The gossip politic
March 30, 1998
Web posted at: 2:27 p.m. EDT (1427 GMT)
(CNN) -- An ancient Greek poet once said: "Gossip is mischievous, light, and easy to raise, but grievous to bear and hard to get rid of."
Gail Collins, a member of "The New York Times" Editorial Board and author of "Scorpion
Tongues: Gossip, Celebrity, and American Politics" recently joined CNN anchor Bernard Shaw to discuss gossip in the political realm.
BERNARD SHAW:Gail, what is so attractive, so compelling, about gossip?
GAIL COLLINS: We have been doing it since
we invented privacy, so I presume it's going to continue to be done. People are
interested in other people, and they learn things when they talk about or speculate
about what other people are doing in private.
SHAW: Speaking of people, which presidents made love in the Oval Office?
COLLINS: Well, we all know about Warren Harding -- if we don't, we will before this
is all over. Warren Harding is probably our best documented actual sex in the White
House closet, Oval Office closet.
And of course, Kennedy. We've heard a lot now about what happened with Kennedy,
and Woodrow Wilson did make love to his fiance in the White House, if that counts.
SHAW: You call it the "new culture of indiscretion." How was it born? What keeps it
COLLINS: Well, there is -- we're not in any particularly overwhelmingly different
period that we've never had before, but every once in a while in America we hit a point
at which there's a lot of media that are very kind of yappy, and small and under
financed, that are all running around trying to get attention. That tends to create a
culture in which there's a lot of gossip presented and indiscretion of what we say
about public officials.
SHAW: (Former White House lawyer) Vincent Foster's name is in the news again. There are lots of rumors, lots of allegations about him, (what with)
the Whitewater files turning up in his widow's attic.
COLLINS: There were -- there was gossip during the -- well, before Bill Clinton ran
for president, when he and Hillary Clinton were both still in Arkansas. There was
gossip about whether or not there was any kind of an affair going on between Vince
Foster and Hillary Clinton. That was sort of a natural kind of gossip that grew out
of the fact that the two of them were very close friends, and there were rumors about
Bill Clinton, whether or not he was being faithful.
So it was not the kind of gossip that wouldn't naturally arise from the situation that
was going on right down then.
SHAW: Among many observations in your book you noted candidate
Clinton appearing on the MTV forum and answering a question about underwear.
What did that symbolize to you?
COLLINS: Well, we had hit a point in which, because the parties have died ... they can no longer protect or really even promote candidates. It's every man and
woman for themselves when people are running for office. And because of that, they
have to really cater the media. They have to be available, they have to answer
questions, or at least they perceive they do, that they never would have agreed to talk
about years ago.
The idea that Don Imus can run around on the air and make fun of them,
and major senators, presidents even, stand in line to get on his program -- things like that wouldn't happen before because politicians didn't need to do that kind
of stuff to get attention before.