The Monica Lewinsky confessional in Vanity Fair brings back a torrent of unfond memories of the appalling cast of tabloid gargoyles who drove the scandal. Remember them? Treacherous thatched-roof-haired drag-queen Linda Tripp, with those dress-for-success shoulder pads? Cackling, fact-lacking hack Lucianne Goldberg, mealy-mouthed Pharisee Kenneth Starr—the whole buzzing swarm of legal, congressional and gossip industry flesh flies, feasting on the entrails. And, of course, hitting “send” on each new revelation that no one else would publish, the solitary, perfectly named Matt Drudge, operating in pallid obsession out of his sock-like apartment in Miami.
A once-in-a-lifetime cast! Or so we all thought. But what we didn’t know at the time is that they were not some passing cultural excrescence. They were the face of the future. The things that shocked us then—the illicitly taped conversations, the wholesale violations of elementary privacy, the globally broadcast sexual embarrassments, all the low-life disseminated malice—is now the communications industry as it operates every minute of every day.
At Vanity Fair, Brown’s editorial philosophy was informed by two insights: first, that celebrities are intrinsically worth knowing about no matter what they’re like, and, second, that American celebrities take themselves very seriously. That means they must be praised with great earnestness or smeared with all available dirt, with the intensity due to people of their station.
I guess Brown doesn’t believe that Clinton was one of those who should have been “smeared with all available dirt”—after all, he was a Democrat, not a Republican. But there’s no doubt that if anyone was going to sling dirt on anyone, it should have been the lovely Brown rather than such unbeautiful “tabloid gargoyles” as the “thatched-roof-haired drag-queen” Tripp, the “cackling…hack” Goldberg, and “pallid” Drudge in his teeny-weeny apartment. The nerve of them, scooping a press that refused for political reasons to report on a big big story!
Brown alternates between sympathy for Monica Lewinsky and approbation, although she leans more to the sympathy side. That’s not surprising, since there are some interesting parallels between Brown’s and Lewinsky’s career, although the British Brown was tremendously much more successful with her own sexual escapades as a young woman. It helped that, at least for quite a while, she was also quite good at the publishing business, specializing in making cold properties hot. But it’s also the case that she got her start by being taken up in her early 20s by literary lights with whom she’d slept.
A tiny bit later on, one of them turned out to be the publisher of the British Sunday Times Harold Evans, who left his wife and three kids for Brown in the mid-70s. They married in 1981 and are still together, so their relationship seems to have stood the test of time, unlike that of the much-more-ill-fated Lewinsky and her married paramour. But at the beginning there were more parallels with Lewinsky than the mere fact that Brown had an affair with a married man: Evans was Brown’s powerful boss, and she was about twenty-five while he was about fifty years old. It’s not such a stretch to imagine that, when Brown writes, “Other women can often be the worst at cutting any slack towards the love interest in a sex scandal” she might be thinking of her own experience.
But there’s virtually no doubt at all that, for Brown, this represents something up close and personal:
The press was at the height of its power when the Monica story began and Drudge was its underbelly.
The ascendant media that looked down on him has been pretty much destroyed…
That too, is a story of humiliation. And not just hers.
That “ascendant media” of the time and its subsequent “humiliation” included Tina Brown. She’d been ascending for quite some time and her star has fallen in recent years, a fact for which she almost certainly blames Drudge and his low-life internet companions.