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Pundits & Prose

Calvin Trillin, whose articles and columns have earned him renown as a classic American journalist and humorist, writes a weekly column for TIME.

Titanic (Glub), Lewinsky (Blab)

By Calvin Trillin

TIME magazine March 23, 1998

(TIME, March 23) -- Has it occurred to anyone that Monica Lewinsky may not have seen Titanic even once? While some young women have gone back six or eight times to watch their heartthrob shiver his last shiver, Ms. Lewinsky has been a virtual prisoner in the Watergate. At a time when New Yorkers routinely spot Leonardo DiCaprio in person at Manhattan's trendiest nightspots, Ms. Lewinsky's reported social life does not extend beyond a quick handshake with William Safire at the Cosmos Club--a scene that will presumably be accompanied in the movie by background music from Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.

Now that I think of it, maybe Monica Lewinsky had time to see Titanic before she became a prisoner in the Watergate. It isn't easy to remember whether the Titanic phenomenon came before or after the Lewinsky phenomenon. I can't recall what time of year it was that all those tiresome headlines about Titanic's sailing into troubled waters gave way to all those tiresome headlines about Titanic's being unsinkable. I do remember that it was around Super Bowl Sunday when the people who are paid to pontificate on television--the group we refer to at our house as the Sabbath Gasbags--confidently said that Clinton would be out of office in a few days, that public outrage was particularly strong because baby boomers had intern-age daughters and that the American people would demand that President Clinton come forward immediately with a full explanation of the relationship.

That last comment is yet another confirmation of the first rule for listening to either politicians or Sabbath Gasbags: whenever one of them is about to tell you what "the American people" want or what "the American people" believe, you would be well advised to hit the mute button. As it turns out, a detailed explanation of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky seems to be the last thing "the American people" are demanding from President Clinton. At least for now, they seem to prefer viewing him as someone who is good at his job despite some personal flaws--more or less what people used to think about Fatty Arbuckle before matters got out of hand.

When the Sabbath Gasbags inform you what the American people want, what they're really saying is what they--the Gasbags--want, and it usually coincides with their own professional interests. It's the Gasbags who would love an opportunity to chew over Bill Clinton's detailed explanation of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. What the Gasbags leave out of their pontificating also tends to coincide with their professional interests. In January, people who wanted William Ginsburg to appear on their shows or in their stories demonstrated little interest in whether his overpowering accessibility was really serving his client's needs.

Now that Ginsburg, admonished by the judge, is less eager to shoot off his mouth, he has been the subject of considerable criticism. We can only hope that he manages to cling to his A-list status for one more week, so he'll be able to attend one of the post-Oscar parties and report back to his client on what Leonardo DiCaprio is really like.

In TIME This Week

Cover Date: March 23, 1998

Are Bigger Banks Badder?
Kiss But Don't Tell
Two Women, Two Stories And A Presidential Denial
Touched By A President?
The Ubiquitous Mr. Fix-It
The Expanding Cast
A Call for Lustiness
Sex And The Law
No Go: Why the Army Lost A High-Profile Sex Case
Is Slate Worth Paying For?
When Wall Street Runs Welfare
Calvin Trillin: Titanic (Glub), Lewinsky (Blab)
The Notebook: 'Garbage In, Garbage Out'

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