HONORS 195: Rhetoric of Impeachment; Fall, 1999, John Dewey Honors Program, College of Arts & Sciences, University of Vermont
Alfred C. Snider, Edwin W. Lawrence Professor of Forensics
| Back to Table of Contents | Back to Debate Central |
Linda Tripp, due to her key role in the Impeachment Scandal has become one of the most controversial figures in current politics. Is she a villain or is she a hero? Looking at Tripps actions before, during, and after the Impeachment Scandal the question arises; were these actions legitimate or were they improper? An important factor in answering this question is the audiences reaction to Tripps behavior along with an analyzation and critique of her actions.
"Psychological criticism" is the method that will be used to evaluate Linda Tripp. This "attempts to analyze the effects of the rhetoricians character, intelligence, and sincerity as perceived by the audience." (Campbell, Critiques of Contemporary Rhetoric. 1972, pg. 29) One must look at how Tripp portrays her image to the audience, how Tripp attempts to put herself in a favorable light, how Tripp blames her opponents, how Tripp creates an impression of sincerity, how Tripp identifies herself with the "experiences, values and attitudes of his [her] audience" (Campbell, Critiques of Contemporary Rhetoric. 1972, pg. 30) and the way in which Tripp discounts personal biases and interests. Based on these questions and the opinions of the audience one can judge Tripps role in the Impeachment Scandal.
Tripp portrays her image to the public by identifying herself as the normal, average, American citizen. When speaking with the press on July 29, 1998 Tripp repeats the statement, "I am you" in four slightly different forms. Tripp speaks about how she ended up in her current predicament and her response is, "Im you." This is immediately followed by, "Im just like you. . . I never asked to be placed in this position. Because I am just like you." At the end of her statement she says, "I am no different than you" (Text of Linda Tripps Remarks, July 29, 1998, Washington Post, pg. 1&3)
This technique removes Tripp for the spotlight for a moment. It asks the audience to relate her to the "girl next door" or in her case just your, "everyday single mom trying to do the right thing." The taping of the phone conversations amongst her Lewinsky can easily be explained by Tripp. "I [even] thought of it as my patriotic duty." (NBC, Today Show, "Linda Tripp Speaks About her Motives in Recording Monica Lewinskys Phone Conversations" February 12, 1999)
However, by looking at her actions one can see that Tripp is not just like one of us. First of all she lied on a security clearance form for the Pentagon, (I guess she forgot that she was arrested at the age of nineteen for larceny), she taped twenty-two hours of phone conversations between her and colleague Lewinsky, and was about to write a book about, behind the scenes of the White House with literary agent Lucianne Goldberg.
When asking the public about their feelings of Tripp, the CNN/Time magazine survey taken last July, "52% of respondents had an unfavorable view of Linda Tripp, up from 44% in March." (Burger, "Kens No Starr Survey" Daily News. New York, July 3, 1998) Another poll taken by the Wall Street Journal/NBC News finds, "Linda Tripp finishes last in popularity rankings of people involved in the Clinton scandals; 75% say Tripp was wrong to tape conversations with Monica Lewinsky; 70% call her motives either political or mercenary." (Information Bank Abstracts, "Washington Wire" The Wall Street Journal, July 31, 1998)
Tripp has been accused of using her inside position as an employee of the White House and the taped conversations of her and Lewinsky to write a book. However, Tripp feels that her role in the Impeachment Scandal is to tell the truth. "This investigation has never been, "just about sex." It has It has been about telling the truth. The truth matters." (Text of Linda Tripps Remarks, July 29, 1999, Washington Post Special pg. 1-2) On January 30, 1998 she says, "Because I have chosen the path of truth, I have been vilified by the administration I proudly serve as a political appointee." (Text of Linda Tripps Statement, January 30, 1998, Washington Post Special Report)
Before praising Tripp for her commitment to the truth, one should take into consideration her reputation amongst co-workers in the White House and the Pentagon. Her reputation and family history leads one to believe that the "truth" was not the only thing in which she was searching. Tripp has been known to be a, "gossip" she wants to find out the "dirt" on other peoples lives due to her own insecurities. She "has always been obsessed with marital infidelity, perhaps because of her philandering father caused her so much pain and anger. And she appears to have become more embittered about men after her own divorce." (Mayer, "Portrait of a Whistle Blower, The New Yorker, March 23, 1998)
In 1990, while an employee of the White House, Tripps marriage began to fall apart. At this time a colleague describes Tripps relationship to the interns, "Tripp set herself up as a kind of guidance counselor for young interns. They found her a trustworthy confidante." (Thomas, "What Made Linda Do it?" Newsweek, March 23, 1998)
Well, by Tripp disguising herself as a, "guidance counselor" she was able to get the inside scoop of the lives of the interns. Looking back at Tripps track record its not too hard to believe that she wasnt good at keeping any "juicy" news confidential. By posing as a good natured, average person she was able to get information and then leak it to outside sources. These naive interns had no idea of the predicament they were getting themselves into.
Tripp uses the Clinton administration as a scapegoat. She also points blame at Lewinsky and singles-out President Clinton. Tripp respected the dignity and poise of the Conservative Bush Administration and was shocked by the lack of professionalism when the Liberal Clinton team moved into the White House. In 1992, colleagues said that Tripp suffered from "Bushitis"- "that is, a belief that the younger less formal Democrats lacked the dignity and polish of their Republican predecessors. For example, Tripp was horrified to discover that Mrs. Clinton sometimes used the multi-stall ladies room outside her office. "Mrs. Bush would rather be catheterized then use a public rest room." (Mayer, "Portrait of a Whistle Blower" The New Yorker, March 23, 1998) Tripp was appalled by the appearance and behavior amongst the Clintons team. "She disliked the dress of the twenty-something staffers. . . "She always had a disapproving look on her face" said one Clintonite." (Thomas, "What Made Linda do it?" Newsweek, March 23, 1998)
During an interview with reporter Jamie Gangel, Tripp is asked about the exposure Presidents behavior regarding Lewinsky. GANGEL: You say that you wanted this exposed. What did you think would happen once it would be exposed, if it wasnt going to take down the President? TRIPP: I thought that the behavior would stop, number one. But I think Jamie, that Id have to say, none of this occurred in a vacuum. This wasnt Monica and Linda. This was something that I had watched over time. I watched what the administration, to my great sadness, did to the people who dared to disclose the truth. No ones happy about that, I least of all. I was honored to be at the White House. I came from a military--20 year military background. I was an army wife and an army employee. I can promise you, the words duty, honor, country mean something. These are patriots who live their patriotism every day. To--to then take that and go to the White House, where I saw this potentially criminal activity on a daily basis--it was astounding to me. (NBC, Today show, "Linda Tripp Defends Her Actions" February 12, 1999 pg. 5)
GANGEL: You say that you wanted this exposed. What did you think would happen once it would be exposed, if it wasnt going to take down the President?
TRIPP: I thought that the behavior would stop, number one. But I think Jamie, that Id have to say, none of this occurred in a vacuum. This wasnt Monica and Linda. This was something that I had watched over time. I watched what the administration, to my great sadness, did to the people who dared to disclose the truth. No ones happy about that, I least of all. I was honored to be at the White House. I came from a military--20 year military background. I was an army wife and an army employee. I can promise you, the words duty, honor, country mean something. These are patriots who live their patriotism every day. To--to then take that and go to the White House, where I saw this potentially criminal activity on a daily basis--it was astounding to me. (NBC, Today show, "Linda Tripp Defends Her Actions" February 12, 1999 pg. 5)
Although Tripp makes her opposition to the Clinton Administration clear within the text of these statements, she does not want to be known for having a political agenda. Tripp does not want to be labeled as an "Anti-Clinton Zealot" or part of the right wing conspiracy. On the other hand, she doesnt want to appear apathetic either. She wants speaks of herself as an "Independent." In her statement before the press on January 30, 1998 she says, "Although there is no political litmus test for telling the truth, I am a registered Independent." (Text of Linda Tripps Statement, January 30, 1998, Washington Post Special, pg. 1)
Then a year later, when asked about her position regarding President Clinton by Larry King, Tripp says, "I supported him vigorously in op-eds. when I worked for him, and they were being absolutely decimated in the press by Whitewater. . . No, Im not an anti-Clinton zealot, I was an independent." (CNN, Larry King Live, "Linda Tripp Defends Her Role in the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton Scandal" February 15, 1999, pg. 12)
It seems as if Tripp is contradicting herself. She speaks of herself as an, "independent," however, the evidence demonstrates that she looked at the Clinton Administration with disapproval. The fact that she teams up with Lucianne Goldberg, a woman who held, "an anti-Clinton Halloween rally at the Washington Monument. On the Internet, Goldberg refers to her fellow Clinton bashers as "my pretties" (Isikoff, "The Goldberg-Tripp-Jones Axis" Newsweek, November 9, 1998) Demonstrates her disliking of the Clinton Administration.
"Tripps moralism--and her vengefulness surfaced as scandals began to roil in the White House. She often raised questions about legitimate wrongdoing and was praised by some co-workers for promoting high standards." Because she was suspected as a "troublemaker" by the new White House counsel she was transferred to a job at the Pentagon (1994). Tripp met Lewinsky in the summer of 1996. Then came the leaks, the articles, the, "tapes" the testimony and the tabloids.
Despite all of the pain and humiliation she has caused to the office of the President, Lewinsky and President Clinton as well as his close family, Tripp wants to make it seem as if she is the one who has been abused. In her speech outside the federal courthouse on July 29, 1999 she say the following regarding Lewinsky and the President:
Imagine how you would feel if someone you thought was a friend urged you to commit a felony that could jeopardize your job, potentially put you in jail and endanger the well-being of your children.
Imagine how you would feel if your boss attorney called you a liar in front of the whole country. And imagine if that boss was the president of the United States.
Tripp creates an image of sincerity by fighting for the "truth." She wants to be known as the "patriotic hero." Due to the fact that Tripp instructed Lewinsky to save the blue dress she characterizes herself as a savior. Responding to a comment made by Cokie Roberts on ABC, This Week on March 7, 1999 Tripp says,
"Something far greater than a piano was about to fall on Monicas head. Without that dress, where would she be today? Would she be en route to London in an extensive book tour, being heralded by pipers at Harrods? Or would she be branded the stalker and worse? This was all coming. I feel that this blue dress served as Monicas insurance policy, much as my documentation served as my insurance policy." (ABC, ABC This Week, "The Linda Tripp Interview", March 7, 1999 pg. 8)
In this statement Tripp justifies her actions of taping. As a result of the taping she claims to have helped Lewinsky and herself. Lewinsky will not have to endure possible humiliation and Tripp has the tapes as proof of what was going on behind closed doors therefore functioning as her, "insurance policy." Despite these efforts will so-called "good intentions," does this justify Tripps behavior. Is taping acceptable? No! Why should Tripp be able to pry into someone elses private life just because she has good motivations? This activity is completely out-of-line. No one was being physically harmed or abused and the country was not in any danger due to whatever was going on between Lewinsky and President Clinton. What gave Tripp the authority to take matters into her own hands? Was it because she was a mother and did not want to see this young girl get hurt? Did she think that she was doing the country a favor by letting America know about the Presidents sexual relations?
Regarding the stress that Lewinsky had to endure during her "inappropriate relationship" with the President, I do admit that Lewinsky may have been abused mentally. Due to the fact she was having, "sexual relations" or rather an, "inappropriate relationship" with the President, a powerful and charismatic world figure. When on the Today Show, February 12, 1999 Jamie Gangel asks Tripp, "How would you feel if someone did to your daughter what you did to Monica?" Tripps response, "I would thank them."
When asked "Why?" Tripp says that due to what Monica went through , "If my daughter found herself in a situation such as this, where she was being abused, used discarded, I would hope that someone would--would come and help her." Tripp describes the relationship between the President and Lewinsky as, "It was clearly a young girl in love with Elvis." (NBC, Today "Linda Tripp Defends Her Actions" February 12, 1999 pg. 3)
Despite this maternal role Tripp is playing toward Lewinsky, one has to realize that Lewinsky is not a little girl! She is a college graduate, an intelligent women in her mid-twenties. She is capable of making her own decisions without someone looking over her shoulder at all times. Even if she is making a wrong decision, one has to respect that it is her decision. Another thing, Tripp is not her mother and who cares if she would want someone to do the same for her daughter! The bottom line is: Its NONE of her business!
In addition to this, one can also see Tripp contradicting herself regarding her claim that her actions were done to protect the abused Lewinsky from humiliation. Although Tripp says that she could not bear to see this young girl be abused, her real motivations for the tapes were based upon self-interest. Tripp wants to be known as the hero and doesnt care if it is at the expense of Lewinsky. One can see this quality of Tripp when asked during an interview with Larry King how she defends "betraying a friend." Tripp says:
"Friends dont ask friends to commit a crime. I knew Monica--lets remember for a year and a half in the White House--Im sorry at the Pentagon. We were colleagues. I thought she was troubled. She was a young girl I found over time I became more and more fond of, but the notion that I would bastardize my values, my sense of integrity for young woman with whom I had worked for a year and a half and commit a crime was not ever an option." (CNN, Larry King Live, "Linda Tripp Defends Her Role in the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton Scandal" February 15, 1999 pg. 12)
Okay Linda, let me get something straight. You want the best for Lewinsky, you want to protect her and guide her and save her from the "mental abuse" that the President is causing her but once you do get everyone involved in this scandal (that you created) you disregard the relationship you had with Lewinsky and say that she is somehow forcing you to "bastardize" your values when you are the one who is sitting next to the tape recorder, waiting to press play, during every phone conversation in which the two of you exchange. This value system that Tripp displays is not making sense.
Tripp feels as if she is doing the, "right" thing. Her character is unaffected by the publics perception around her as a, "busy-body" She feels as if her actions are not only justifiable but respectable. Tripp sees herself as a model citizen doing the best for her country.
Tripp relates to the audience by using the, "Im you" phrase. She desires empathy from the audience. She would like them to realize that something like this could happen to anyone. If one were to look solely at her discourse one may see themselves feeling sorry for Tripp. The way in which see presents herself to the public makes herself look as if she is the everyday average person trying to do the right thing. She makes herself look as if she is the one who cares about the truth and everyone else is out to get her, labeling her as a, "villain" or "betrayer."
However, with a little bit of background research, the image of the "good-natured" Tripp quickly dissolves then evaporates. One learns of Tripps family history which plays a huge role in her feelings toward marital infidelity, the reputation Tripp has as a, "busybody" the lying on her clearance forms for obtaining her job at the Pentagon, the tapes, the body-wires that Tripp wore during her discussion with Lewinsky about, "sexual relations" with the President, the prosecution she is facing in the state of Maryland for illegal wire-tapping, the book deal and who knows what else! How can a woman like this claim that she is just like you?
"I am just like you" is what Tripp wants the American people to believe. Is this statement at all applicable? One Journalist offers commentary in an Op Ed piece,
"I dont know about you, but I looked in the mirror. Linda Tripps not just like me. I never taped telephone conversations with my best friends without telling them. Hell, I never even taped conversations with my best friends after I told them. (Commentary; Op Ed, "Commentary; An Average Mom? Hardly; Linda Tripp: Her Plea to Americans for Sympathy Comes a Little Late in a Scandal that was of Her Own Making" Los Angeles Times, July 31, 1998)
I hope that we are not like Tripp. If we were then I would have to worry about every conversation I had being subject to documentation. Before engaging in conversation I would have to inspect the person to check for any body-wires, or tape recording devices. Who knows? Maybe Im being video taped. Why bother talking to anyone about anything private or personal? One would have to expect that anything exchanged could be used against them. There would always be a possibility that the whole country would be able to access a conversation that was exchanged.
Tripp refers to Lewinsky as a, "friend" a couple of times within her discourse. With friends like Tripp, who needs enemies? Within present state of society Tripp represents the, "Friend from Hell" (Gray, "The Friend from Hell" Time, December 28, 1998.) Her dynamic character of has caused her to be cast into,
"at least three unflattering, even cartoonish roles. First she was the Betrayer, who secretly taped the phone conversations of a love-stuck friend. Next. . . she was the Vengeful Woman, an insecure gossip who had become embittered about the opposite sex because of a philandering father and her own failed marriage. Then according to an account by media watchdog Steven Brill, she was the Set-Up artist, a conniver who teamed up with literary agent Lucianne Goldberg to expose Clintons alleged misdeeds primarily because she wanted a book deal." (Pooley, "Tripps Turn to Talk" Time, July 6, 1998)
We all know someone that is two-faced but have you ever heard of anyone being three-faced? (And in Tripps case one could probably find more than three faces) This makes Tripp an interesting character. As a result of her wire-tapping and relationship with Lewinsky. She forces society to question the foundations and rules of friendship, privacy and stereotypes about women. "What would life be like if everyone, all friends and loved ones, behaved like Linda Tripp?" (Gray, "The Friend from Hell" Time, December 28, 1998)
Linda Tripp is not just like you, me or anyone else. "The simple fact is, Linda Tripp is an angry, frustrated political loser." (Commentary; Op Ed, "Commentary; An Average Mom? Hardly; Linda Tripp: Her Plea to Americans for Sympathy Comes a Little Late in a Scandal that was of Her Own Making" Los Angeles Times, July 31, 1998) One has to have a commitment to being a "busybody" in order to have the incentive and drive to actually carry out this mission of , "Tripps search for truth" and endure it for such a long period of time. She is not an example of the "average" American citizen. Her behavior was based purely on the self-interests of a gossip Queen. Her actions were not "patriotic" they were idiotic.
The Associated Press. "Text of Linda Tripps Statement." Washington Post. (30 January 1998) 1-2
6 October, 1999
Burger, Timothy J. "Kens No Starr Survey." Daily News, New York. July 3 1998: 1
Commentary. "An Average Mom? Hardly; Linda Tripp: Her Plea to Americans for Sympathy Comes a little late in a Scandal that was of her Own Making." Los Angeles Times. July 31, 1998: 1-2
Campbell, Karlyn K, "The Process of Rhetorical Criticism," in Critiques of Contemporary Rhetoric (Wadsworth: Belmont, CA) 1972, pp. 13-38.
Gray, Paul. "The Friend from Hell." Time. December 28, 1998: vl 14 n30 pg14(2)
Isikoff, Michael., Evan Thomas. "The Goldberg-Tripp-Jones Axis." Newsweek. November 9, 1998: pg 30(1)
Mayer. "Portrait of a Whistle Blower" The New Yorker. March 23, 1998: vl 74 n5 pg34(5)
Pooley, Eric. "Tripps Turn to Talk." Time. July 6, 1998: vl 151 n26 pg64(1)
Thomas, Evan., Martha Brant & Pat Wingert. "What Made Linda do it?" Newsweek. March 23, 1998: 1-5
Tripp, Linda. "Text of Linda Tripps Remarks." Washington Post. (29 July 1999) 1-3
4 October 1999
Tripp, Linda. (1999, February 12). Linda Tripp Speaks About Her Motives in Recording Monica Lewinskys Phone Conversation [Television Transcript, interview with Jamie Gangel]. NBC Today [Online] 1,574 words. Available: Lexis- Nexis:Academic Universe
Tripp, Linda. (1999, February 15). Linda Tripp Defends Her Role in the Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton Scandal [Television Transcript, interview with Larry King]. CNN Larry King Live [Online] 7,891 words. Available: Lexis-Nexis: Academic Universe
Tripp, Linda. (1999, February 12). Linda Tripp Defends Her Actions [Television Transcript, interview with Jamie Gangel]. NBC Today [Online] 2,090 words. Available: Lexis-Nexis: Academic Universe
Tripp, Linda. (1999, March 7). The Linda Tripp Interview [Television Transcript, interview with Sam Donaldson and Cokie Roberts] ABC This Week [Online] 4,995 words. Available: Lexis-Nexis: Academic Universe
"Washington Wire." The Wall Street Journal. July 3, 1998: 1