The new season of Ryan Murphy’s American Crime Story is the latest in a series of fictional and documentary works of cultural criticism that seek to dig into the complicated misogyny of the ’90s and early ’00s. What was marketed as a time when women could “have it all” was actually thick with efforts to shame and silence.
Key to this reckoning (and to the FX series) is Linda Tripp, a civil servant who worked in the Pentagon and was integral to the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal that lead to the former president’s impeachment. Here’s what you need to know about Tripp prior to Impeachment: American Crime Story, and what happened to her afterwards.
Sarah Paulson, who has played layered antagonists in a myriad of other Murphy projects as well as films like 12 Years A Slave and Run, portrays Tripp in Impeachment: American Crime Story. She has already come under scrutiny for putting on a fat suit to play Tripp, especially in a story that specifically examines fatphobia and the role it played in ’90s sexism. But for now, let’s focus on the person Sarah’s playing.
On paper, history should look kindly on whistleblowers who expose political corruption and sexual harassment—but Tripp’s story is more complicated than that. For better or for worse, she was involved in a conspiracy to remove Bill Clinton from office and used deceitful tactics to gain beneficial information, though Tripp maintained until 2018 that her intentions were nonpartisan. She befriended Monica Lewinsky, secretly recorded their conversations, and turned the young woman in for having an affair with the president—though both Lewinsky and Tripp would later identify the relationship as an abuse of power. It’s partially because of Tripp that Lewinsky was relentlessly publicly shamed for months, if not years. At the end of Lewinsky’s testimony in 1998, when asked if she had any final comments, she famously concluded: “I hate Linda Tripp.”
In the last decade, Tripp gave interviews to publications like Breitbart News and The Daily Mail, primarily to denounce Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Tripp made a public address as a keynote speaker at National Whistleblower Day claiming she had been through a “high-tech lynching”—which The Washington Posts notes is a phrase borrowed from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who used it to describe sexual harassment allegations made against him by Anita Hill. Tripp also appeared on Slate’s “Slow Burn” podcast, if you are interested in hearing her perspective in her own words. Thanks to the 24 hour news cycle, Tripp’s name was ultimately dragged through the mud just like Lewinsky’s.
Tripp passed away in 2020 from pancreatic cancer, so we won’t be able to hear her thoughts on how the FX series outlines her role in Clinton’s impeachment and what happened to Lewinsky’s reputation. Her career in government was over after the trials when she was fired by the Pentagon, and she ended up running a Christmas-themed store with her husband in Virginia. She was 70 years old at the time of her passing.
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