Can it be: Another threat of litigation over another woman rumored to have slept with a president?
Lucianne Goldberg, the New York literary agent at the center of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, is demanding that Random House withdraw a new book on the Clinton impeachment saga and apologize for its portrayal of her. If not, says a letter from her attorney being delivered to the publisher today, Goldberg will file a libel suit.
The book is "A Vast Conspiracy," by Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker, who writes that "on any number of occasions, Goldberg told friends that when she worked in the White House--that is, when she was just a few years older than Lewinsky was in 1995--she had had an affair with President Johnson. There is, of course, no way to verify the claim now, and Goldberg, after she became famous, took to denying that she had ever said she had slept with President Johnson."
In a letter to Random House President Ann Godoff, Goldberg's lawyer, Arlene Kayatt, calls the statements "false, malicious and defamatory." The letter also disputes a charge of adultery, citing a second Toobin passage that Goldberg's "marriage was often troubled; a friend was surprised to discover, after she lent Goldberg her apartment several times so she 'would be closer to the theater,' that she was using it for private afternoons with a prominent Washington writer."
Reached yesterday, Toobin says that "I stand by what I wrote in its entirety." Random House spokesman Tom Perry says he would be surprised if the book is withdrawn. "We're going to stand by Jeff," he says. "If we're comfortable with the sources Jeff has, as I'm sure we are, then we won't change anything."
The irony, of course, is that the blunt-spoken woman who exposed President Clinton's affair is herself being accused of adultery. Goldberg, who instigated the Lewinsky scandal by urging her friend Linda Tripp to secretly tape her conversations with the former White House intern, calls Toobin "a smear carrier for the White House. Those of us who told the truth about Clinton have had it."
In reporting Goldberg's supposed relationship with LBJ, Toobin questions "her outrage at an affair that seemed to duplicate one she had claimed as her own." He describes Goldberg as "personal, petty and mean."
One year ago, "60 Minutes" launched a weekday spinoff over the vocal opposition of the aging bulls at the venerable CBS franchise.
Despite objections that it would cheapen the brand name, "60 Minutes II" has been the second-highest-rated newsmagazine this season--trailing only its Sunday night namesake--while resisting the lure of cheap sensationalism.
"There was this general trend to go down-market, and I was afraid they'd fall prey to that, and they didn't," says Don Hewitt, the "60 Minutes" executive producer for three decades who led the opposition along with Mike Wallace. "They're as close a carbon copy as they could be to the original."
Jeff Fager, executive producer of what insiders call "60-2," says he was nervous at the outset: "Are the stories going to be good enough? Is the quality going to be high enough? . . . Maybe it wouldn't last." But, he says, "I've always felt people underestimate what the viewers are looking for."
To be sure, Fager's program has done its share of crime-related stories: Why children kill. Death row inmates in Chicago who say they were tortured into confessing. A brutal racial attack on a black Marine corporal. A defendant charged in the dragging death of a black Texan. The man who opened fire on a Jewish community center in Los Angeles.
But Fager says that being "closer to the news" is part of the show's success. He boasts of quickly turning out a piece on the Seattle trade conference riots, and one on how Buford Furrow, the alleged Jewish center gunman, was released from a psychiatric hospital.
While a piece on Bill Gates's plans to give away most of his fortune was less than hard-hitting, "60 Minutes II" has ranged from the Colombian drug war to the 1921 Tulsa race riots to a Charlie Rose chat about the future with President Clinton. The only Hollywood star featured this season has been Jodie Foster; Fager says his producers know "not to pitch a story on this week's movie star or pop single."
In addition to his front-line correspondents--Dan Rather, Rose, Bob Simon, Vicki Mabrey and Scott Pelley--Fager inherited a key advantage. He airs regular "update" pieces from such "60 Minutes" veterans as Wallace and Morley Safer, reprising their golden-oldie interviews with the likes of John Gotti and Martha Stewart.
Other newsmagazines are not faring as well; ABC recently cut back "20/20" from four nights a week to three.
One sign of the maturing of "60 Minutes II" is that it's gotten into a couple of booking scraps with its big brother down the hall. Fager yielded to Hewitt on a profile of Vice President Gore, but prevailed on a piece about the Waco investigation.
Now that the Tuesday night clone is averaging more than 13 million viewers, have any CBS executives reminded Hewitt that he was wrong? "They're more gentlemanly than I would be," Hewitt admits.
Stapling a New Team
Los Angeles Times Editor Michael Parks is keeping his job, despite the fallout from the Staples scandal, but he's had to reshuffle the deck.
Leo Wolinsky, one of the paper's four managing editors, has been elevated to the new No. 2 post of executive editor. Parks "wants someone who's responsible for the whole newsroom so he can think big thoughts while I can run the newsroom," Wolinsky says. "Clearly, Staples got him to think deeply about what had gone wrong here, and this is one of the things he came out with."
Parks told the newsroom Friday he had been "naive" and "arrogant" in dismissing warnings about the perils of sharing advertising revenue with the Staples Center sports arena. Wolinsky, long regarded as a straight shooter, drew applause when he said: "We are not about maximizing revenue. We are not about being a promotional vehicle. We are about providing the best journalism we can."
The Russert Primary
Tim Russert's aggressive questioning in Thursday's Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire brought him a couple of gibes.
A filibustering Alan Keyes snapped after the NBC newsman kept trying to cut him off: "I begin to wonder when Mr. Russert will declare his candidacy." (Russert says that Keyes "has an ongoing campaign against the media.")
On MSNBC afterward, George W. Bush praised Russert's performance, then joked that he was "pandering" to a "national big shot." When Bush told Russert, a Mario Cuomo aide in the early 1980s, "Even a good Democrat like you . . ." Russert reminded Bush that he is a "registered Independent."
Great Moments in TV
On CNN's "Talk Back Live," a teenager named Chris asked Paula Jones, fresh from plastic surgery: "Can you, like, pick your nose now? Is that possible?"
"No, I don't pick my nose," Jones said. "I'm a lady."
Host Bobbie Battista scolded Chris, but explained after a commercial that his question meant whether Jones could pick the kind of nose she wanted from a catalogue.
CAPTION: Jeffrey Toobin's book "A Vast Conspiracy" claims that Lucianne Goldberg told friends she had an affair with Lyndon Johnson.