“The Whistle-Blower”: Kipnis focuses on Linda Tripp and her betrayal of Monica Lewinsky’s friendship in the Clinton sex scandal.
“An Over-imaginative Writer”: Author James Frey’s memoir and its exposure as part-fiction on Oprah Winfrey’s television show come under scrutiny.
Of the four stories, as scandalous as they must have been (and may still be) to the participants and their families, the first two fall into the rather typical woman scorned or lover spurned category. Kipnis has a lot more interesting meat to deal with in the last two scandals, and I wish she had expanded those sections and maybe found other more nation-shocking scandals, even further back in history if necessary, to compare and contrast. Kipnis writes, "When I hear the word 'scandal' I want shattered lives, downfall, disgrace, and ruin, the rage of the community ..." That doesn’t really fit the bill in either Nowak's or Wachtler’s stories.
Whereas the impeachment of a president after an affair with an intern does cause rage in the community. Politicians are no strangers to extracurricular activity, but Clinton and Lewinsky were part of an elaborate sting operation, which does feed into Kipnis’ theory of people wanting to bring down their fellows. They both acted as if they would not get caught, the president thinking his behavior was beyond reach, and Monica thinking she could trust a girlfriend to keep a confidence. There is definitely self-destruction in both of their deluded viewpoints, as Kipnis writes,
“Scandals aren't just fiascoes other people get themselves embroiled in while the rest of us go innocently about our business … scandalizers screw things up in showy, provocative ways and the rest of us throw stones, luxuriating in the warm glow of imaginary imperviousness that other people's life-destroying stupidities invariably provide.”
But Kipnis doesn’t want to analyze this scandal, so she keeps veering off from main players Clinton and Lewinsky and instead focuses on the phone call taping, wire-wearing, duplicitous Linda Tripp. She posits that Linda Tripp’s appearance wasn’t just a cruel comic sidebar, but the root of her desire to bring down some cheater, any cheater — and she hit the big time when Monica started blabbing about her relationship.
Kipnis quotes George Orwell, "'... by age fifty everyone has the face he deserves,’" and goes on to say,
"Linda Tripp's face...became an instant icon, a defining negative moment in American visual culture. By common consensus, it was ugly ... There was tacit agreement that two decades of feminist language reforms notwithstanding, the word ugly could be applied with impunity and that the country's collective dispute with Tripp's brand of friendship could be expressed through jokes about her face."
Kipnis hints at the possibility that ugly is as ugly does, but what she doesn’t seem to realize as she is writing about Tripp is that her own focus on Tripp’s looks is an essentially female and certainly not feminist, position to take. Late night male talk show hosts may have all called Tripp ugly, but they didn’t obsess about it. Does Kipnis really think that Tripp’s looks caused President Clinton to be impeached? It seems that for Kipnis’s argument the opposing political forces at work were not as formidable as Tripp’s outrageous hairdo and facial expressions.