It's the return of the nineties, 16 years later Monica Lewinsky who was at the heart of the biggest scandal in Bill Clinton's presidency (1993-2001) has opened up in a June 2014 Vanity Fair article about Clinton, the affair and aftermath in her first direct contact with the news media in 10 years. Vanity Fair released early excerpts of the essay on Tuesday, May 6, 2014 in advance of it nationwide publication and release. Lewinsky's article emerges a month before, Hillary Clinton's memoir as President Barack Obama's Secretary of State "Hard Choices" is to be released in June, and at a point where Hillary Clinton is topping every pre-primary 2016 presidential campaign poll, coming in from ahead of both other Democrats for the Democratic Presidential Nomination or potential Republicans in a general election match-up. The main reason Lewinsky declares for writing the article now is that "It's time to burn the beret and bury the blue dress," her infamous outfit that proved her relationship with Clinton so that she "can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past."
In 1998, almost every time President Clinton was mentioned in the news so was Lewinsky then 24 years old. For over six months from the time Matt Drudge broke news of the Clinton-Lewinsky involvement until mid-August when the president finally admitted to the affair and apologized and then with the September release of the Starr Report, throughout the fall when House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton for "high crimes and misdemeanors" perjury and obstruction of justice through to early 1999 when the Senate finally acquitted Clinton, one could not read or watch the news without Monica Lewinsky being discussed, analyzed, mocked and ridiculed. Lewinsky became involved with Clinton in November 1995, when she was a 22 year-old White House intern and the "encounters" and affair continued on into 1997. The relationship became public knowledge through the taped revelations of informant Linda Tripp in the midst of the Paula Jones sexual harassment case after Clinton had asked Lewinsky to lie in her deposition for the case about their involvement.
In the Vanity Fair essay that will be available online on Thursday May 8 and the magazine to be released on newsstands Tuesday May 13, 2014 Lewinsky, now 40 explains why she decided to speak out now, after so many years out of the limelight and not speaking to media or publicly. Lewinsky's article compromised 4,300 words and took up six and a half pages according to a New York Times count. In it Lewinsky discussed her decision to remain silent in the past ten years and throughout the 2008 campaign. Most importantly she spoke out how the situation was from her position and perspective, what it felt during and after and her life in the years since, and why she is speaking now and what she plans for her future, hoping her experiences can help others.
Lewinsky addressed that she was not silent the past 10 years for the reason everyone is thinking, that she was "paid off" to stay quiet. Lewinsky clarified that she was not, writing that she was "So silent, in fact that the buzz in some circles has been that the Clintons must have paid me off; why else would I have refrained from speaking out? I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth."
Lewinsky however, fears the repercussions of breaking her silence now writing ominously in brackets "(What this will cost me, I will soon find out.)." But she cannot continue living her life in silence, she wants to move forward and the scandal has taken control of her life and consumed it affecting it every way. She no longer wants to live life like that anymore, stating; I want to 'take back my narrative' Writing that she believed she should stop "tiptoeing around my past-and other people's futures." Lewinsky wants to take back control of her life, determine her own path, story and destined, and not remain defined by the scandal of media perception and bias. "I am determined to have a different ending to my story. I've decided, finally, to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give a purpose to my past." Lewinsky believes her experience the media on slot and public ridicule could help other in this era of cyber bullying and harassment.
Former First Lady, Senator from New York and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a front and center position in Lewinsky's essay. Lewinsky spoke of Hillary and her silence during the 2008 presidential campaign recounting that "I remained virtually reclusive, despite being inundated with press requests. I put off announcing several media projects in 2012 until after the election." Lewinsky hinted that she has not decided about speaking out during the 2016 campaign should Hillary run again. She is concerned that she will become fodder again for the media, saying; "And recently I've found myself gun-shy yet again, fearful of 'becoming an issue' should [Hillary Clinton] decide to ramp up her campaign. But should I put my life on hold for another 8 to 10 years?"
Lewinsky also addressed Hillary Clinton's personal opinions of her from 1998 that were recently revealed this past February when the contents of Hilary's best friend Diane Blair's personal and professional papers at the University of Arkansas were made public. In them Blair noted that Hillary called Lewinsky a "narcissistic loony toon." Lewinsky was not initially hat bothered by the remarks saying; "My first thought as I was getting up to speed: If that's the worst thing she said, I should be so lucky." Lewinsky objects to the label saying that because refused an immunity deal in exchange to wear a wire that she was "Courageous or foolish, maybe, but narcissistic and loony?"
Lewinsky found it odd that Hillary blamed herself for the affair elaborating; "Mrs. Clinton, I read, had supposedly confided to Blair that, in part, she blamed herself for her husband's affair (by being emotionally neglectful) and seemed to forgive him. Although she regarded Bill as having engaged in 'gross inappropriate behavior,' the affair was, nonetheless, 'consensual (was not a power relationship).'" What troubles Lewinsky the most is that Hillary blames the women involved in the situation, herself and Lewinsky, but Bill Clinton escapes blameless; "Hillary Clinton wanted it on record that she was lashing out at her husband's mistress. She may have faulted her husband for being inappropriate, but I find her impulse to blame the Woman - not only me, but herself - troubling."
In the past 16 years since the scandal broke so much has been written about Lewinsky, especially in the 10 years she has stopped setting the media straight, that there is so much presumptions and theories that she feels it is important to bunk the myths and tell the truth. First she wants to express her regret over the entire stream of events that occurred; "I, myself, deeply regret what happened between me and President Clinton. Let me say it again: I. Myself. Deeply. Regret. What. Happened."
Although there has been presumptions that she was entirely taken advantage of the whole time she knew Clinton, she wanted to point out that the relationship itself between her and the former president was "consensual," writing; "Sure, my boss took advantage of me, but I will always remain firm on this point: it was a consensual relationship." Consensual does not mean by any definition equal, she might not have been forced into having an affair with the president, but it was far from equal, and his position and age thoroughly shaped every point of it including trying to relinquish any responsibility for his actions when it ended. Although Lewinsky might claim the relationship itself was consensual there is nothing that can justify Clinton's treatment of her during and afterwards.
Ruth Marcus writing the Washington Post seems to think this line helps Hillary Clinton's potential 2016 presidential campaign, because it takes away from Bill Clinton appearing as a "sexual predator" as potential 2016 GOP candidate and Senator from Kentucky Rand Paul who accused Clinton of being as such. It does not, because no matter how many Clinton supporters want to spin, it is never right for Clinton as president and over 25 years Lewinsky's senior to even have entered a consensual relationship with a young intern, because the balance of power in the relationship could never have been equal. Lewinsky's story and revelations of how profoundly the scandal affected her life, are only going to remind Americans that voting in Hillary Clinton in 2016, would bring Bill Clinton back to the White House, something that a recent Gallup polls shows worries more Democrats than even Republicans.
The media should not conclude "consensual" as meaning that she deserved the "abuse" she endure from Clinton and everyone willing to blame her entirely, because no one ever deserves that. Lewinsky however, feels it was only in the aftermath and attempts to cover the affair and everything up where she was a "scapegoat," and most mistreated. It was then when she was pressured, the victim of a president looking to keep his power and position at any cost. Lewinsky became the "collateral damage" as conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh put it, expendable as long Clinton could escape unscathed and failed to admit his responsibility in the situation. Lewinsky recounts; "Any 'abuse' came in the aftermath, when I was made a scapegoat in order to protect his powerful position."
To Lewinsky it was not only Clinton's power as president that shaped the abuse she was subjected to as the scandal broke, but also the media who caricaturized her, they manipulated and created a label and stigma on her that did not represent realities. Lewinsky explained; "The Clinton administration, the special prosecutor's minions, the political operatives on both sides of the aisle, and the media were able to brand me. And that brand stuck, in part because it was imbued with power."
In the late nineties, she was the butt of every punchline, and the media scorn and humiliation at the height was too much for her personally, she recounted. The media frenzy at the time placed almost all the blame for the affair on Lewinsky, who forced on her a modern red letter A, backward in a world that champions inclusions and chastises any discrimination. Clinton has in the years since seemed to emerge unscathed, with the scandal only a slight shadow on his president legacy or wife Hillary Clinton's perspective 2016 presidential run.
Not only did Lewinsky's reputation suffer so did her career, everything she attempted never panned out because she constantly faced discrimination based on her past. She wanted to be known for more than the scandal, and wanted a career of her own not just make money because and from her involvement with Clinton. Though highly educated with a Masters degree in social psychology from the London School of Economics she could never have the career. Lewinsky wanted a career in market however, either employers wanted to exploit her because of notoriety or pay her to write or discuss it, as she relays; "I turned down offers that would have earned me more than $10 million, because they didn't feel like the right thing to do."
Or they discriminated against her for what she calls her "history,' explaining; "because of what potential employers so tactfully referred to as my 'history,' I was never 'quite right' for the position. In some cases, I was right for all the wrong reasons, as in 'Of course, your job would require you to attend our events.' And, of course, these would be events at which press would be in attendance." Financially surviving has been difficult since she decided to take a step away from the public and she "managed to get by (barely, at times) with my own projects… or loans from friends."
Emotionally the public ridicule and shame took its toll, and at the height of the scandal, Lewinsky was suicidal, but as she points out did not attempt suicide. Recounting from her Mother's perspective, Lewinsky wrote; "She was replaying those weeks when she stayed by my bed, night after night, because I, too, was suicidal. The shame, the scorn, and the fear that had been thrown at her daughter left her afraid that I would take my own life - a fear that I would be literally humiliated to death."
Lewinsky explains that she decided to go public again and reveal the private details of her suffering after hearing of the September 2010 suicide of gay teen Tyler Clementi. Clementi, was a freshman at Rutgers University, in New Jersey when his dorm roommate decided to place a hidden web cam in their dorm room, which recorded Clementi in an intimate moment kissing another guy, and broadcast online. The public broadcast and ridicule destroyed Clementi and he killed himself by jumping off the George Washington Bridge. Lewinsky was profoundly affected by his death and felt like she was reliving the dark time when she felt suicidal and believes her experience and bringing herself off the edge of suicidal thoughts she could possibly help others.
There were rumors in 2012 that Lewinsky was considering writing a-tell-all book, instead she wrote this essay for Vanity Fair. Lewinsky believes her story and perspective can help others particularly those humiliated by the internet and public revelations of personal details, she pondered how could accomplish this; "Perhaps by sharing my story, I reasoned, I might be able to help others in their darkest moments of humiliation. The question became: How do I find and give a purpose to my past?" Lewinsky believes she was a pioneer, ushering in the age of cyber bullying as its the first victim with the entire press as her tormenters. Lewinsky recounted that "Thanks to the Drudge Report, I was also possibly the first person whose global humiliation was driven by the Internet." "is to get involved with efforts on behalf of victims of online humiliation and harassment and to start speaking on this topic in public forums."
We live in a world that is supposedly open, fighting for the equality for all, harsh against those who discriminate, but still remains stuck in the eighteenth century when it comes to scorning the actions of young women. In this double standard the actions of the men these young women were involved in go unscathed. Where racist micro aggression receives ultimate punishments for the crime, but 55 university and college campuses have ignored the complaints of sexual assaults, rapes from their female students. Instead these universities choose to blame the young women, the victims that the assaults were their faults, and all the while siding with the male aggressors.
Hopefully in the ten years since she was last in the spotlight the world and the media can learn to evolve and instead feel some compassion for the suffering and nightmare Lewinsky went through. Lewinsky has taken all the heat and the blame for the bad decision of getting involved with the wrong person whose power and position was able to portray and distort the reality of the actual situation. Conservatives and Republicans have been the first to express that sorely needed compassion and understanding.
Although the Democrats claims it is just part of the "right-wing" conspiracies against the Clintons, some Republicans have been speaking out after the Democrats accused the Republican Party of a women issue and not being sensitive to women's issues and voters. Earlier this year in January Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" called Former President Bill Clinton a "sexual predator" elaborating; "One of the workplace laws and rules that I think are good is that bosses shouldn't prey on young interns in their office. And I think really the media seems to have given President Clinton a pass on this. He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern in his office. There is no excuse for that."
While conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh penned a piece entitled "Monica Lewinsky: Collateral Damage in Hillary Clinton's War on Women." The website post displayed a compassion and understanding of the situation that many young women experience in the hand of older and powerful men. Limbaugh speaking specifically of Bill Clinton wrote; "After Clinton got what he wanted, after he got his jollies. After he got his consensual whatevers, then it was time to destroy her - along with every other woman that popped up, not just Monica Lewinsky - and it was Hillary right in there. The left and every supporter, the hypocrites that they are, didn't think anything of it."
Continuing Limbaugh described what could be the plight of any women who has dared speak up against mistreatment from "powerful" men," the reprisal is they get "destroyed" their life ruined, sacrificed in order to delegitimatize their accusations or the situation. Limbaugh observed that "Yet every time you look around, it's women who are been torn apart from their families or damaged or disrespected or whatever are really mistreated by these people. They're discarded after being used. And if they dare speak up at the wrong time and the wrong place, they get destroyed not just discarded." Limbaugh noted that Lewinsky was destroyed "she says she considered suicide."
Limbaugh concluded by stating that it is the Democrats and Clintons that are conducting the "War on Women." But the war on women is not a Democratic or Republican issue, it is society's issue. Society is still waging a war using humiliation and scorn on women specifically women in who find themselves in predicaments as Lewinsky less than the straight and narrow or even suspected of such. Lewinsky is taking on a brave role trying to now use her experiences to help others, and by opening up in Vanity Fair she is already helping those who cannot speak out.
- The Starr Report: Text, Video, And Interactives, CBS News, September 11, 1998
- Text of draft articles of impeachment, CNN, December 9, 1998
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.