Writing in Vanity Fair, Monica Lewinsky offers her rationale for participating in a new A&E docuseries titled “The Clinton Affair.” She notes of Bill Clinton, “If you want to know what power looks like, watch a man safely, even smugly, do interviews for decades, without ever worrying whether he will be asked the questions he doesn’t want to answer.”
Lewinsky begins her essay by recalling memorabilia from the 1998 investigation of Clinton’s sexual actions with her, including a Los Angeles Times article with the headline: “The Full Monica: Victim or Vixen?” That is the catalyst for the rest of the essay, in which she points out that a woman who has been victimized often has her persona defined by others, as she writes, ‘The person at the epicenter of the experience doesn’t necessarily get to decide. No—society, like a Greek chorus, also has a say in this classification.”
Lewinsky writes that she was interviewed for over 20 hours for the docuseries, rereading the Starr report to remember exactly what happened 20 years ago. She acknowledges she is ashamed of some of her past behavior, adding:
The process of this docuseries led me to new rooms of shame that I still needed to explore, and delivered me to Grief’s doorstep. Grief for the pain I caused others. Grief for the broken young woman I had been before and during my time in D.C., and the shame I still felt around that. Grief for having been betrayed first by someone I thought was my friend, and then by a man I thought had cared for me. Grief for the years and years lost, being seen only as “That Woman”—saddled, as a young woman, with the false narrative that my mouth was merely a receptacle for a powerful man’s desire …Grief for a relationship that had no normal closure, and instead was slowly dismantled by two decades of Bill Clinton’s behavior that eventually (eventually!) helped me understand how, at 22, I took the small, narrow sliver of the man I knew and mistook it for the whole.
Lewinsky revisits the Oval Office interview Clinton gave in early 1998, which she watched on TV “scared and hurt, but also happy that he was denying our relationship, because I didn’t want him to have to resign.”
But now, Lewinsky has a different perspective:
Instead of backing down amid the swirling scandal and telling the truth, Bill instead threw down the gauntlet that day in the Oval Office: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” With that, the demonization of Monica Lewinsky began. As it so often does, power throws a protective cape around the shoulders of the man, and he dictates the spin by denigrating the less powerful woman.
Then in 2018, Lewinsky writes, Clinton was asked directly for the first time in 15 years about his sexual actions with Lewinsky. She says succinctly, “If you want to know what power looks like, watch a man safely, even smugly, do interviews for decades, without ever worrying whether he will be asked the questions he doesn’t want to answer.”
When NBC’s Craig Melvin asked Clinton if Lewinsky was owed an apology, Clinton answered, “No,” saying he had apologized publicly in 1998. Lewinsky writes that she apologized in March 1999 to Chelsea and Hillary Clinton in an interview with Barbara Walters. She adds, “I have also written letters apologizing to others—including some who also wronged me gravely. I believe that when we are trapped by our inability to evolve, by our inability to empathize humbly and painfully with others, then we remain victims ourselves.”
Then, the crux of the matter:
So, what feels more important to me than whether I am owed or deserving of a personal apology is my belief that Bill Clinton should want to apologize. I’m less disappointed by him, and more disappointed for him. He would be a better man for it . . . and we, in turn, a better society. In 2004, while promoting his autobiography, My Life, Bill Clinton gave an extensive interview to Dan Rather. Rather asked Clinton why he had conducted an inappropriate relationship with me. … (His reason: “Because I could.” And, yes, that’s a direct quote.)
Lewinsky concludes, “I hope that by participating, by telling the truth about a time in my life—a time in our history—I can help ensure that what happened to me never happens to another young person in our country again.”