Politics & Policy

Another Story, Not My Own; Nothing For Me?


Dominick Dunne has written a new piece for Vanity Fair explaining his “role” in the Clinton scandal. I haven’t read the piece and I have little desire to. But I have seen him on the talking-head circuit where he’s been explaining that he had the chance to stop Lucianne Goldberg before she did her evil deeds. He talks about it as if he had seen Oswald in the book depository but acted too late. Still, he did take heroic steps to protect the president he loves. He was too close to the story himself to do anything, mind you. So, he protected the commander in chief with the only weapon in his arsenal: He bragged about what he knew about the scandal at cocktail parties. Isn’t that the way everything gets done?

As I say, I haven’t read the piece.

But, if I close my eyes, I can almost write it myself. Okay, let’s see. As he explores, like Hansel and Gretel, the forbidding forests of Washington politics, he drops names wherever he goes so he can find his way back out. He’s more interested in what people are wearing and who they are than what they say. Lots of talk about food, which often serves as a metaphor for a sensuality only he seems able to detect. That part’s easy, because that’s how he writes about everything. But what else, what else?

Well, let’s think this through. He can’t say anything to topple the knee-jerk truisms of Beverly Hills and Manhattan cocktail-party moralizing — a world view which has at its core the self-esteem-affirming “feeling” that real rebelliousness is derived from convincing your friends that you agree with them more than anybody else. Whoopi Goldberg thinks race is a factor in the impeachment? Well, I think race explains everything! Alec Baldwin, who finally finished reading cover-to-cover that copy of Mother Jones he picked up in 1993, thinks the House Managers are doing this to sabotage Hillary’s chances of socializing medicine? Pheh. I think the House Managers are doing this because F. A. O. Schwarz caught the Managers in the bathroom giving candy to little boys. Barbra Streisand thinks Ken Starr is the Devil? Well, I think he’s the Devil with a bad case of the crabs! How’s that for rebellion?!

This was the first Washington scandal which had enough sex, hypocrisy, and television coverage to warrant, let alone require, sending a journalist of Dunne’s caliber to the nation’s capital. For you see, Dunne is like a lesser, yet popular, poet in Caligula’s Rome. I can almost see Roddy McDowall in a delicious toga playing him in the movie. Dunne’s task is to chronicle the doings of the Gods whenever they take to earth. This makes him something of an Oracle himself. Oracles are often more important than Gods because most mortals can only experience the Divine through them. This is fine with Nick, because at his core Dominick Dunne is about Dominick Dunne. He cares not about ideas or causes or anything else which might come between himself and the reflected glory of himself in the eyes of Keannu Reeves.

Bill Clinton has been invited to live amongst the Gods at the Elysium Fields of today, the appropriately named “DreamWorks,” and therefore Bill Clinton must be protected. The scandal threatened to destroy Clinton. The destruction of a God by bourgeoisie morality would be an apocalypse; it would be Ragnarok, Armageddon, and the closing of Elaine’s all rolled into one. So his fellow Gods came to his aid. They held rallies where they burned sexual-harassment laws and the honor of the Democratic Party as offerings of solidarity. How could a God be felled by a mortal such as Monica Lewinsky? She was like the personal assistants they all knew so well in their own land. Trifling things to be trifled with because, after all, that’s what they’re for. Bring a decaf rather than a half-decaf latte and be banished to eternal damnation as a receptionist for an orthodontist.

If Clinton was going to be destroyed, the Gods prophesied that all things would come to an end; even the holy Dow would crash. Dunne was sent to Washington to chronicle such things and help construct an eschatology which preserved the holy righteousness of people who only order off-menu and think marriage certificates are like leases on a new car: valid until they go out of style.

But I digress. Dunne’s article is exactly what you think it would be. A long haiku of meals, names, and excuses for his expense account. From what I know about it, his piece is ornate revisionism — what we in Washington call spin. It doesn’t lie, it just uses the truth selectively. For example, Dunne suggests that the reason why he could no longer maintain his roughly 15-year friendship with Lucianne Goldberg (my mother) was because of his horror at Linda Tripp’s taping of Monica Lewinsky. This is a very interesting explanation. It’s about as plausible as O.J.’s search for the real killers, but it is very interesting. When the scandal broke, I was in New York with my mother. One night we pulled off the fax machine Nick’s letter saying something like, “Oh, you’re so famous, I’m afraid to call, love, Nick.” A few days later, Nick did me a great favor. He called me to tell me that my mom was being mobbed at a party and that he was worried about her safety. I dropped what I was doing and cabbed cross-town to rescue her. At the time he seemed legitimately concerned about his friend and I appreciated it. His concern didn’t seem diluted by his horror over the taping then.

But things change. Almost a year later, it was reported in the papers that Dunne was dining out on his friendship with Lucy. Only now he had become horrified by the despicable taping of Monica (sometimes moral outrage is slow to build) and somehow he had become central to the whole story. Lucy faxed Nick a letter saying “You’re playing with fire.” He sent back a long single-spaced missive explaining himself. Curiously, there was no mention of the fact that he felt compelled to terminate the friendship with her over the taping — or for any other reason. Ultimately, that job fell to her.

Anyway, the “Magazine Reader” by Peter Carlson in today’s Washington Post will tell you everything you need to know about the Vanity Fair piece and Nick Dunne’s world view. Then again, so would an 8 by 10 glossy of Dominick Dunne.


As you can probably tell, the mood is dark in the editorial offices of the Goldberg File today. The Pulitzer committee has given out its trinkets and nobody around here got squat. Most galling to us is the fact that Maureen Dowd got the Pulitzer for Commentary for her commentary about l’affaire Lewinsky. My staff is outraged. Nobody is talking to anybody. As I walk around, I hear murmurs and dejected, plaintive whispers. “Was it worth it?” “Why do we bother?” “Maureen Dowd? When it came to the Lewinsky scandal, she was about as disciplined as an Alzheimer’s patient who keeps walking off into a snowy parking lot.”

My floppy chair is right. Dowd was awful on the Clinton scandal. She began outraged, then changed her mind when she discovered that Clinton was actually in trouble. She then proceeded to mock people who maintained the same position she held for months. Apparently this is what the Pulitzer committee calls “growth.”

I was always content with the idea that Dowd is a better columnist than I am. I can even live with the idea that her worst writing is better than my best. But I never would have guessed that it deserved a Pulitzer.


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