For years she has been a smutty punchline, the butt of jokes on late-night TV about stained dresses, over-enthusiastic interns and Oval Office etiquette.
Beyoncé made her surname into an obscene verb in one of her songs and a string of feminists lined up to ostracise and belittle her.
Right-on, Left-wing comics, writers and celebrities who would never have dreamed of attacking another young woman in a similar plight, treated Monica Lewinsky as fair game.
The reason was obvious — the former White House intern had almost brought down their champion of women’s rights and first Democrat president for more than a decade, Bill Clinton. There could be no forgiveness.
Slut-shamed, fat-shamed and victim-blamed, Lewinsky was made to feel a social outcast — nearly 20 years after the scandal, a famous actress stopped her at a Vanity Fair party and asked who had let her in.
Right-on, Left-wing comics, writers and celebrities who would never have dreamed of attacking another young woman in a similar plight, treated Monica Lewinsky as fair game
The affair lasted from 1995 to 1997, starting when Lewinsky was a 22-year-old intern and Clinton a 49-year-old president whose daughter Chelsea wasn’t much younger than Monica. She claimed their relationship amounted to just nine encounters in the Oval Office, in which the priority was invariably Clinton’s sexual gratification.
But even after the Harvey Weinstein scandal ushered in the #MeToo era and zero tolerance towards predatory sexual behaviour by powerful men, Lewinsky somehow remained an exception to the rule. She was barely ever portrayed as having been a victim.
As recently as 2018, New York society magazine Town & Country rescinded its invitation to her to attend its annual philanthropy summit when it learned that Clinton would also be coming. It was clear whose blushes the organisers wanted to spare.
‘I was Patient Zero of internet shaming,’ she has said of her treatment. ‘Branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo.’
Meanwhile, Clinton — the man who shamelessly told America ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman’ and who has been accused of sexual misconduct by various other women — was allowed to continue to posture as a wise world leader.
The affair lasted from 1995 to 1997, starting when Lewinsky was a 22-year-old intern and Clinton a 49-year-old president whose daughter Chelsea wasn’t much younger than Monica
To the cheers of the Democrats’ friends in the media and Hollywood, ‘Slick Willie’ was rolled out on wife Hillary’s 2016 presidential campaign to lecture politicians on where they were going wrong.
Now, finally, Monica is having her say. Consistency has never been its strong point, but America’s overwhelmingly liberal and fiercely Democrat media finally appears to have got the message: it can hardly keep screaming blue murder at Republicans for overlooking Donald Trump’s tawdry history with women when it has done exactly the same over Bill Clinton.
Impeachment: American Crime Story, an enthralling ten-part dramatisation of the scandal, starts on BBC2 next week after airing to acclaim on U.S. TV.
Apart from some fine performances — the cast includes Booksmart star Beanie Feldstein as Monica, Sarah Paulson as her friend and betrayer Linda Tripp and British actor Clive Owen in heavy prosthetics as Clinton — it’s notable for having been co-produced by Lewinsky herself.
Although it’s by no means a whitewash, in a startlingly dramatic reversal Lewinsky is no longer the target of mockery but sympathy.
finally, Monica is having her say. Impeachment: American Crime Story, an enthralling ten-part dramatisation of the scandal, starts on BBC2 next week after airing to acclaim on US TV
Those involved in the new series, helmed by Hollywood wunderkind Ryan Murphy and which predictably was first envisaged after the #MeToo movement swept through the industry, have been queuing up to pay tribute to Lewinsky, who was heavily involved in the script.
Feldstein, a child during the Clinton presidency, said she remained in regular contact with her new ‘friend’ Monica by text while filming. ‘All I did every single day was think about honouring her,’ she gushed to the New York Times. ‘It remains the most tremendous responsibility I think I will ever have.’
She claimed that whenever the director asked for another take while filming a gruelling scene in which Lewinsky disintegrates under aggressive legal questioning, she would dry her eyes and do it again. ‘I was like, “It’s for Monica, of course I’m going to go again”,’ she said.
Jemima Khan, who produced the drama, says people in the UK have little idea of the extent to which Lewinsky — now 48 — was ‘demonised’ in the U.S., which was one of the reasons she wanted to make it.
‘It was very traumatic for her to relive,’ she said of Monica’s involvement in the series. ‘But you can understand how it must have felt to be her in that moment.’
Although the drama portrays Lewinsky as a guileless innocent in a world of cynical predators, she doesn’t come out of it looking completely spotless — and she insists that was never the intention.
When the scriptwriter left out an infamous scene in which Lewinsky flashed a glimpse of her thong at Clinton for fear of ‘re-traumatising Monica’, Lewinsky insisted it go in.
Lewinsky has, over the years, wobbled on whether or not she believes she was a ‘victim’ of Clinton but the series certainly portrays him as a predator
She was inexperienced with men during her affair with Clinton and comes across as painfully naïve and prone to tearful hysteria in the drama. ‘Sorry, I’m so nervous. I have a huge crush on you,’ she tells the president within seconds of first finding herself alone with him.
‘That’s really flattering because you’re beautiful — you light up the room,’ he replies unctuously. According to Impeachment, she believed such claptrap and genuinely came to believe he’d leave his wife for her.
Lewinsky has, over the years, wobbled on whether or not she believes she was a ‘victim’ of Clinton but the series certainly portrays him as a predator. She said recently it was irrelevant that their relationship was consensual as the vast ‘power differentials’ between the intern and the U.S. president twice her age made it ‘wholly inappropriate’.
Impeachment hasn’t been the only outlet for Lewinsky to tell her side of the story. She has also produced a new documentary, 15 Minutes Of Shame, which explores how people cope with public humiliation in the internet age. And while Monica found notoriety before the social media era, she can say she was ‘cancelled’.
She’s made various attempts to reinvent herself — including designing handbags, becoming a spokesman for a diet plan and moving to London to study psychology — but struggled to shake off her notoriety.
She says that even ten years after the scandal, she was unable to get a job. Most recently, she reinvented herself as an anti-bullying activist.
One of America’s biggest ever political scandals started when Paula Jones, a former Arkansas civil servant, sued Clinton for sexual harassment in 1994. She claimed that while he was governor of the state, he had sexually propositioned her and exposed himself in a hotel room.
Trying to show a pattern of behaviour by Clinton, Jones’s lawyers summoned to court other women who had worked for him whom they suspected he’d had affairs with — including Lewinsky. He denied under oath ever having ‘sexual relations’ with Monica.
It was a lie she unwittingly exposed when she confided to friend and colleague Tripp how she had started having an affair with the president while working as a White House intern.
Horrified by the behaviour of a man she felt was besmirching the reputation of his grand office, Tripp secretly recorded their conversations and passed them to Kenneth Starr, a prosecutor who was investigating Clinton over an unrelated property deal called Whitewater. She also revealed the existence of a navy blue dress Lewinsky owned which Clinton had stained. Tripp convinced her friend not to have it dry-cleaned.
Starr obtained permission to expand his investigation to cover the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship — a fatal move for the president.
Clinton, who went on national TV to again deny any affair with Lewinsky, was duly impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice, although he was later acquitted by the U.S. Senate. In the process, Starr’s report described in graphic, almost pornographic, detail his relationship with Lewinsky.
Significantly, it was dubbed the Lewinsky Scandal not the Clinton Scandal and, after her former high school drama teacher revealed he’d been having a simultaneous affair with Monica during hers with the president, her fate was sealed.
Lewinsky would be remembered as the flighty, flirtatious and full-figured seductress who had briefly distracted a brilliant president. Conservatives complained bitterly that Clinton was getting off far too lightly and his female accusers became media punchbags.
The influential weekly TV comedy show Saturday Night Live even had a man — roly-poly actor John Goodman — play Tripp in a cruel impression, while former Clinton aide James Carville went on to have an illustrious TV career despite outrageously dismissing his boss’s accusers by saying: ‘Drag a hundred dollars through a trailer park and there’s no telling what you’ll find.’
Impeachment, which its makers admit was almost scrapped after it appeared Mrs Clinton might become President, could have been harsher on Bill.
In focusing on Monica, it skates over the far more serious allegations against him from other women — namely White House aide Kathleen Willey, who claimed he sexually assaulted her; Paula Jones, the Arkansas official who said he once propositioned and exposed himself to her; and campaign volunteer Juanita Broaddrick, who accused him of a very violent rape. (Clinton has always denied any allegations of non-consensual sexual conduct.)
Hollywood having the politics it does, Impeachment makes sure it doesn’t miss a chance to stick the knife into the conservatives who drove efforts to impeach Clinton by portraying them as cynically manipulating Lewinsky and the other women into doing their dirty work.
Having said that, Clinton, who only five years ago was cheered wildly when he joined his wife on a balloon-filled stage at the Democrat convention, finally gets portrayed on-screen as his accusers saw him — a glib, slippery and untrustworthy womaniser who felt the rules didn’t apply to him.
During one scene, he erupts in fury when his own lawyer — trying to give him a taste of the embarrassing grilling he faces from Ken Starr — asks him about the many women he had allegedly seduced.
‘I bet you Kennedy didn’t have to answer this s***,’ he says, referring to the notoriously libidinous JFK. ‘Well that was the 60s,’ the lawyer replies. ‘Times are changing . . . for women.’ That riposte infuriates Clinton even more and he lists the eight women he has put in his cabinet, claiming without a trace of irony: ‘No one supports women more than me!’
The exchange — which could have mentioned Clinton’s support for abortion rights — encapsulates why feminists and other Left-wingers continued to support ‘Bubba’ through thick and thin.
The support of leading feminists in particular was widely seen as having saved Clinton’s political neck, cushioning him from conservative demands he resign.
Delivering comments that they must cringe to recall, Erica Jong said she would rather have Clinton ‘f*** about’ than allow Ken Starr to bring him down, while Gloria Steinem played down the claims of Clinton’s accusers while urging compassion and gratitude for a president who might have made clumsy ‘passes’ at women but always took ‘no’ for an answer.
Of Lewinsky’s sordid tale, she wrote: ‘Welcome sexual behaviour is about as relevant to sexual harassment as borrowing a car is to stealing one.’
Steinem has since admitted she was worried that if Clinton was forced to resign, a new law on sexual harassment would have been threatened, adding: ‘What you write in one decade you don’t necessarily write in the next.’ That’s an honest but deeply cynical admission from the queen of the ‘sisterhood’, but such calculations have long helped Bill Clinton survive his private scandals.
But of course, it would never happen again, surely? Shockingly, Lewinsky is not so sure.
Asked if she thought that Clinton would be ‘cancelled’ if such a sleazy liaison occurred now, she wondered whether the situation of a ‘young, charismatic Democrat president… perceived as being “good to women” would be treated ‘quite as different as people think’.