Just answer in a whisper: Can Connie be trusted?

January 06, 1995|By ROGER SIMON

Would you trust Connie Chung?

Under what circumstances?

Let's say you were on a sinking ship and there was only one life jacket left and you were wearing it.

And Connie comes up to you and says: "Gimme the jacket and I'll swim to the nearest lifeboat and then I'll row back for you."

Would you give her the life jacket?

You would?

In that case, I hope you are very good at treading water. For several months.

Because what happens if Connie swims for help and happens to meet O. J. Simpson's manicurist on the way? You think she isn't going to stop for an interview?

Connie is not only an anchorwoman for CBS but host of "Eye to Eye With Connie Chung." And why would anyone believe what a TV talk show host tells him?

Is there a talk show host out there who wouldn't have traded the plans to D-Day for an interview with Rommel?

TV news and tabloid news is virtually indistinguishable, and the juicier the stuff the better.

So when Chung interviewed Newt Gingrich's mother recently, here was the result:

Chung: Mrs. Gingrich, what has Newt told you about President Clinton?

Kathleen Gingrich: Nothing, and I can't tell you what he said about Hillary.

Chung: You can't?

Kathleen Gingrich: I can't.

Chung: Why don't you just whisper it to me, just between you and me.

Kathleen Gingrich: "She's a bitch." About the only thing he ever said about her. I think they had some meeting, you know, and she takes over.

For its part, the White House was quick to be totally unreasonable about what Mrs. Gingrich said.

White House spokeswoman Ginny Terzano said Wednesday: "We find that offensive. We absolutely expect more from the new Republican Congress and the speaker."

The new Republican Congress? How did it get into this? I thought this was the conversation between a boy and his mom.

In any case, I doubt that anyone in the White House is truly offended, including Hillary.

The word "bitch," while not very pretty, has lost much of its impact over the years (quite possibly from overuse.)

Last June, a woman in California sued her boss for $500,000 for giving her a novelty note pad inscribed "From the desk of the bitch" and for referring to her by that word repeatedly.

But, as it turned out, the insulting note pad was selected by another female employee, and the jury took seven hours to reject the suit and find that calling the woman a bitch did not amount to gender discrimination.

A decade ago, the word still had some punch. In 1984, Barbara Bush could not bring herself to speak it, though the result was the same.

She told a reporter that Geraldine Ferraro, who was then running against her husband for vice president, was a "$4 million -- I can't say it, but it rhymes with rich."

("Why is that nice old lady calling me a bitch?" Ferraro asked an aide.)

Mrs. Bush was forced to apologize, but remained furious for years at the reporter who used her quotation. She thought he should have treated it as off the record, even though she had not asked him to.

But Barbara Bush made the reference knowingly and of her own free will. Kathleen Gingrich may have been tricked. Her son certainly thinks so, and so do I.

"I think it is unprofessional and frankly pretty despicable to go to a mother, who is not a politician in public life, and say, 'whisper to me' and then share it with the country," Newt said. "She owes an apology to my mother, the president and the country."

But not to Hillary? I guess her name must have slipped Newt's mind.

In any case, the whole incident may not be so terrible.

According to Webster's Third New International Dictionary, bitch does have some derogatory meanings such as a "lewd or immoral woman" and a "malicious, spiteful or domineering woman."

But it is also can mean "a makeshift lamp consisting of a can or cup of grease with a wick of twisted rag used in pioneer western No. America."

So Newt can claim he merely was calling Hillary illuminating.

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