Letters to the Editor

Isikoff fights back; talk therapy was a waste of my time.

Published April 9, 1999 4:22PM (EDT)

Spikey's Choice



In his review of my book, "Uncovering Clinton," published in Tuesday's Salon, Joe Conason takes me to task for allegedly neglecting to mention, or glossing over, matters he believes important to a proper understanding of the Paula Jones lawsuit and the events that led to the president's impeachment. I suppose I shouldn't blame Conason for not reading my book with the same care that I took in writing it. Still, I feel compelled to correct the record on several points.

1) Conason writes that "amazingly" my book "never mentions" Paula Jones' move to increase her settlement demands to $2 million. Actually, it does: On Page 380, I discuss the circumstances that surrounded the $2 million proposal in late November 1997 and how it effectively torpedoed a resolution of the case at that juncture.

2) Conason chides me for quoting "not a single line" of Linda Tripp's grand jury testimony describing what she perceived to be Kathleen Willey's romantic fascination with President Clinton. Actually, in chapter seven, on Page 137, I describe how Tripp made precisely these same claims to me in a meeting at her home in April 1997 -- more than a year before her grand jury testimony. ("This woman [Willey] had been pursuing the president ever since she got to the White House. She consulted Tripp about ways to get his attention, about what outfits she should wear in his presence.") For what it is worth, in the same chapter, I also include new material about the origins of Tripp's hostility to Willey as well as Tripp's parting comment to the former White House volunteer, clearly heard by the secretary to then-White House counsel Lloyd Cutler: "I will get you if it's the last thing I do. "

3) Conason claims that I dubbed Sidney Blumenthal's public description of his grand jury interrogation by Ken Starr's prosecutors "largely fiction." Actually, I called Blumenthal's account "misleading" (see Page 389). It unquestionably was. On the steps of the U.S. courthouse, on Feb. 26, 1998, Blumenthal dramatically claimed that he had been "forced to answer questions" about his conversations with a long list of news organizations that he said included the New York Times, CNN, Time magazine and many others he identified by name. The transcript of that session showed that Blumenthal himself had injected the names of specific news organizations into the testimony, not Starr's prosecutors. Conason claims the accusation that Blumenthal misrepresented his grand jury testimony "emanated from Starr's office." Actually, the accusation was made by the grand jury foreperson who later complained to Blumenthal about his "inaccurate representation" of events. Conason says my account of this incident shows that the prosecutors were my "sources." Actually, I derived my account from a less glamorous method of journalistic inquiry: I consulted the public record.

-- Michael Isikoff


Like his book, Michael Isikoff's letter ably presents some facts,
conveniently avoids others and persistently omits crucial context.

1) On Page 380, he does finally mention the Jones lawyers' decision to raise the settlement ante to more than $2 million. But that fine-print reference is
buried in the endnotes, far from the main text. Although I wish I had noticed it there, the galley index provided by his publisher contained no reference to that endnote in the section on the Jones case, which is why I missed it.

2) Isikoff doesn't deny his complete omission of Linda Tripp's grand jury testimony about Kathleen Willey. Even if he now believes that Tripp was out
to "get" Willey, that doesn't explain his decision to ignore sworn statements from his most important source, in which she cast doubt on Willey's story.

3) As for Isikoff on Sidney Blumenthal's testimony, let's all consult the public record for context and specifics. The grand jury minutes indisputably
show that Blumenthal was interrogated at length by Ken Starr's deputies about his contacts with the news media (Pages 46-55). Certain questions and answers in the published transcript are blacked out, so none of us really knows which
media contacts Blumenthal was asked to reveal -- although the name of one Time magazine correspondent slipped through unredacted. In the particular exchange cited as deceptive by Isikoff, it is clear that the prosecutors asked Blumenthal several times whether he had transmitted derogatory material about Starr's office "to any member of the news media."

In any case, just before publication of his book, Isikoff toned down his own characterization of Blumenthal's famous speech on the courthouse steps. In galleys, Isikoff labeled it "largely fiction"; in the final version, he
softened this to "misleading." Now the indignant author seems to have forgotten making that change.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

So a group of Republicans worked to spread the word about Bill Clinton's misdeeds. So what? I can't recall Joe ever pointing a damning finger at Eleanor Clift, Ed Downie, Geraldo, Time or Jack Nelson for their shameless Clinton boosterism. Nor can I recall him commenting on the relentless stream of anti-Starr leaks that clearly have poured from his beloved White House. Is Conason really that naive -- or arrogant -- as to presume that only those people who agree with his politics be able to promote those politics? Kind of reminds me of the thankfully deceased Chicago 7 attorney Kuntzler who, after being asked about human rights abuses in one of his favorite communist countries (North Vietnam, perhaps), remarked: "It's my policy not to comment publicly on negative aspects of Marxist countries." Heaven forbid, the truth might crop up.

-- David Wrone

Clayton, Mo.

Therapy is all talk


Thank you for an article about a wonderful book! I have sought
counseling for depression twice in my life, and both were wastes of time
and money. The first "counselor" wanted to blame something that happened when I was 15 for everything wrong with me (including everything that
went wrong from ages 1 through 14); the second "counselor"
never said anything; she just listened to me narrate and laughed.
Granted the story of my life can be classified as absurd, but it is
only funny in retrospect.

I have finally worked through my problems -- with
the help of my husband, the only counselor I needed. And I realized
that it's not the counselor that helps the patient -- it's talking and
thinking out loud. The counselor is just a
catalyst. So the next time you see
someone on a park bench talking to themselves, leave them alone. They
may be doing for free every day what many people spend $50 an hour to do
only once a week.

-- Pamela Gomez

Austin, Texas

As if Ethan Watters' blanket statement that psychotherapy is a fraud
were not hubristic enough, he adds a howler in his interview with a
fawning Joy Rothke.

Early in the interview, Watters reveals that he has never been in
therapy. He then defends what seems like a glaring lack of knowledge
about therapy with "Our argument lends itself to an outsider ... I
don't think it's necessary for me to have been in therapy to write about

Watters continues apace. Asked about folks who believe therapy has
helped them, he replies, "When someone says, 'Therapy changed my life --
therapy made all the difference,' I don't necessarily disbelieve them."
How generous of him.

I'm sure Watters and his writing partner provided a great
service by debunking the recovered memory syndrome scam. But going from
there to postulating that most, if not all, psychotherapists are frauds is a huge stretch.

My own experiences in therapy do not resemble anything Watters describes
in his interview. I believe that a combination of therapy and medication
helped me get past a rough depressive episode a few years
ago. Either might have worked alone, but I believe that the two are most
effective together. I have never met a therapist who did not also urge
me to seek advice on medication, if necessary, from a psychiatrist.
But I can see how techniques my therapist
taught me have helped me deal with problems more
effectively. My therapist made me less likely to need therapy in the

Watters saves his best howler for late in the interview: "Therapy is
doing what a supernova does before it blows itself up. Look at any
social movement, and you'll see a therapist attaching himself to it."
Indeed. Chances are you'll find a blowhard author nearby as well.

-- Joseph A. Haas

Arlington, Va.

Bloody blundering


Christopher Hitchens claims that if NATO knew that the Serbs would carry out their atrocities in response to the bombing, then it is NATO that is guilty of
war crimes. By that logic, the Allies were guilty of war crimes for
invading Germany: The accelerated extermination in the death camps in
response to their impending liberation is well documented. Perhaps the
Allies should have anticipated this and left Germany alone. I don't accept
this reasoning. I suspect few people would.

Christopher, let us ask the Kosovar Albanians: Are we the war criminals? I
will accept their answer, not yours.

-- Nicholas Wade

Once again, Christopher Hitchens sees evil in the world, and if there is evil in the world, it can only be the work of ... Bill Clinton. How tiresome. Mr. Hitchens' views on the president are well known, and as predictable as those of B-1 Bob Dornan.

-- Arthur Cunningham

Moreno Valley, Calif.

Sex police


Thank you for the article on "Sex Police." The compulsive and capricious
assignment of a sex on an infant (intersexed or otherwise) has caused
considerable psychic and physical harm. Several of my friends are
intersex. Many more are transsexed. Some are even both.

Being forced to be something you know is not correct causes a loss of
self and imposes an existence that is hopeless and joyless. Depression
and emotional pain continue until one can claim an identity that feels
right. The right to claim ones own identity is necessary for a healthy
and productive life.

-- Dani Richard

As an intersexed person I found Sally Lehrman's article to be
tastefully and truthfully done. I happen to know both Cheryl Chase and
Helena Harmon-Smith so the article for me was fascinating because I am
thrilled that the media has finally taken notice of the plight of
intersexuals who are swiftly and dubiously altered by the medical
community. However, I am one of the few intersexuals who escaped having
her ambiguous genitals cut off by surgeons in infancy or childhood. My parents did raise me as a girl from 3 months of age and changed my birth name from male to female, and at age 18 I made the decision to have my genitals removed and a vagina created. I
would have been better off if I had my genitals removed in childhood than
having to grow up with them, but at the same time I am glad that I was able
to make the choice to be female on my own, rather than having it forced
upon me.

-- Diane Marie Anger

Boca Raton, Fla.

By Salon Staff

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