WHEN MONICA MET BILLY
Remember When Harry Met Sally? Rob Reiner, the director, inserted throughout the movie interviews with old couples who told sweet stories from their courtship. “The first time I saw Alice working behind the counter of the soda shop,” an old man might say — I can’t remember the exact dialogue — “I knew that she was the one for me. So, I bought her a box of candy.”
Well, it’s too bad that Reiner, famously enamoured of the president, couldn’t have waited just a few years more — until the most romantic tale of our time could be written. An excerpt from Monica’s Story:
“In the past she had brought pictures of herself as a child, the President commenting of one of them that she looked rather too pensive for a two-year-old. This time she hid a Hugo Boss tie and a silly erotic poem among her batch of papers. It was after this encounter, which led inevitably to kissing and sexual caresses during which Monica — famously, thanks to the Starr Report — moistened one of the President’s cigars in a most intimate fashion, that she realized that she had fallen in love.” (page 77)
Shhh. Don’t say a word. Let the violins come up. Yes, yes. You see it now. That is when Bill and Monica fell in love.
Every now and then someone who thinks they’re very cute or clever asks me why I don’t go out with Monica Lewinsky. Especially in the early days of the scandal, some giggly producer would ask me if Monica and I had ever met, if I’d go out with her, did I find her attractive, and so on. A lot of it, I think, had to do with our ages and our respective last names. Goldberg and Lewinsky sounds like the first two names of a law firm in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. They just sort of go together. The other thing was that some people are deeply enamoured of the West Side Story angle. You know — Right Wing Shark falls for Left Wing Jet. (You know, I must say I never felt bad, just politely laughed at the joke, and moved on.) But now, after reading big chunks of this well-written yet deeply awful look inside the cheesy porn booth of this girl’s soul, I will only get angry. I look for maybe a hundred things in a woman. Lewinsky’s qualifications don’t make it past the really minimal — hair, teeth, pulse. She is awful. And, quite frankly, I’m sick of reading and talking about her.
But there is one thing that should be pointed out about the stellar ratings of the Barbara Walters interview and the reaction. After the Juanita Broaddrick interview, nobody did overnight polls. After Monica — plenty. After the Juanita Broaddrick interview, most networks continued to ignore the story. Before and after the Monica interview, competing networks were cheerleading and hyping it. MSNBC actually ran commercials days prior to the Lewinsky piece, saying that people should watch the interview with their picture-in-picture doohickeys, so that Hockenberry et al. could give running commentary.
Before the Monica interview but after Juanita, the sages, pundits, and spinners said America had scandal fatigue and that no one cared about this story. Now, after the Monica interview, ABC executives are burning hundred-dollar bills for heat and hiring dwarfs to carry them around the office because the show got such high ratings.
But the truth is that journalists shouldn’t care that 75 million Americans watched a program about an over-medicated, diet-crazed harlot. Most journalists have turned into total, unrepentant cowards. They are unwilling to say a story is news on its own merits. If they can’t hang it on Ken Starr, a congressional hearing, or some other process that let’s them off the hook for making their own judgments, they ignore it or, at least, minimize it.
HOW DO YOU SPELL FRIDAY? M-E-A C-U-L-P-A
Working from what bothers me most down, I need to apologize for an editing error in yesterday’s file, caught by many of you. I included the (SP?) marker in the text around Bud McFarlane’s name. It was a silly oversight. The editors in the New York office had eaten several pounds of turned yogurt and they can’t be blamed.
But the typographical error that garnered the biggest — by far — response was my comment that President Clinton was behaving like the Prisoner of Zelda. Now, I just lied there. It wasn’t really a typographical error so much as just an error. It’s not that I didn’t know that Zenda was the name of the fictional Ruritanian jail in the Anthony Hope novel, The Prisoner of Zenda. (Actually I didn’t know who the author was until I looked it up, but I had seen the Peter Sellers film of the same name. This is reputedly the worst of the three Zenda films). Now some of you thought I was referring to a TV character from Dobie Gillis. Some of you thought I was referring to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ditzy wife. And some of you thought I was referring to the Nintendo video game. Well, here in Bill Clinton’s America, all things are not only possible, all things are true. The truth is I did know a guy who managed to get a bachelor’s degree from a major East Coast liberal-arts college while playing that Zelda game in a fog of marijuana smoke for four straight years. I did know that Fitzgerald’s wife was named Zelda and, though I didn’t know that Dobie Gillis’s friend (now famously out of the closet) was named Zelda, I’m not any less wrong. It’s Zenda, Zenda, do you hear me?!
On a far more serious issue, many of you wanted to discuss the issue of who is the greater evil, Stalin or Hitler, which I briefly addressed in my column about Arthur Schlesinger Jr. To be honest, I don’t like getting too deep into these sorts of things — even though I brought it up. One starts talking about how many people so-and-so murdered as if they were stats for baseball players. At some point numbers become irrelevant. But a few commented on my assertion that Stalin was more racist than any Klansman. Here I must concede that I have rethought my position. Klansmen are more racist. I was wrong. This, in a perverse way, contributes more to Stalin’s villainy. Because Stalin hated humans. Unlike Hitler, who was cowardly and refused to witness the butchery he ordered. Stalin loved to humiliate and torture people. Ultimately, the answer to who was more evil cannot be deciphered rationally.
Then there is the issue of HUAC, which I addressed briefly last week. Many of you did yeoman research for me, letting my furniture off the hook. It can now be said that, in fact, the “House un-American Activities Committee” is a smear. The real name of the committee was the House Committee on un-American Activities. Unfortunately, the name has been completely absorbed into the political vernacular. Do what you will.
Apparently I left the impression in yesterday’s column that I think women can’t do hard news. This was not my intent. Instead I was simply saying that Barbara Walters was a pioneer for the notion that women could do hard news and then she abandoned her role to do eyebrow-pluck journalism — I don’t really know what the means but it sounds clever, doesn’t it? As a matter of fact I should apologize to anyone who might have seen The McLaughlin Group yesterday. I said something about Clinton being The Picture of Dorian Gray and I still don’t know what that meant. Women can do hard news. But what Walters did would be like Jim Thorpe giving up sports so he could run a gambling casino. Or a Jewish guy quitting the NBA so he could commit himself full time to accounting.
Yesterday’s column, according to many of you, was the best I’ve ever written. I find this a little disconcerting. It means that you want me always to be angry, to be hate-filled and bitter.
Okay. I can deal with that. But sometimes, forgive me if I want to talk about puppies and such.
AND NOW, THE HOUSECLEANING
1) I still owe you the results of the Goldberg File poll. I just haven’t had the time to sort through the data for my ill-defined and poorly crafted survey. I have not forgotten. The definitive answer to the sweatiest movie is en route.
2) I also owe you responses to e-mail . Many of you write me very engaging and interesting e-mails and I don’t want to discourage you at all. I do read all of my e-mail. But I am way behind. I have about five hundred e-mails to go through just to get my head above water. So if I haven’t replied, it doesn’t mean I won’t, and if I replied tersely, it doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the e-mail or that I have some auto-response doohickey. Obviously, if you wrote me hate e-mails, you can understand why the above does not apply to you.
3) But please, stop writing me about the Crossfire job. I really appreciate the support, but the “Go For It!” e-mails are fairly ineffective. After all, what am I supposed to do? It’s sort of like saying, “Jonah, I for one think it would be great if you won the lottery and I think you should just do it, man! Don’t listen to what other people say!” Much like the called-off wedding in Diner, it’s out of my hands. The guys who run the Hotline, whose poll for the Crossfire job I won so resoundingly, are apparently upset with me. They keep writing unpleasant things about me in their “Last Call” feature on their webpage. I feel like Tom Hagen in Godfather II when Michael Corleone insults him. Why do they treat me with such disrespect? Haven’t I been loyal? I don’t want to take my mistress and move away. Anyway, please stop e-mailing those guys. They can’t do anything either.
In fact, I am not asking you to do anything. But just for your information, your efforts are misplaced. I say this as a former television producer of five years and as someone pretty familiar with the industry. If you like anybody you see on the tube, you should let the person know. If you want to see more of them on TV, you should let the network know. But the irony is, if you don’t want to see someone anymore, you should do nothing. It’s no secret to the networks that half the people who see Jim Carville on TV want to hit him with a garden rake. But people love to watch people they hate.
Buh-Bye. See you Monday.