THE REAL scandal propounded by Steven Brill's celebrated article on media coverage of the investigation into the president's private life is the origin of independent counsel Kenneth Starr's probe.
If Mr. Brill is right, it is a conspiracy, though hardly a vast one. This is far more important to the nation than Mr. Brill's much-discussed finding that Mr. Starr's office leaked much of the material from the secret tapes to the news media.
According to Mr. Brill's thoroughly researched, 28-page expose in the inaugural issue of his magazine, Brill's Content, the caper began with literary agent Lucianne Goldberg coaching disgruntled government secretary Linda Tripp on how to produce material that might get her a book contract.
So it is Ms. Goldberg coaching Ms. Tripp to tape telephone conversations with Monica Lewinsky, in apparent violation of Maryland law. And it is Ms. Goldberg manipulating Ms. Tripp, and through her Ms. Lewinsky, to approach President Clinton in ways documented by mainstream journals and then by lawyers and prosecutors.
Thus, the prospect is created of Ms. Goldberg not only suggesting behavior by Ms. Lewinsky for which President Clinton is being investigated, but of indirectly manipulating Mr. Starr and the lawyers for Paula Corbin Jones as well.
If all this is true, Ms. Goldberg is having fun while doing her job. But what does this say for Mr. Starr and the attorney general and judges who authorized him to send FBI agents to investigate the president's private life?
It's bad enough that these proceedings dismay or disgust Americans with their prurience, hold the United States up to ridicule, and try to break down confidences on which government and safety depend, for no loftier purpose.
That they do it because the Goldberg-Tripp duo deemed it necessary to the book project further lowers the comedy that ostensibly sober legal minds initiated.
Mr. Brill's research should be taken seriously. It is not the last word. But while posing as an indictment of the media's handling of this story, his article is the most enterprising reporting of the story to date.
We knew Mr. Starr was seeking charges against Mr. Clinton for alleged lying and subornation of court testimony, even though that testimony was deemed immaterial and the lawsuit was thrown out of court. Mr. Brill's article is one explanation of how all this came about, compounding the appearance of farce.
If there is more to it than that, the reasons should be brought forward, for the dignity of the nation.
Pub Date: 6/28/98