AllPolitics - TIME This Week

Class Act

TIME Magazine

By Calvin Trillin

(TIME, February 3) -- I hope the press has finished its spasm of self-flagellation over the possibility that Paula Corbin Jones was not taken seriously because reporters with Ivy League airs disdained her clothes and hairstyle and accent. I was not looking forward to inspecting everything I've written in the past few years for signs of class bias.

It used to be that the accusations against the press having to do with class made us out to be people who wanted to stir up "class warfare" by pointing out, say, how little some millionaires pay in taxes. Being labeled radicals wasn't really so bad, but being labeled snobs sort of hurt.

A few defensive reporters tried to come up with some other reason for not having aggressively followed up Paula Jones' accusation against Bill Clinton--the fact, for instance, that it was initially packaged by right-wing Clinton opponents at a time when it would not have been surprising to hear collectors of Clinton atrocities accuse him of having engineered the Black Sox scandal of 1919.

Some of my more self-critical colleagues must have started doing computer searches through all the stories they'd written, looking for sneers at trailer parks or disrespectful references to Dolly Parton. It seemed to be only a matter of time before some self-appointed guardian of professional standards stopped around to inquire whether I had ever, say, dissed a supermarket tabloid for reasons of class.

"On the unfortunate matter of Dick Morris' book, for instance," the press guardian would say, "if Random House paid Dick Morris for having taken notes in secret on the person he was working for and the Star paid Sherry Rowlands for having taken notes in secret on the person she was working for, why is Random House treated so much more respectfully in the press than the Star is?"

I dreaded that particular question partly because I hadn't been able to think of a convincing answer beyond pointing out that Random House had paid a lot more than the Star and in a capitalist society a large sum of money brings a certain amount of respect, even if it is spent on a book that turns out to be a turkey.

I also dreaded being asked about the absence of disdain in the press toward the publishers that, according to one report, made competing offers to Morris after his involvement with Sherry Rowlands was revealed--inspiring some writers I know to imagine that if they ever got caught with a hooker in a cheap motel they'd be able to say to their wives, "I was only trying to get a bigger advance."

Rather than sign with a publishing house that might have wanted to pay him for the notoriety of his sexual escapades, Morris stuck with the publishing house that was paying him for betraying his employer. We may have reached the point at which such a choice serves as a definition of rectitude.

Unlike Morris, snobs have been reminded, Paula Jones has not exploited her contact with President Clinton beyond one jeans plug. These days, one jeans plug hardly counts. If Bruno Hauptmann were alive, he would do one jeans plug.

In fact, I would venture to say that in Paula Corbin Jones' place a Cabot or an Astor might do one jeans plug. So it would be a relief to all of us if we could just agree that class had nothing to do with this.


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