Tripp: a Judas of girl talk

July 07, 1998|By Ellen Goodman

BOSTON -- Bless the BBC's passion for linguistic precision; at least they got it right. During Linda Tripp Week at the grand jury, the Brits were virtually alone in referring to special prosecutor Kenneth Starr's star witness as a colleague. Not a friend.

That's colleague, "a fellow member of a profession, staff, an associate." Not friend, "a person whom one knows, likes and trusts."

Until now, the "F" word has been sprinkled across this sex story as casually as air-kisses across Hollywood. This vision of a gal pal with a wire, a buddy with a tape recorder, a "friend" with quotes around it, has made Ms. Tripp the one undisputed, unambiguous villain of the scandal.

Roasting Linda

Ever since she turned girl talk into a national sex scandal, both those who defend Mr. Starr and those who defend President Clinton have found common ground -- scorched earth -- by flaming Linda.

Cruising the Internet, you can narrow the search by clicking on to "Linda Tripp" and "vilified." There is a Web page called, charmingly, "Linda Tripp Sucks."

In public and private conversation, Linda, not Bill, and not Monica, is singled out of this legal menage a trois for breaking the commandment: Thou Shalt Not Betray Thy Girlfriend.

One woman, a California professor, was quoted early on saying that even if it's all true, Mr. Clinton "has some judgment issues" but Ms. Tripp "is the Judas." A psychologist in Philadelphia declared that Ms. Tripp showed a "streak of sadism. It's evil." Newsweek asked, "With friends like this who needs assassins?"

Under siege, Ms. Tripp's side leaked a story Thursday insisting that Linda tried to break up with Monica, portraying the younger woman as her private stalker. Unable to ditch her, she taped her. But it was the older woman who is heard in the transcripts saying, "I'm being a s----- friend."

"Tripp" and "vilified." Click.

I have stood on the Tripp watch from a special perspective. My friend Patricia O'Brien and I -- keeper of each other's secrets, fellow travelers through each other's lives for a quarter-century -- are writing a book on women and friendship, ours and others. If there is one thing we know is true, it's the accuracy of Linda Tripp's self-description on that transcript.

It's clear the angry female reaction to Ms. Tripp's betrayal comes out of the need women have for friendship as a safety zone. It comes from the ideal of friendship as a private space where women lay out the entire jigsaw puzzle of life and relationships, turn over each piece, analyze it, put it back together.

Friendship between women is not about the things we do together. It's about the things we talk over together. We &L measure closeness and distance by the intimacies shared and understood. Indeed in this whole scandal the one thing that doesn't surprise women is how many hours they spent talking about what he said and she said.

To tape and tell all -- sex, love, men, obsession -- strikes many of us as a violation at the core of female life: relationships. A betrayal that runs deep, maybe deeper than infidelity. Because women expect more of each other.

Linda also strikes that other, sensitive spot that so many women retain from childhood: a memory bank of confidences broken, trust breached, secrets revealed, as school friends were tested and sometimes failed. We carry this too as a part of history.

There are, always will be, women who trust too easily, who confuse a colleague with a friend, who cannot see a shoulder without crying. A high-maintenance Monica may have been foolish in friendship as well.

There are also times when the call of justice legitimately trumps loyalty. Ted Kaczynski's brother turned the Unabomber in. But Ms. Lewinsky is no Kaczynski and sex is the bombshell at the center of this investigation.

In the end "Tripp" is "vilified" -- click! -- because this story freezes the blood of every woman who ever confided in another. Of every woman who treats friendship as sacrosanct, and can only imagine discovering that there was a tape recorder in the confessional.

In her 1967 high school yearbook in Hanover Park, N.J., the Starr witness listed her pet peeve: "A certain fair-weather friend." Now this "colleague" has taken on the role of the villain. This is not fair weather. And Linda Tripp is nobody's friend.

Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 7/07/98

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