Tape Worm

Upon hearing that I'm going to lunch with Lucianne Goldberg, one of my colleagues waggishly suggests, "You should have lunch with her over the phone and tape it." Almost everyone else to whom I mention my date has to furrow his brow and be reminded of who Goldberg is -- she's clearly a historical footnote in the making.

Can't quite place the name yourself? She's the right-wingish New York literary agent who suggested, a few years back, that prospective client Linda Tripp tape her phone conversations with a certain delectably zaftig young White House intern from Beverly Hills.

She's in the Valley for a conference, and I arrive at the Biltmore and call her room; she says she'll be right down to the crowded lobby. "You know what I look like, right?" she asks. My brow furrows. I had, I was sure, seen her on TV at some point. "Um . . . yeah," I reply, hoping she'll stand out in some way.

She does. She meets me in front of the Cafe, and she is a large, jewelry-laden woman in clothes too dark for the desert. She extends a berocked hand, croaks out my name in a voice not unlike Harvey Fierstein's, and we sit down at an outside table.

The waitress arrives, but Goldberg declines my offer of solid food -- "No thank you, dear, you wouldn't believe the breakfast I had" -- ordering only a raspberry iced tea and an ashtray. At her recommendation, I order the same beverage and, to make it an official lunch, a Danish. "Lunch with a New Yorker is a Danish," Goldberg assures me.

Goldberg isn't a native New Yorker, however; she went for the politics and stayed for love. The Alexandria, Virginia, native had worked for Lyndon Johnson's campaign and, improbably enough, in the Kennedy White House. If tape recorder technology had been further along at the time, how she might have prospered there.

"I was a press bunny, I suppose," says Goldberg of her time at the White House. "I handed out press releases. I was like, 22. Then I did some speech writing; none of it was ever spoken, I don't think. Then when they killed Kennedy, it was pretty grisly."

She left the White House the day after JFK died and set up a lobbying firm. Work on a local Long Island campaign brought her to New York, where she met and married Sid Goldberg. "My husband was more philosophically a conservative than politically, and so I started to change my political persuasion."

She tried her hand as a literary agent in the late '70s. "Helen Thomas [the longtime White House correspondent] was my first client. I've been an agent ever since, handling mostly sensational media kind of stuff, putting good ghost writers with media celebrities. I had Mark Fuhrman [the detective in the O.J. Simpson case] as a client, and found him a writer. These people get in the news, and we don't expect them to know how to write."

Her track record and her political leanings put her perfectly in place for her role in the Clinton scandal. "The spin doctors tried to say, 'Where did this woman come from?' There were stories on the Internet that I was a Mossad agent, and that I was a CIA agent. I was a literary agent, raising my kids on the west side of Manhattan." Without apparent irony, she adds, "There was absolutely nothing glamorous about my life whatsoever."

Our lunch arrives. My Danish is ordinary, but Goldberg is right about the tea -- it's a lovely concoction, raspberry not by dint of flavoring but by several whole raspberries floating in the glass. Goldberg is unable to use the ashtray that's been brought to her, however, as she's forgotten to bring any smokes to the table. I resist the urge to run to the gift shop and buy her a pack, despite the fleeting fantasy that doing so might get me a lucrative ghost-writing deal.

Sipping her tea, Goldberg goes on to give an account of the day Tripp, with whom she had worked on an abandoned book project about the Clinton White House, called her for advice. Tripp said she had become a friend and confidant of one Monica Lewinsky, who had asked her to lie to the Paula Jones lawyers if she was ever asked about Lewinsky's relationship with Clinton. "And I said, 'Well, do you have any proof, any pictures?'" Goldberg says. "She said she didn't have anything."

Goldberg made an apt, if legally questionable, suggestion. "I have a running tape on my phone. You call me, day or night, your phone call's going to be taped. It's the nature of my business. I get some very baroque phone calls. . . . So I said, 'How often do you talk to this woman?' She said, 'Every day, sometimes 20 times a day.' So I said, 'Go to Radio Shack and buy a tape recorder, and put it on your phone. There's your proof.'"

The rest, quite literally, is history.

"She knew I was interested," Goldberg says of Tripp. "I make no bones about it, I was interested in anything negative about Clinton. I loathe the man. And I was curious, you know? I wanted this information. I defy anyone to get a call like that and say, 'Eh,' you know, blow it off."

Of her own profit motive, Goldberg is unabashed. "It was a business deal. We get this rap of 'You got into it to do a book for the money!' Well, no shit, Sherlock. That's what I do for a living. I don't get into anything unless it's to sell a book better."

Besides, she notes, "For two years, I heard 'Big Book Deal!' Gimme a break. The most I could've gotten for her was $75,000. I'm a 10 percent agent, that means $7,500. Where I come from, that's not chopped liver, but it's not a living."

I ask Goldberg what makes her particularly hate Clinton, and she quickly corrects me. "I don't use the word hate, because my religion precludes me from hating people. Loathe."

The source of Goldberg's loathing is clearly of Clinton personally, and his obedience to the Little Leader of the Free World. "It has nothing to do with his politics," Goldberg says, "because he's not that liberal. She [Hillary] is liberal; he's not that liberal. . . . Gennifer Flowers was the tip-off. When he lied about it. See, as a conservative, I'm more of a bedrock feminist than the left-leaning feminists. I think equality is a step down. We've got it made not being equal. We get taken care of, we get lifted, we get carried, we get protected. Nothing is stopping you from going out and making a shitload of money, nothing. And a man who stops you from doing that? Leave him, and find one who knows where the world is. But I also think, if you cut a deal to take care of him, which marriage is, you should take care of him. He should take care of you, and you should take of him. And if he brings home the bacon, you shouldn't serve it to him cold. Cook that meal!"

This vehement exhortation is interrupted by Ronnie Ashcroft, Goldberg's friendly tour producer. It's time for the two of them to go kibitz at the conference. I thank Goldberg and leave.

In my car, I rewind my recorder, listen to a few seconds, and sigh with relief. I've caught every amazing word on tape. Lucianne would be proud.

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M.V. Moorhead
Contact: M.V. Moorhead