Now that President Bill Clinton has confessed to an affair with Monica Lewinsky, one might expect some camaraderie between two of the scandal’s prime movers: Clinton-hating literary agent Lucianne Goldberg and the journalist she affectionately nicknamed “Spikey,” Newsweek ‘s muckraking Washington correspondent, Michael Isikoff. But a recent outgoing message on Ms. Goldberg’s answering machine suggested to all who called that the two stars of the scandal have had a falling-out: “This is the Goldberg Agency,” Ms. Goldberg growls on the recording. “Leave your name and number and I’ll call you back. Unless you’re Michael Isikoff, in which case I won’t.”
According to Ms. Goldberg, she and Mr. Isikoff fell out over an Aug. 10 Newsweek article entitled “Lewinsky vs. Clinton,” which Ms. Goldberg says portrayed her and her friend and client, Linda Tripp, in an unflattering light. “He made Linda and I out like the two witches of Macbeth , sort of plotting and scheming, which I didn’t like,” Ms. Goldberg said. (She didn’t say what happened to the third witch.) “I didn’t like the way they interviewed Linda,” she said. “His magazine just has to be a little bit more fair when they deal with truth-tellers.”
The falling-out could not have come at a worse time for Mr. Isikoff. It was back in October 1997 that Ms. Goldberg invited Mr. Isikoff to the Washington home of her son Jonah to hear Ms. Tripp’s allegations against the President, a fateful meeting that helped expand the scandal to its current dimensions. Since then, Ms. Goldberg has been dispensing bits of information to favored reporters the way a zookeeper flips fish to seals. As the scandal rushes toward what may be its calamitous finale, Ms. Goldberg could be a conduit to the mother lode of scoops: Ms. Tripp’s tape recordings of her phone conversations with Ms. Lewinsky.
So when Mr. Isikoff learned that Ms. Goldberg was angry, he tried to make nice. According to Ms. Goldberg, in the days after she recorded her answering machine message, Mr. Isikoff called repeatedly, asking for her forgiveness and arguing that in TV appearances he’d given Ms. Goldberg’s side of the story. Still, the agent could not be appeased.
“I said, ‘I’ll let you grovel, but if you’ll hold on a minute, I want to get this on tape because it’ll be a collectors item,’” Ms. Goldberg told Off the Record. “So I put a tape in and he said, ‘Fine, tape me groveling, I don’t mind.’ And he groveled some more. And he groveled and groveled . And I let him grovel.”
Mr. Isikoff characterized the conversations somewhat differently.
“I did not retract anything or correct anything,” he said. “What I apologized for was that, given that she was quoted in the article, I probably could have given her a better heads-up on what was said. The article is accurate, and we have no regrets about the article.”
Answering machine warfare is nothing new for Ms. Goldberg. After receiving calls from an aggressive CNN producer in January, she recorded a message that told CNN reporters: “Lose my number.” That one got played by Tom Brokaw on NBC Nightly News . “[Matt] Drudge has a Web site and I have an answering machine,” Ms. Goldberg said.
Mr. Isikoff’s groveling seems to have placed him back in Ms. Goldberg’s good graces. The literary agent praised Mr. Isikoff, both as a reporter and as a physical specimen. “I find him small and perfectly formed,” Ms. Goldberg said, before going on to laud Mr. Isikoff’s reporting on the Lewinsky story. “Mike never gave up, and he deserves high praise.”
“If I didn’t like him so much personally, I simply wouldn’t speak to him again,” she added. “But he’s a very interesting young man, and he deserves to live.”
When Charles Gibson took his seat in the anchor’s chair on the set of ABC’s World News Tonight the evening of Aug. 6, everything was going fine. The producer cued the bombastic musical intro, the cameras rolled, and Mr. Gibson, filling in for Peter Jennings, started delivering the 6:30 news. But then, about halfway into the live newscast, he was interrupted by a chorus of shrieking alarms and flashing strobe lights. Mr. Gibson calmly informed viewers that there was a fire in the building and cut to a taped news report as technicians figured out a way to shut off the alarm. Soon, smoke began to fill the hallways outside World News Tonight ‘s third-floor studio, and employees on the fourth and fifth floors were ordered to evacuate. Not long after that, the building was overrun by New York City firemen.
According to one ABC News producer, the fire originated in a wastebasket in the office of correspondent Bill Redeker, who is known to flaunt the office no-smoking policy regularly. “Everyone assumes it was a cigarette in the wastebasket,” said another ABC source.
ABC News spokesman Eileen Murphy said the network had no plans to change the building’s alarm system so that it would not interfere with live newscasts. “The reason we have a fire alarm is to alert people of a fire,” she said. “I don’t think that will be reconfigured.” Ms. Murphy added that a memo had been circulated to the staff “to remind them of the company policy and city policy against smoking in the office.” Mr. Redeker did not return calls for comment.
Advance Publications chairman S.I. (Si) Newhouse Jr. is trying to make amends with outgoing Glamour editor Ruth Whitney, despite Ms. Whitney’s harsh public criticisms of Mr. Newhouse’s pick to succeed her, former Cosmopolitan editor Bonnie Fuller. After her forced exit was announced on Aug. 10, Ms. Whitney told the New York Post , “I’m very disappointed with the replacement” and complained to Newsweek that she feared Ms. Fuller would cheapen her magazine. Then Ms. Whitney declined to accompany Mr. Newhouse when he addressed anxious Glamour staff members a day after the announcement.
But 30 years at Condé Nast’s most profitable magazine has earned Ms. Whitney a certain amount of deference from her superiors even as they shuffle her out the door. (In a rare moment of candor, Condé Nast president Steve Florio last year told The New York Times , “Without Glamour , I don’t even want to think about what the bottom line of this company would look like.”) A source at Glamour reports that Mr. Newhouse recently called on Ms. Whitney and persuaded her to allow him to host a reception in her honor. “They are giving me a reception,” Ms. Whitney told Off the Record. “Si came down to my office to talk me into it.”
“There’s nothing wrong with the retirement bit,” she added. “I just wish I had been consulted in some way about possible successors.” Ms. Whitney said she is concerned about the fate of her staff, which she described as “very anxious.” Ms. Fuller has already had breakfast and lunch meetings with a number of Glamour editors, and will begin her new duties at Condé Nast on Sept. 14.
Meanwhile, over at Hearst Magazines, Ms. Fuller’s successor, Kate White, is negotiating the cultural divide between the square middle-American ethos of Redbook and her new post as editor of the gleefully trashy Cosmopolitan . One Cosmo source reports that when Ms. White was introduced to her new staff by Hearst Magazines president Cathleen Black, only an hour after Ms. Fuller announced her departure, Ms. White was wearing a pink dress-a definite Cosmo no-no. To compensate for the fashion faux pas, Ms. White assured her staff that she would be wearing more black.
Sometimes newspaper writers who cover professional sports teams attempt to transcend the daily drudgery of locker-room quote collection by playing at being powerful. Sometimes their gambits backfire.
Earlier this summer, Marty Noble, who covers the New York Mets for Newsda y, was eager to swing for the fences. Mr. Noble, the senior man on the beat, told some of his colleagues in the Shea Stadium press box that he could get the Mets’ manager, Bobby Valentine, fired if only he could confirm that Mr. Valentine had said a certain “seven words.” Mr. Valentine caught wind of this, and the relationship between the two men, which was already a little strained-they hadn’t spoken to each other since last season-deteriorated further.
After The Observer reported this state of affairs, Mr. Noble’s editors at Newsday asked their man to repair his relationship with the manager. Even though they had detected no signs of an agenda in his coverage, they were concerned, according to a source, that the appearance of one might hurt the newspaper.
“We all agreed, including Marty, that it was a good time to clear the air,” said Steve Ruinsky, Newsday ‘s assistant managing editor for sports. “But Marty was not told to do it. He didn’t need to be. He had an interest in doing it as well.”
So, on July 28, out at Shea, Mr. Noble buttonholed Mr. Valentine and attempted to make peace. According to sources in the press box who claim to have knowledge of the conversation, the exchange went something like this:
Mr. Noble: Let’s try to put this behind us .
Mr. Valentine: You’ve got to be kidding. You go around telling people you have seven words to get me fired. You are trying to cause me to not have a job, and now you want to be my friend? What do you want to do, go to the movies? See a Broadway show? Get the fuck away from me .
Clubhouse versions being what they are-that is, a cross between Rashomon and Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on first?” routine-it’s not surprising that both men confirm they had a conversation, but deny that particular account of it.
“That’s fascinating,” Mr. Noble said. “It was nothing like that at all. What I told him is that there was no agenda. We discussed it and had an amicable discussion.”
Mr. Valentine wasn’t so sure about the amicable part. “We talked,” he said. “It was brief. It was without much substance, but I was all ears. I was willing to listen to a guy who I’ve known for a long time to see what his story was. But the problem is, he didn’t tell me his whole story. He was just doing something he was told to do.”
After their little summit, Mr. Noble stopped coming out to the ball park, and his byline disappeared from Newsday ‘s sports pages, giving rise to speculation among baseball writers that he was ducking Mr. Valentine to avoid getting in trouble with his editors over his failure to kiss and make up with the manager. But his editors say that’s not so. “He’s been in the hospital getting some tests,” said Bill Eichenberger, Newsday ‘s deputy sports editor. “This had nothing to do with his relationship with Valentine.”
Mr. Noble got the O.K. from his doctors, so by Aug. 17, he was back on the beat, though not necessarily back in the good graces of Bobby Valentine.
You can reach Off the Record by e–mail at
Follow Warren St. John via RSS.