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Pundits & Prose
Carlson Margaret Carlson was named in 1994 the first woman columnist in TIME's history. She writes primarily about policy and politics and is a regular panelist on CNN's Capital Gang.

Washington Diary: Should a Mom Rat on Her Daughter?

By Margaret Carlson

TIME magazine

(TIME, February 23) -- There are some rights so deep and protections so inalienable that we don't mention them, and neither did the Founding Fathers. If pressed, I would have guessed that parent-child communications fall into that constitutional sweet spot, the Ninth Amendment, which acknowledges rights so sacred they don't need to be enumerated. But that's the lawyer in me reaching. Like almost every other parent in America, I simply took for granted--until I saw Marcia Lewis psychologically strip-searched last week on what she knows about the sex life of her daughter Monica Lewinsky--that the government could not compel me to testify before a grand jury about my daughter Courtney. Or, God forbid, vice versa. Courtney's led a fairly blameless life, after all. But oh, the things she's seen on my end: the excuse-making, the nightgown under the trench coat to drive the car pool, the panic every time I see a gray hair--and that's just the small stuff.

Ken Starr's defenders argue that he is only following standard procedure. But does anyone remember Ted Bundy's mother being called? Or John Gotti's? Surely the parent-child bond is equal to that between husband and wife. Children should be encouraged to confide in their parents, to tell us their secrets, to turn to us for help, in complete confidentiality. It's because we know so much that we shouldn't, by all we hold dear, be made to divulge it. The Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination ought to include the right not to incriminate a child.

Lewis was not at first a particularly sympathetic figure. She describes herself as "a glamorous Beverly Hills writer," and on the day she walked into court she had that 90210 sheen. But when she stumbled out two days later, Lewis had the blanched face and limp carriage of a person who had been grievously violated.

You can see why Starr would want Lewis' testimony. Monica moved in with her mother after she got her White House job. She sought her mother's help once she was called by Paula Jones' lawyers. She could help prosecutors more than even Linda Tripp with her surreptitious tapes. When Monica found herself detained by Starr's deputies, she did what every parent wants a child to do: she called home. Lewis could hardly have known that before she jumped on the train from New York she should have read her child her Miranda rights.

Many parents, including this one, would have challenged Starr and risked prison. (Hello, Susan McDougal. How about we get some yoga classes going in the exercise yard?) Just because Starr can call a mother doesn't mean he should. Justice Department guidelines advise against it unless there is serious criminal activity or overriding prosecutorial concerns.

Lewis, however, served a purpose after all. We are now on notice that the conversations we have with our children are not safe from the government. It seems quaint that on the day Monica was handed over by Tripp to Starr's deputies, she could turn to her mother with the expectation that whatever she said, Mom wouldn't tell. But in Ken Starr's America, moms do tell--or else.

In TIME This Week

Cover Date: February 23, 1998

How The Attack On Iraq Is Planned
Turning Up The Heat
Washington Diary: Should A Mom Rat On Her Daughter?
Could Clinton Still Settle With Jones?
The Man Who Would Be Judge
Notebook: Beltway Bungles

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