Dee Dee to block

Former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers' appearance on "Hollywood Squares" may seem odd -- but she was just doing what she was trained to do.

Published April 19, 1999 8:03AM (EDT)

A career in government is not always remunerative, but to the talented and dedicated it can have great rewards. You get access to the corridors of power. You get to occupy the offices, walk the rooms, sit in the chairs occupied by giants: Franklin Roosevelt ... Dean Acheson ... Rose Marie.

Dee Dee Myers, currently a contributing editor with Vanity Fair, formerly White House press secretary, co-host of CNBC's "Equal Time" and, more recently, a much-sought-after slightly rueful Clinton defender who practically had her clothes moved into Larry King's closet during the year of Monica, extended her media brand this past week by serving as a celebrity guest on the syndicated revival of the game show "Hollywood Squares." The woman who once paced the War Room with Carville and Stephanopoulos was now holding forth in the august company of Martin Mull, Whoopi Goldberg, Caroline Rhea, George Wallace (the comedian, not the segregationist Alabama governor), Louie Anderson and America's Olympic sweetheart, Kerri Strug.

Oh, sure, you might think that this is a strange career advancement for a former political macher, and perhaps an inappropriate way for one to trade on a reputation earned at the center of American government. But you would be wrong. After all, what is the primary goal of a guest on the classic game show, where two contestants try to determine whether a given celebrity has given them the correct answer to a trivia question?

It is to disseminate disinformation. Who better to fill that role than an experienced White House press handler?

Consider the similar strategies: disarmingly addressing your questioner by the first name; reading a pre-prepared joke answer off cue cards to buy yourself time and amuse the audience; and giving a straight-faced answer that could just as well be true as not. After all, remember, the successful government mouthpiece can't just dissemble all the time; in life, as on "Hollywood Squares," one must every so often throw out the straight, unvarnished truth, just to keep your interrogators guessing. Jesus! She just could be telling the truth this time!

Indeed, with the Lewinsky saga finally (maybe?) past us, there is an entire raft of languishing media stars of the impeachment era, flying high last January, now staring at their cell phones, waiting for them to ring. While some -- Laura Ingraham, even the hapless Paul Begala -- have landed permanent perches, an entire generation of pro- and anti-impeachment spokespeople has been cruelly pushed from the televised teat. If only there were more celebrity game shows willing to chip in, some of these poor souls could be helped to readjust to normal life. Where is "Match Game" when you need it? "The $25,000 Pyramid"? ("It's about the perjury ..." "What will we tell the children ..." "I know! 'Things You Say to Justify a Multmillion Dollar Perjury Trap!'")

In any event, one Lewinsky refugee had found her place: Sporting her new Gillian Anderson coiffure and a professional (but fun!) bright jacket, Dee Dee had come ready to play. Unfortunately, relegated to the strategically unimportant middle right-hand spot -- not a corner, not the center, not the Paul Lynde or even the George Gobel position -- Dee Dee languished uncalled night after night; not even picked up by the camera for the logical reaction shots after Clinton jokes. On Thursday, however, as X's and O's piled up around her in a hard-fought round, the call came.

"In the 1970s, the U.S. government introduced the 'Suzy,'" began host Tom Bergeron. "It failed miserably. What was the 'Suzy'?"

Yes! No one could miss this setup; indeed, to a seasoned pro of the sex wars, it was all too easy. Myers practically rolled her eyes as she ventured, grudgingly, "I'm just glad it wasn't 'The Monica'!" to only tepid laughter from the audience. Oh, fickle public! Just weeks ago, it would have brought down the house! Finally, she offered, "The Susan B. Anthony dollar."

The Susan -- nah, too obvious! The numismatically challenged contestant disagreed ... was wrong and lost the square.

Suckered again! Just like riding a bicycle.

By James Poniewozik

James Poniewozik is a Time magazine columnist on TV and media.

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