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Tripp Tapes: A Missing Voice Hear at Last

November 18, 1998|GERALDINE BAUM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — We figured we had her sized up, that there wasn't a lot more we needed to know about that zaftig little rascal Monica Lewinsky. After 10 months of scrutiny and tens of thousands of pages of transcripts, reports and news analysis, what else could there be?

We knew where she shopped, what she ate, her exact weight. We knew about her love affairs gone wrong and the elaborate gifts she gave to make friends, or keep them. We'd seen the bright smile for her "pash," the president, and her restrained one for the unwelcome camera crews.

But perhaps nothing was as revealing as that Voice, that sad, little, nouveau upper-class girlish voice made even smaller and sadder and younger juxtaposed with the smoky, cynical manipulations of Linda Tripp, the so-called friend.

On Tuesday, the combination of the voice and what she was saying made the short public life of Lewinsky seem all the more excruciating as she came into focus with the House Judiciary Committee's release of 37 tapes of Tripp's secretly recorded girl talk and law talk with Lewinsky.

Tapes Make a Captivating Debut

Not since the Golden Days of Radio has audio seemed so captivating: Tripp's bullying voice versus the little girl tears made for a mesmerizing operatic duet.

For Americans who hadn't waded into the Starr Report or muddled through the media morass about the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, the voices that launched a thousand subpoenas were everywhere on morning cable and drive-time radio. The unguarded Monica, urgent and fretful and fearful, was compelling in a way the printed word could never convey.

White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart downplayed the impact of the day's drama on his boss, the president, or for that matter, the country: "My guess is that most people around the country won't be paying much attention, but the people who are obsessed with this story, this will just be a day in heaven for them."

Indeed, the release of the audiotapes set off a storm of psychobabble as intense as any this scandal has produced.

"This all speaks to an emptiness in her [Monica's] life," said a CNN commentator.

"There's not a woman who does not have some identification with Monica," said another.

For those who stuck with it, Lewinsky garnered new sympathy and Tripp, well, faltered.

"Linda is a vicious, controlling, plotting, frightening woman," said Dr. Judy Kuriansky, of the radio show "Love Phones." "She sounds like a dominatrix, terrifying."

Lewinsky, however, had the plaintive, whining voice of a woman with a love obsession, said Kuriansky, a clinical psychologist who has dispensed advice over the radio for 18 years. "I had a slight hopefulness that Monica would sound mature," she said in an interview. "But that voice confirmed to me a naive young girl as opposed to a confident one. It throws a picture of her into focus of a vixen who comes from an internal place of being a victim."

The tapes' many teeth-grinding Monica moments reinforced the notion that even a girl from Beverly Hills can have a tinge of the Valley Girl in her--that universal description of a young, superficial shopping-obsessed (but cheerful) creature with an impressive voice range that peaks with "ohmigod." Lewinsky frequently uses the word "like" to substitute for another word that she can't quite think of.

"We have to throw some big words in here," she tells Tripp about a letter she is writing to Clinton. ". . . He must think I'm an i-di-ot."

One of the few times Tripp doesn't interrupt the former White House intern is when she is talking about her love for the president.

"The first time I ever looked into his eyes close up and was with him alone I saw someone different from who I expected to see."

Somehow, hearing that dime-store-novel confession was much more painful than when those very words appeared in transcripts released in September.

"I thought she was insecure or imagined her to be insecure, but she sounded so tentative, so halting on those tapes, you really feel her mind is up for grabs," said a voice-over expert who works for a Los Angeles-based talent agency.

'I Keep Hearing These Double-Clicks'

Almost as painful is Lewinsky's naivete.

"You know what's really weird?" Lewinsky says to Tripp at one point. "I keep hearing these double clicks."

Tripp, her tape recorder rolling, replies: "That's my gum."

Lewinsky, who perhaps had grown used to Tripp's background noises--her barking dog, Cleo; her television; and her chewing and scraping while eating--says: "Oh, OK."

Several assumptions about Lewinsky are disproved by the tapes.

She does not sound dumb as a wooden plank; she does not have the alluring voice of someone who could earn a living as a phone-sex operator; she does not giggle when she laughs.

In fact, for someone involved in such high drama, she sounds downright ordinary, according to several listeners.

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