1995: The year the future began
Monica Lewinsky unloaded today on Fox News and its former chairman, the late Roger Ailes, for turning her life into a “nightmare” as Fox covered the sex-and-lies scandal stemming from her liaison with President Bill Clinton.
“Their dream was my nightmare,” Lewinsky wrote in a commentary for the New York Times. “My character, my looks and my life were picked apart mercilessly. Truth and fiction mixed at random in the service of higher ratings. …
“For myriad reasons — information gathering, boredom (I couldn’t leave my home without being trailed by paparazzi) and a touch of masochism — I watched the news around the clock,” Lewinsky further wrote, adding:
“On Fox, it seemed, no rumor was too unsubstantiated, no innuendo too vile and no accusation too abhorrent.”
Her bitter commentary was published three days after Ailes’ funeral in Florida. (“This is not,” she made clear at the outset, “another obituary for Roger Ailes.”)
For all its ferocity, her denunciation was oddly narrow and even off-target, striking for what it omitted: Lewinsky’s commentary ignored the primary source of her defaming — Bill Clinton.
Lewinsky was a White House intern when she and the president began an intermittent sexual dalliance in mid-November 1995, during a partial shutdown of the federal government. Given her unpaid internship, Lewinsky was permitted to work during the closure, which sent home more than 800,000 government employes.
Her temporary assignment during the five-day shutdown was in the chief of staff’s office, down the hall from the Oval Office.
Absent the shutdown, as I note in my book, 1995: The Year the Future Began, Lewinsky and the president would have had no opportunity to begin their affair.
She, at the time, was 22; he was 49.
She was smitten, eventually believing that she and Clinton would have a future together.
Those prospects, however faint and improbable, were dashed when news of their affair exploded into public view in January 1998, shortly after Clinton’s misleading testimony at a deposition in a sexual-harassment lawsuit. Among other searching questions, Clinton was asked under oath about his sexual dalliance with Lewinsky, a liaison he denied.
News of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair — and that the president was being investigated for perjury and obstruction of justice — soon leaked out, electrifying Washington as no other story had since the Watergate scandal of the 1970s.
To save his presidency, Clinton publicly denied his affair with Lewinsky and privately sought to characterize her, falsely, as an unstable pursuer.
We know this from the evidence compiled against Clinton by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, whose inquiry led in December 1998 to Clinton’s impeachment for perjury and obstruction of justice.
Starr’s detailed report about the Clinton-Lewinsky affair described how the president had told one of his aides, Sidney Blumenthal, that “Monica Lewinsky came on to me and made a sexual demand on me.” According to Blumenthal’s grand jury testimony, Clinton said he “rebuffed her” but that Lewinsky had “threatened him.
“She said that she would tell people they’d had an affair, that she was known as the stalker among her peers, and that she hated it and if she had an affair or said she had an affair then she wouldn’t be the stalker any more.”
(Blumenthal described Lewinsky in similar terms to the journalist Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens, who died in 2011, wrote that Blumenthal told him Lewinsky “was a stalker, an unstable minx who had been threatening Clinton and telling him that if he didn’t have sex with her she would say he had anyway.”)
Clinton denied his affair with Lewinsky most memorably in a finger-wagging denial at the White House in late January 1998. “I want to say one thing to the American people,” Clinton declared, his eyes narrowing. “I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
But of course he had. On 10 occasions, all at the White House, from 1995 to 1997, during which Lewinsky usually fellated him and he fondled her.
Lewinsky’s commentary in the Times was not the first time she has assailed former tormentors while avoiding mention of Clinton’s smears.
In a widely noted speech in 2014, she assailed Starr as “politically motivated,” disparaged “a so-called friend,” Linda Tripp, who secretly recorded more than 20 hours of private conversations with Lewinsky and ultimately turned the tapes over to Starr’s investigators, and criticized the Drudge Report, which was first to report that Clinton had had an affair with Lewinsky.
But she didn’t on that occasion even hint at Clinton’s efforts to defame her.
As I noted then, Clinton’s mendacity was the principal driver of the sex-and-lies scandal. His unwillingness to testify truthfully about his affair with Lewinsky, and his dishonesty in defaming her, were done to preserve his presidency.
More so than Ailes’ journalism, Lewinsky was a victim of Clinton’s dissembling, and his taking advantage of a star-struck intern.
As the blogger Bill Treacher observed today, “Twenty years later, Monica Lewinsky is still blaming everybody except the one man who’s most responsible for her torment.”
Just why is a bit of a puzzle.
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