The former White House intern has found truth and understanding – two qualities she was never shown at the time
It’s 2002 and I am in TK Maxx in Blackpool, trying to get away from the Blairite zeal of the Labour party conference, when I bump into a minister who is similarly unenamoured. “Bill Clinton is here,” he tells me. “They don’t know which woman to sit next to him at the fundraising dinner. Can’t be young. Or attractive. Because of … well, you know.” We do know. There was not a sexual encounter between Clinton and Monica Lewinsky (whom he “did not have sexual relations with”) that we had not pored over years earlier.
Later that evening, in swooshed the known liar. But no one seemed to mind. I saw cynical hacks behave like daft groupies. Clinton schmoozed everyone, with the famous grabbing your hand and then moving up your elbow trick that Joe Klein had chronicled. He spoke off the cuff on global politics for an hour or so. Brilliant, obviously. There was no doubting his immense charm. Later that night, Clinton was seen wandering around in search of a Big Mac with a mate he had brought along for the ride: Kevin Spacey. Hilarious! Alastair Campbell was said to be there too, hanging on the coat-tails of the Hollywood glamour. Oh, the pulling power! Though in 2018 we might call Clinton and Spacey predators. Well, I would.
Former intern says she suffered from PTSD after relationship and praises #MeToo movement
The former White House intern Monica Lewinsky has said the affair that led to impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton was not sexual assault, but “constituted a gross abuse of power”.
Writing in the March issue of Vanity Fair, Lewinsky also said she was in awe of the sheer courage of women who have been confronting entrenched beliefs and institutions.
These women were exploited – first by men, then by the global media
Last week marked the 20th anniversary of what was once known as the Monica Lewinsky scandal but is now, rightly, referred to as the Bill Clinton scandal – and my goodness, in today’s new post-Weinstein light, Lewinsky’s story looks almost unrecognisable. There was a time when it seemed she would for ever be known for a blowjob she gave her boss when she was 22. Trapped on her knees in history’s amber, Lewinsky’s legacy was decided not by the politicians and so-called friends who so eagerly betrayed her, but the media, and especially, it pains me to say, by female writers. Novelist Erica Jong expressed concern about all the “attacks” the president suffered from “the young women in the office. And particularly the ones who are a bit father-obsessed… and feel neglected.” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who won a Pulitzer for her coverage, described Lewinsky as “a ditzy, predatory White House intern who might have lied under oath for a job at Revlon”.
Twenty years seems to be the amount of time it takes for the world to take a breath and re-evaluate a demonised woman. Now 44, Lewinsky has built a reputation for herself as an anti-bullying advocate, and many of her earlier critics have apologised. The 90s was dominated by women who became tabloid punchlines, and many are now benefiting from long overdue reassessments. Marcia Clark, the lead prosecutor in the 1995 OJ Simpson trial, and for so long a byword for bad hair, was finally refashioned as the moral centre of Ryan Murphy’s 2016 miniseries The People Vs OJ Simpson. Murphy showed us a Clark who was the victim of a misogynistic public mood, which mocked her divorce and her perm, instead of listening to her righteous arguments – just as it allowed Simpson’s celebrity to obscure his long history of domestic abuse. (Murphy is now planning a miniseries about Lewinsky and Clinton.)