Monica, Bill, and the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy
How it looked in 2014, when it should have been the end of it.
I heard today that FX is about to broadcast a fictional version of the Clinton/Lewinsky affair, calling it ‘An American Crime Story’, of all things. My first impulse is to vomit. I mean, seriously? There are no other stories in the world? They have to rehash a story that never should have been hashed in the first place? And what was the crime again? Lying about an affair? We’ve been through so much these last few years, that particular ‘crime’ seems as quaint as spitting on the sidewalk.
My second impulse was to defend Monica Lewinsky against yet another invasion into her life. My god, what more must that poor woman endure? But then I read further: Lewinsky is a co-producer, deeply involved in the production.
I’m dumbfounded. Flabbergasted. And I feel like a damned fool. I thought she wanted peace. I thought she was done with that whole thing—and who would have blamed her? The producers insist they’re only doing this so that Monica can tell her own story. But Monica has told her own story. Many times.
I wrote this piece in May 2014, after Vanity Fair published a cover story about Monica Lewinsky's new role as an advocate against shaming. I always saw her as more of a victim than a vixen, and, while I wasn’t usually into conspiracies, this one screamed of one, right from the start.
The central characters, those most vocal against Bill Clinton (who cannot and will not be let off the hook for his behavior, though calling it even close to impeachable was a ludicrous stretch), were dubious and biased, with long histories of dishonest attacks against Democrats. But the press ate it up as fast as the Republicans could spit it out, and Monica Lewinsky, a girl still in her 20s with what should have been a promising life ahead of her, became a pariah and a national laughing stock.
It could have destroyed her, and it almost did, but she resolved to learn from it; to grow from it, and to help other shaming victims do the same.
In 2015, less than a year after her Vanity Fair story, she gave a TED Talk describing her own shame, encouraging other victims of shaming to come out of the shadows and live their lives proudly and joyously. I was amazed at her maturity, at her acceptance of her role and how she could use it for good. I was proud of her.
And now this. A made-for-TV movie bringing it all up again and Monica is right in the middle of it. I thought it would be different. Note the last line of my piece below. I honestly hoped she would be different.
May 9, 2014 - Monica Lewinsky is now 40 years old. In the late 1990s, when she was barely into her twenties, she met Bill Clinton, flirted a bit and caught his attention. Before long she was having an affair with the President of the United States. Heady stuff for a bedazzled young girl and of course she had to tell somebody.
As we all now know, she confided in her friend Linda Tripp. Tripp, a Republican who hated Bill Clinton even before she knew about the affair, took Monica's story to Lucianne Goldberg, a literary agent specializing in conservative authors. Goldberg had once tried to sell Tripp's book proposal on the differences between Bush 41 maintaining dignity in the White House, compared to Clinton's appalling misuse. It never went anywhere, but this time would be different. This was big.
Goldberg encouraged Tripp to tape-record her phone conversations with Monica, and Linda, apparently seeing nothing wrong with betraying a friend, went along willingly. The man, after all, was an animal.
In a 2012 interview for the PBS American Experience production, "Clinton", Lucianne Goldberg recounted their roles in what was to become the most bizarre impeachment proceeding in the history of not just this, but possibly any country:
Did you have a sense. . .that this could be ruinous to his presidency?
Oh sure. I knew it very likely would impeach him, and I was glad about that. That didn't bother me at all.
Well, in the first place I wanted Newsweek to have it. Because it was mainstream media and I wanted it. You know, I wanted the story to get out because I'm selling a book. You have to understand that. It was that as much as it was a political thing. It was nice that it was a political thing, because I didn't happen to agree with the Clinton administration. But I wasn't doing it for that reason. I was doing it because I was selling a book. I was representing a client.
But the hope was that by leaking a little of it or some of it to an Isikoff or a Drudge, it would generate interest for the buyer.
That was the whole idea. To get the story out, use that as a hook to get publishers interested, and sell a book. It was that simple.
But before this breaks, let's say, does Linda become preoccupied with the Monica relationship and what she's hearing? I can't imagine she wouldn't be. But, I mean, characterize how big a part of her life this became.
An enormous part of her life. But by the time Drudge broke the story, that was it. The taping stopped. I mean, the cat was out of the bag, Monica knew what Linda had been up to.
That part stops a lot of people cold. They're willing to understand why Linda might want to publicize this out of outrage, out of political motivation, whatever it is, but what it was going to do to Monica is where people begin to wonder. Did you think about that, did you talk about that with her?
Yeah, I don't think we thought it was going to be harmful, that harmful to Monica, we really didn't. It made Monica a star, and if she had wanted to handle it differently if she had -- had she been a different kind of person -- I mean look at the girls that were being paid to sleep with Tiger Woods, they're going to have their own TV shows, and Monica could have been, you know, could have been just about anything she chose to be.
But it was at a minimum a betrayal of her confidence.
Linda Tripp then turned the tapes over to Ken Starr, the star prosecutor in the subsequent impeachment trial. Feeling that the tapes were not enough, that they needed more evidence of lying and cover-ups, his bunch wired Tripp and had her meet several more times with Monica, feeding her leading questions in order to get her to put the last nails in Bill Clinton's coffin.
The intern had an affair and she told about it. The president had an affair and he lied about it. So far, nothing unusual in either of those responses. Happens all the time with affairs. They're never tidy. But when you're the president and you have a vast Right Wing conspiracy already conspiring to take you down, the last thing you want to do is to provide them the ammunition. Clinton the Unfathomable practically hand-delivered it.
So the president was impeached because he lied under oath about his affair. He went on to serve out his term and would later become a revered senior statesman, building a new reputation as a person to go to for wise counsel and decisive action.
His wife, Hillary, humiliated beyond anything she deserved, went on to become a U.S. Senator and later, a formidable presidential candidate. She may well be our next president.
Their daughter Chelsea, her own innocence shattered at such a young age, went on to college, built a satisfying career, married, and is about to become a mother.
No such good fortune for Monica. She says in a blockbuster article in the latest Vanity Fair that, while she has had offers, they've all been based on her past notoriety. Her goal was to work in the non-profit world but every interview told her they would be hiring her for her name and not her abilities. Whether or not that was true, that was how she perceived it.
She says she wants a private life. She wants to work with groups helping people struggling with the effects of shame. She is an expert on the subject and would be an asset to any like-minded group. I hope she can find her place there.
I have nothing but sympathy for Monica Lewinsky. She was vulnerable and victimized by so many people, used and betrayed in ways so vicious it's a miracle she can still look back on it with anything resembling clarity. She made bad mistakes but did nothing beyond being young and naively romantic to deserve what happened to her.
But why use a magazine like Vanity Fair to press her case? Why do it this way? Why now?
She has once again exposed herself to endless, ruthless analysis and cruel ridicule and everyone has to wonder why? Who convinced her to open up Monicagate again? The rumors are already flying; the pundits are already salivating, the haters are sharpening their talons.
She says in the article, "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. (What this will cost me, I will soon find out.)”
The ending of her story is whatever she makes it. I only hope for her sake she gets it right this time.