced to resign, because it has been unable to reframe the overly-simplistic non-debate raging in the media.

A male colleague sends me the latest Internet joke: How is Bill Clinton like his new dog Buddy?

They'll both be better off if they learn to lick themselves.

6/30/96 Gary Aldrich is on This Week with David Brinkley.... Aldrich is the FBI agent "inside the White House" who is telling all. And then some. Aldrich claims he's trying to prevent and expose "the victimization of the FBI." Boo-hoo. The Secret Service and FBI, it's clear, got out of the habit of protecting randy presidents. This points to twelve years of Reagan and Bush - even Carter - not being notorious catter-arounders. And most of the generation that protected Kennedy are retired. George Will, doing his Nixon-in-China number (even though my wife works for Dole I ask tough questions), queries Aldrich about his most "sensational" charge, about Clinton sneaking out without Secret Service protection to rendezvous at the Marriott.... Will says he spoke with Aldrich's source (David Brooks, of Anita Hill fame), who denies the Marriott story, saying it was just a rumor. Aldrich hems and haws. The story is too much right out of the movie Dave to be entirely credible: Bill under a blanket, Bruce Lindsay or someone at the wheel. But who cares?

 

 

1/28/98

There is some talk about whether the White House will claim executive privilege, to keep the Secret Service from having to testify - not to mention former advisors like George Stephanopolous and Bruce Lindsay, now subpoenaed. Former Secret Service men speak into cameras on CNN's Burden of Proof and say that they would rather not be called, that they can't do their jobs if their subjects attempt to avoid them in order to keep some activities secret.

A male colleague sends me the latest Internet joke:

At a Clinton press conference, a reporter asks, "Mr. President, can you tell us anything about Rwanda?"

Presidents snaps, "I didn't touch her!"

7/8/96 In the film Independence Day, The McLaughlin Group - Father John, Kondracke, Eleanor Clift - are seen babbling away about the fake president. Art, life, whatever.

 

 

2/1/98

CNN reports, in an end-of-show afterthought, that almost immediately upon the scandal breaking, Saddam Hussein began to tweak the patience of the U.N. inspectors in Baghdad. (Thus Lucianne Goldberg, Linda Tripp, and Kenneth Starr begin to make history, literally.) Tensions are rising, though no major broadcast news organization is covering this in any detail. In a breathless example of the tail wagging the dog, White House press secretary Mike McCurry notes that the administration is painfully concerned that the escalating tensions will be viewed as a purposeful diversion. "We've all seenWag the Dog," he says. And so has Saddam, he doesn't say. And so have I. It's my top pick for Most Boring Film of the Year. I almost snapped a jaw with yawning. If only one of those figures had been real characters with a hint of motivation, I might have given a shit about their shenanigans.

A male colleague writes me an email saying he thinks the Lewinsky scandal is actually being produced by Hollywood in order to promote this otherwise unbearably dull film.

4/23/96 On Diane Rehm the talk is about presidential character. Charles Krauthammer, a shrink "in remission", dissents on Clinton growing into the office. Krauthammer says you want a magnificent bastard as president. He needs to send soldiers to kill and be killed. You need a certain ruthlessness.

 

 

2/2/98

Groundhog's Day, yes, and Punxatawney Phil did in fact see his shadow, CNN reports, despite this El Nino (non)winter. He has seen his shadow 100 out of 128 times, and has been right only 28% of the time. But there sits Judy Woodruff scoffing onWorld View (is Saddam Hussein watching and rolling his eyes?) at the error-full "phenomenon", driven, she hints, by tourism.

Why are they covering it, then?

But CNN's lead stories are Monica Lewinsky - and Karla Faye Tucker. My head spins with the dissonance of these two stories, accidentally clashing historically in what disc jocks call a train wreck.

But wait: maybe there is no dissonance here.

The lead stories on CBS Evening News: Rather booms that he has a CBS "exclusive" on the abortion clinic bombing in Alabama, which the ATF now thinks is connected to the bombings of a gay bar and of Olympic Park; Karla Faye Tucker has been denied clemency by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles; and the latest developments on the "White House Under Fire".

To wit:

The FBI is looking for the writer of a letter that portends "Death to the New World Order", a man from North Carolina - "an outdoors type with no fixed job or address."

So it's not women he hates, not women he wants dead, not the murderesses of unborn fetuses he blows up - but the progenitors of The New World Order.

Oh. Well then.

In 1983, CBS recalls, Karla Faye Tucker - accompanied by her boyfriend - broke into the Houston home of Jerry Dean, whom she despised, while "high on about 15 drugs," and took Dean's own pick-ax from under his bed. Deborah Thornton, who was married, just happened to be there - she'd met Dean a day earlier (tail end of the wild seventies?). Karla and her boyfriend stabbed Dean 31 times, Thornton 26 times. Before she and her boyfriend left the scene, they slammed the ax into the breastbone of the dead woman, and left it there, as one plants an ax in a tree stump.

Try as I might, I can get no information about Tucker's boyfriend. Which of them came up with this idea for a fun date? What happened to him? (I think back to some of my ex-boyfriends.)

Tucker's lawyer stands outside some official-looking Texas building, with his briefcase, in front of microphones. "Rehabilitation and religious conversion mean nothing in this state!"

The head of the pardons board, during his press conference, insists that Tucker's sex had nothing to do with the decision to refuse her clemency.

I surf back to CNN. Judy Woodruff interviews R. G. Ratcliffe of the Houston Chronicle (journalists interview primarily journalists these days). "Her being a woman has nothing to do with the process," he says blandly.

2/96 News is advertising. It requires repetition. Any announced fact dies without dissemination. There is almost a uterine aspect to news: said once, twice, a fact is still embryonic. It needs the spatial equivalent of nine months' worth of repetitions....

The Big Lie, in the Goebbels manner, needs repetition too. Over and over a lie becomes metatruth, however false it might be. It takes on its own role in the culture, goes from lie to myth, and myths are always afforded some respect.

 

 

2/2/98

Rather sits soberly at his anchor desk. Regarding the Lewinsky scandal, he asks, "What does Kenneth Starr plan to do with the information? Here with an exclusive is CBS consultant Carl Bernstein."

I'm glad to see Bernstein out and about since Woodward has done so well, and even Bernstein's ex-wife, Nora Ephron, got rich with a book and film about what a jerk he was post-Watergate, while Woodward was getting rich and he wasn't.

Bernstein reports stiffly that sources tell him that Starr plans to turn over any credible evidence not to the courts, but to the House for impeachment. Bernstein comments that the standard of evidence is lower in the House. This precedent, he says, was set during the Nixon era.

The balanced budget story - Clinton drawing a big $0 on a greaseboard a lá Perot and Gingrich, as if we don't know what "balanced" means - has been buried by these three other stories - the abortion clinic bombing, Karla, and Monica - all about women. Rather announces that the areas of the budget with the most dramatic increases are the areas of Child Care, Health Care, and Education.

In short, Clinton has gone to budget-bat primarily for women's issues.

2/15/96 In the Chicago Tribune (section 1, page 11), I read, "If they get up to 60 percent, his people tell me, Bill can start dating again," a joke made (or repeated) by Senator Ernest Hollings (D, S.C.) about Clinton's rising approval ratings. This does conjure up the idea of how loose a second term will be for Clinton - nothing more to run for. 1 800 Go Babes Go.

 

 

2/2/98

CNN's Bill Schneider mashes the polls and makes it clear that The Economy, Stupid, is what's bailing Clinton out scandal-wise. Clinton's approval ratings are off the charts. Seventy percent of people like the job he's doing. Coincidentally?, 70% think the country is doing well (economically). This while a majority also think Clinton sets a poor moral example.

Judy Woodruff, proving once and for all that she doesn't know what this currently-overused, now-accusatory word means, asks, "Does this mean the country is cynical?" Do I just imagine that Schneider looks at her, puzzled, for a moment? "Yes, Judy," he says, giving in (what else - she'll never learn). "It does."

Bernie Shaw's report on the balanced budget manages to suggest that indeed, the balancing act owes little or nothing to the skills of the current administration. "The economy bailed the budget out," Bernie says vaguely, meaning of course that the stock market bailed out the Budget Office by expanding the tax base. The economists I read have long asserted that the current growth cycle is attributable to the savvy of the Treasury office, well-appointed since Bush's administration, whose policies Clinton wisely (to some) did not disrupt when he took office.

In short, a proactive economic policy regarding women's issues, made possible by an exploitative stock market - a market which has accelerated an upward redistribution of wealth in the U.S. - a redistribution Clinton has done nothing to slow - the stock market is what bails Clinton out of a sex scandal.

4/17/96 [Don] Imus' joke, "Which of the Clintons would be first indicted?", Roger being the punchline, Hillary being the joke, is graveyard humor vis-a-vis the Rose law firm. Foster and Hubbell are identified by [Garry] Wills and others as Bill's boyhood friends, and Bill has cost them dearly. Clinton is long used to losing the men in his life, but not the women, which is why he is so sentimental, even to the much maligned Gennifer Flowers. He is sweet to her in his last (recorded!) phone call. Which prompted the episode in Primary Colors when the Hillary character slaps the Bill character after she learns the doxy has her man on tape.

What must have been Hillary's reaction when she learned that in real life? Anyone speculating back then, as I was, would have imagined something similar.

And in Wills' most sympathetic brief, even he can't resist the irony of pointing out that Hillary's estrangement from Foster was increased by his not replacing the Secret Service agents at the White House early on, thereby confirming the "leaked" throwing-the-lamp story. The Clintons do have an awkward way of confirming the uncomfirmable. As Wills say, "How could she know the source if the story was untrue?"

 

 

2/2/98

Entertainment Tonight bizarrely echoes the "serious" news organizations' woman-focus. Mary Hart asks what Hillary Clinton's friends have to say about how she's bearing up. But the friends have clammed up - no leaks to be found among Hillary's girlfriends, which is more than one can say for Kenneth Starr's office - so ET interviews journalists (what else), who report that the First Lady is in "full battle mode" and "is getting a lot of support from friends who have rallied 'round her".

"Hollywood, like everyone else, is talking about the scandal!" A mike is stuck in Rosie O'Donnell's face. Rosie and I were at the same college for a year, so I listen carefully with a jealously vested interest.

"If the allegations are true if would be tragic for the country and his family," she says, her voice taking on a distant quality.

She thinks he did it.

Angela Bassett speaks for the believers. "Pretty rough. Pretty rough. I feel for him a great deal."

Tom Selleck sputters about the "doctrine of relative filth" - if someone else did worse, it's OK for me to do this. The voice-over explains that Selleck has been widely politically active of late. Next-generation Chuck Heston, I guess. "He has an obligation, and I wish he'd remember it, to do more than lawyer the truth."

OK, Magnum.

ET reports that the New York Post is doing a Monica Makeover, printing computerized photos of a shorter hairstyle. Everyone seems to like Paula's new hairstyle, and they think Monica's ready for a change too.

"Tonya and Nancy go toe-to-toe!" The Fox Network is hyping their Harding and Kerrigan reunion. Nancy's being paid $200,000, and Tonya half that. It's not much of a reunion: the other skaters refuse to appear on the same ice with Tonya so she skates elsewhere for the taping of the show. ET runs a clip of the show's (separate) interview with Kerrigan. The latest news is that Nancy's attackers apparently discussed the possibility of killing her. The interviewer reports that Tonya "welled up" when he told her this.

About Tonya he asks Nancy, "How do you regard her now?"

"I don't."

ET shows the upcoming cover of Vanity Fair (the third story in a row which reports on the reports of some other news organization) - it's Madonna. "Madonna's Maternal Makeover!" Hart proclaims. The "Material Mom" displays her mothering instincts with her new daughter.

Farrah Fawcett has been involved in "a battery incident". The DA has decided not to press charges against her boyfriend James Orr, but reportedly a fight began when she was "enraged" at finding photos of another woman in her boyfriend's home. Cut to commercial, Andie MacDowell taking a demanding tone:

"Is it possible to have the drama of a lot of lasheswithout a lot of mascara??"

David Letterman 195k, QT

4/12/96 Steve Forbes is on Saturday Night Live. "Isn't it bizarre? Yes, three weeks ago I was running for president, now I'm on TV talking to a guy in a bug suit."

Trouble is, it isn't bizarre.

 

 

2/2/98

Steve Forbes is on Letterman, who's having the time of his life with the Lewinsky scandal. He goes on and on about it - in the monologue, the top-ten list, the chat with every guest. It's clear that Tom Arnold knows it's his job as guest to have something pre-planned to say about this. Arnold says he's grateful to Clinton for having found this oral sex loophole every married guy's been looking for.

Forbes and Letterman pretend to talk presidential campaign politics for a while - "You gonna run again in 2000?" - and then Letterman does the expected.

"What do you think of this? My prediction is it's all gonna blow over - kinda sadly it's gonna blow over, 'cause it's fun - we're having fun here!"

Audience cheers assent.

Forbes waits like a pro for the applause to stop.

"We've got to be careful using words like blow over," he says.

7/8/96 After reading The Choice, one thing is clear, though not a thing that has been discussed concerning the book: Bill Clinton, with one obvious exception, only listens to men. Men make up his decision-making world. In the world these days, you can find two kinds of men: Athens types and Sparta types. Some men enter the harem professions (largely Athens men), other men male-dominated professions (Sparta males). Doctors are most often found in harem professions, where a single male is surrounded by many women employees (doctors and dentists, small businesses, retail worlds, a lot of publishing), but Sparta guys want men around them. Women are only good for one (or two) things. The Military, VMI, etc., but other professions too. Law used to be a Sparta profession (with a harem annex). The most heated affirmative action battles are being fought primarily in formerly Sparta encampments. The "glass ceiling" is a holdout of the Sparta male. Clinton is a bit of both, but when it comes to governing it's a male universe for Bill. It's the Bubba side, the Sparta side.

 

 

2/3/98

CNN Headline NewsTicker: The family of a teenage woman who became pregnant at a party is suing the hosts of the party. A teacher who delivered a baby she conceived with a student is arrested when she's found "parking" with him. Washington state legislators vote to exempt breastfeeding from indecent exposure laws.

Farrah Fawcett announces that she "neither endorses nor supports" the charges the DA considered filing against James Orr. It was their business and no one else's.

A male colleague sends me the latest Internet joke:

Dan Quayle, Newt Gingrich, and Bill Clinton went to see the Wizard of Oz. Asked what their wishes were, Dan naturally asked for a brain, which was granted. Newt said he really could use a heart. Granted. Bill wondered if he could have Dorothy.

7/21/96 The New York Times has an article about "the Yellow Oval Room" group. "The President's Brain Trust," a headline calls the bunch, which gathers to discuss the "re-election of President Clinton." TheTimes has a diagram, pictures of where everyone sits. Of the twenty-three people identified, only three are female: Evelyn Lieberman, deputy White House chief of staff; Ann Lewis, deputy manager of the Clinton/Gore campaign, sister of Barney Frank; and Maggie Williams, first lady's chief of staff. Maggie is there, doubtless, as Hillary's eyes and ears. The third-ranked person on the list is Dick Morris, "chief outside strategist". Sparta males gather with a bit of female decor.

 

 

2/3/98

CNN pre-empts more than an hour of programming to bring Karla Faye Tucker's execution live. Not the execution itself, but the event.

The details are copious. The Supreme Court had that day twice denied appeals. But only seven could be reached - they are out of town. The political consequences of Governor Bush's possible pardon are discussed. He would win some national support for his (inevitable) presidential run from the 700 Club-ers, but would lose the Texans who support the state pastime.

Plus, he'd lose this fabulous opportunity to tweak the nose of feminism. A pardon, after all, would be sexist, wouldn't it?

If women want equality, they better want to be equal in all things! None of this reverse sexism stuff!

Outside the "death house", the pro/con-capital punishment groups demonstrate. A video plays noisily on large screen - Tucker looking beatific, signing soulfully to her favorite hymns (how does the signing community feel about this?). Men in white cowboy hats guard the front door, chatting with each other, grinning.

Here's what will happen: The "death chamber" is fifteen feet from her cell. She's given no sedative, walks the distance, and is asked to get up on the gurney herself. In Texas history only one man has refused to get on the gurney. Five men strap her down. The chamber has two glass-enclosed sides: one for victims' families, and one for Tucker's allies.

It is half an hour past the scheduled time now. The press thinks the execution is ongoing, but they turn out to be wrong. The camera follows as the witnesses file into the building, at about 6:30 central time.

Which prompts CNN to stall with a tape about the execution of women. A woman in Illinois found herself within ten hours of execution two years ago, and her case attracted not a bleep of screen time. Asked why, her lawyer speculates that she was "less attractive", had "a mean edge to her in interviews," was "not the head-cheerleader type". A photo is flashed and indeed, I feel no impulse to lunch with this woman. Consensus seems to be that religious conversion has little to do with the interest in Tucker - lots of deathrow inhabitants find god. Nor is it the fact that she's white - 56% of the 400+ executants since 1976 have been white. We are agreed: Tucker caught interest because she is pretty. I would add: Tucker caught interest because she needlepoints. She makes pseudo-spiritual poetry with her hands. It's a specific kind of pretty she is. Pamela Lee, for instance, would fry. Madonna would've fried ten years ago; today she'd be pardoned. Remember how they had to change the ending of Fatal Attraction to kill off the Glenn Close character? The audience couldn't bear the thought of her living. The long-suffering Anne Archer (i.e. Hillary) character gave most audiences little difficulty.

A caller on C-SPAN points out that the two sides of the capital punishment debate who are presently on TV shouting at each other from opposite sides of a police barrier have no personal interest in Karla Faye Tucker, or in her victims. (Or in her boyfriend, I would add.) They're just using her and them to make a point, to achieve their own political ends.

5/6/96 Judy Woodruff is interviewing Ralph Reed on CNN [about the Republican abortion plank].... Ralph says..."sometimes these things get confused when they move through a media filter."

Yes, I contemplate that. Everything means what I say it means right now and right now is always moving forward.

 

 

2/3/98

The witnesses file out of the building and line up by rows of microphones. Helicopters above make shouting a necessity. The "witnesses" turn out to be journalists. Well trained, they've taken copious notes. "Let me set the scene for you." With some inconsequential differences, they all rattle off the same details. She apologized to the families, thanked her lawyers, said she loves her husband - the minister she met in jail. (They have never touched each other, ever.) She mentioned being face-to-face with Jesus. She smiled the whole time. She never closed her eyes. She hummed. She did? Here the journalists differ. Maybe she was praying; maybe she was humming a hymn. She coughed twice; a long groan was probably the air leaving her lungs. That long groan could have been the hum.

Richard Thornton, Deborah Thornton's husband, is (for some reason I haven't heard about) in a wheelchair, which means he is on an eye-to-eye level with Tucker on the gurney. At one point he makes reference to Tucker's attorney and cracks, "Now Dana Brown gets to write his book."

At another point, apparently in reference to his dead wife (?), he says, "Here she comes, baby doll. She's all yours."

8/3/96 Anything on television consistently for more than two weeks seems to have been going on forever.

2/4/98 NPR's Morning Edition announces that the Congress will debate today a resolution to support a strike on Iraq. Boris Yeltsin is quoted as saying that a strike could lead to a World War. The journalists seem alarmed by this, but alarmed by Yeltsin's "odd comment", not the possibility of war.

Starr has subpoenaed Lewinsky's mother. There is some idle talk on CNN's Burden of Proof about how the Lewinsky scandal could possibly provide an opportunity for an examination of the archaic grand jury system in this country. Originally designed to protect people from wrongful accusation, it is now a power tool wielded by prosecutors trying to force people to talk against their will. There are no rules of evidence and no judge is present. Anyone can be subpoenaed for any or no reason and must answer all questions put to them - alone, with no lawyer. The standard for evidence is low. Indictments can result from "less than a preponderance of evidence," or less than a 50% chance the defendant is guilty. To protect people from being wrongfully defamed, grand jury deliberations are supposed to be secret. But in the information age, grand jury leaks are rampant.

Furthermore, Roger Kossack asserts, the independent prosecutor statute has created a fourth branch of government that operates with no checks and balances. Viet Dinh, former Whitewater counsel, points out that we've now realized those early predictions that the statute would cause "the criminalization of politics and the politicization of crime".

Like the O.J. case, this case seems destined to raise social issues that will remain unresolved. The O.J. case supposedly began a discussion about domestic abuse, inter-racial marriage, sports and violence, DNA evidence, courts and the media. None of this talk helped raise real awareness about these difficult, complex issues. The Lewinsky scandal will probably not help us talk more effectively about sexual harassment, media standards for accuracy, people's tendencies to want sexual information about their leaders even while they say they don't, the Secret Service system, the grand jury system, the independent prosecutor system, the system of systems.

And a discussion about the continuing still after all this time use of women's bodies as sites for political contest - completely impossible. All this info, and so little awareness.

A male colleague sends me the latest Internet joke:

The latest public opinion survey re: President Clinton asks American women, "Would you consider having sex with the President?"

The results:

11% Yes

28% Maybe

27% Never

34% Never Again

4/21/96 In today's New York Times, there's a picture of Clinton smiling his special smile at a group of pretty Russian girls.

 

 

2/5/98

I refuse to watch the fucking Sunday shows this week. I do my crossword puzzle with the radio tuned to classic rock. My husband asks me why I'm changing my routine and I tell him I can't stand the talk anymore.

"You know, I don't get you," he says. "It doesn't make any sense for you not to be totally enraged by this. He did it. It's patently obvious."

"Who did what is not the issue," I say.

"Oh yeah?" He's in the mood for a debate, as usual. "What the hell's the issue then? You're just another middle-class feminist who doesn't believe Paula Jones because you don't like her hairsprayed bangs."

Damn. He never fights fair. OK, so this may well be true.

But.

I remind him that I still haven't taken a position on whether O.J. is guilty. I have no opinion about the Menendez brothers, either, or William Kennedy, or that ski bum rapist in Connecticut. I wasn't on the jury and I don't feel I have the right to an opinion.

Plus, I'm a Libra. I see five sides to every two-sided argument. He's only a Gemini - "Binary Man," I call him.

"Well, you should get an opinion about O.J. For god's sake. Take a stand. Stand up for it."

I consider challenging this masculinist concept of competitive discourse - doesn't ambiguity count for anything anymore?? - but I decide to keep the peace instead. He's heard it all before anyway.

He walks out of the room mumbling. "Whole damn country's been anaesthetized into inaction. No wonder the PACs have taken over."

2/29/96 I go to lunch with Ray Suarez, host of NPR's Talk of the Nation, at the LaSalle Grille in downtown South Bend. I and about a hundred other folks, that is, at a benefit for members of the local public radio station, WPVE. I was provided a ticket.... Here are tidbits from Ray.... When he first proposed his show the response at NPR was, If you let them just talk they might say anything. It turns out that only one of seven callers are female. They call later in the show after they make up their minds on the subject under discussion. Men just call.

 

 

2/8/98

CNN's poll masher Bill Schneider reports that men are significantly more likely than women to believe the allegation that Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinsky. Men are also significantly more likely than women to assert, however, that if he had an affair, that fact does nothing to compromise his ability to govern. So, only men can identify with the president's imagined "conquests" - Attaboy! - but only women are concerned that this sort of attitude could affect his leadership.

Women are more reluctant to convict not least because they see the crime as being more significant, egregious.

The National Organization for Women website is eerily silent on the Lewinsky matter, but President Patricia Ireland turns up repeatedly on news shows hosted by men who ask her the same irritated questions my husband is asking me. "How could you say Anita Hill had to be telling the truth, that women don't make this stuff up, and yet not believe these allegations?" Tim Russert says with what I swear is a hint of glee. "How do feminists explain this inconsistency?"

Gotcha! he's thinking. Reverse sexism!

I squint real hard and send her serious ESP communiqués. Unpack the question. Unpack the question. Since when do we let men frame feminist discourse?

Ireland isn't receiving. "Women are just like other people in this country, Tim," she says. "They want to be fair and they want to wait for more evidence. During the Clarence Thomas hearings there was a public procedure for examining that evidence. There is no procedure for the public examination of closed grand jury testimony and sealed depositions."

I wish she'd speak to the problem revealed by the question itself. I think back through history. In particular, the contemporary history of women's struggle for equality. Ah yes. I remember now. Here's how it went:

1973: "Baby, why aren't you in a consciousness-raising group?? Why aren't you outraged by 5000 years of oppression by men just like me??"

1982: "Sweetie, why aren't you out there picketing for the ERA?? Why aren't you outraged that after all this time we still can't get a constitutional statement that clearly outlaws all gender discrimination??"

1996: "Honey, why aren't you out there working to stop the Welfare Reform Act?? Since 75% of welfare recipients are women and children, why aren't you outraged that no one ever presents welfare reform as a women's issue??"

Oh yeah. That's how it went. I remember it all very clearly now.

Thesewhy-aren't-you-more-feminist questions. Who do they benefit??

My Sleeping Feminist Sickness is waking up.

It's a conservative's two-fer.

OK, you women. You like this anti-sexist president? And you like having sexual freedom? And you don't like sexual harassment? You want to bring powerful men down for making little jokes and pinching your butt? You want to get to say who and when and where?

No problem! Can do! Here's the absolute end of "sexual harassment" - the absolute end of your sexual privacy! Now: stand up and support our noble attempt to protect you from yourselves! We all know that your only reliable access to power is via your (hetero)sexuality - you can do better than that! We're going to help you stop sleeping with powerful men!

Plus, we get to nail this guy - and his powerful black friend!! Hm. A three -fer.

4/9/96 Rush says he's responsible for 80 percent of the discussions on on-line services.

 

 

2/6/98

A male colleague sends me the latest Internet joke:

Here is the list of the Top Five "Watergate" derivatives for Clinton's current conundrum.

5. Zipper-gate.

4. Swingin'-gate.

3. Jimmy Carter had "Billy-gate" and now Clinton has "Li'l Billy-gate."

2. Forni-gate.

And Number One is..... Tail-gate.

WHY IS IT ALWAYS MEN WHO SEND ME THIS STUFF??

My husband wants to know why I'm collecting sexscandal jokes. "Don't you find them offensive?"

Gee. Feminists are usually accused of having inadequate senses of humor.

I do find them offensive, but the best ones are funny and offensive ("34% Never Again" - good one!). And in an entertainment culture, humor is a broad-band channel for the dissemination of political discourse. (During the presidential campaign, the majority of young-adult voters got their political information from Leno and Letterman.) Humor also subverts power. Though Lewinsky is taking a beating, most of the jokes I receive - all from men - are anti-Clinton.

Beta-males jealous of the alpha-male?

Humor aside, I can feel my political perspective shifting. Oral-gate hasn't changed my thinking about sexual harassment (as conservatives might hope) so much as it's changed my thinking about President Clinton (as conservatives didn't bother to hope). I've been forced to re-examine my appreciation of his initiatives on women's issues. On the one hand, he's still the president who has appointed more women to higher posts than any before. But Reno and he can't even be in the same room anymore. Madeleine Albright's leadership on Iraq seems unusually overshadowed by that of the (Republican) Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger (though it's about time we shed some light on the activities of the NSC); she doesn't have, say, Kissinger's autonomy. Hillary Rodham spends most of her time impaling herself to protect his reputation. And while I would still vote for Clinton over George Bush any day, his work on income distribution, health care, child care, the environment, gay rights - uninspired. Half-assed. He sees what needs to be done, but has been unwilling to lay his popularity on the line to achieve the vision.

Sir, you are no Lyndon Johnson.

Then there's that pesky matter of the Welfare Reform Act.

Et tu, Bill.

Bob Dole 164k, QT

3/6/96 When all else seems to be too downbeat, [Rush] goes to "You don't find a sex scandal with Bob Dole" and then runs through the Republican candidates, all apparently upright guys.

 

 

2/7/98

How bizarre that I find myself reviewing William O'Rourke's Campaign America 96: The View from the Couch, just when this breaks.

Like I said, eerily prophetic.

I have to confess that O'Rourke's book is not an easy read for me, even as I enjoy some of his observations. Random items from media coverage, as seen by one individual, of a particular political event (a presidential campaign) - this is all well and good, and as a late-twentieth-century chick I like randomness as much as the next guy. But I keep expecting some self-determining system to emerge from the randomness, some direction that would help us effect some political change, and it never does.

(Among other things, you'll be struck by his complete and total neglect of Internet coverage of the campaign.)

O'Rourke's point (I think - he never makes it explicitly - not that there's anything wrong with that) is this: One of the blanket effects of the O.J. trial was to discredit "expert" witnesses. The public now views economic experts as hired guns, the same sort of bought testimony. Whose side are you on? becomes the question, not Where do you get your authority? (473)

He could have taken fewer than 491 pages to make this point, and he could have arranged these observations in a focused, selected juxtaposition - Whose side is he on? - but OK.

I've imposed my own interests and opinions on his material here. So we're even.

In a Rose Garden interview held during the summer of 1997, Pres. Clinton talked with Gene Siskel about the recent spate of films featuring idiot presidents. Our society hates all forms of authority these days, the president said, by way of explaining his own bufooning. (So it's nothing personal.)

Indeed, authority is appropriately suspect these days; for instance, even though I find the "victim vs. power feminism" noise to be little more than a tool of conservative backlash, there can be and should be no one authoritative feminist response to a given issue. Problem is, now everyone is an authority. Everyone sits on O.J.'s jury, everyone evaluates selectively leaked court documents, everyone rushes to judgment. And if everyone is an authority, then no one is.

And because no one is an authority, wealth is easily redistributed upward, Vernon Jordan's permanent government sets policy, social discussions of sexual harassment become someone's big chance to lash back at feminism. Complex social debate is simplified for fun-filled distribution on Letterman.

Because no one is an authority, women's bodies can still be used to unseat popular leaders, compromise the progress of the civil rights movement - and keep the women's movement cautious and stumbling.

Welcome to the Information Age. What was it someone said about a little knowledge being a dangerous thing?

 

 

2/9/98

The highest-ranked enlisted man in the Army, a black man, Sergeant-Major Gene McKinney, is now on trial for sexual misconduct. His accusers are six white women. Last year the NAACP expressed suspicion that some of the women had been forced to testify, threatened with career setbacks if they didn't "tell the truth".

In the age of institutionalized white male anger, two-fers abound.