Lewinsky Tells Her Story | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Lewinsky Tells Her Story

Every Barbara Walters celebrity interview has a signature moment, the one where the interviewee's lower lip trembles and the tears start to flow. Devotees of the form were heartened to see that her televised session with Monica Lewinsky was no exception.

This article was originally published in Maclean's Magazine on March 15, 1999

Lewinsky Tells Her Story

Every Barbara Walters celebrity interview has a signature moment, the one where the interviewee's lower lip trembles and the tears start to flow. Devotees of the form were heartened to see that her televised session with Monica Lewinsky was no exception. The moist moment arrived exactly an hour and 41 minutes into the two-hour chat, when Lewinsky pondered the devastating effect of the past year of scandal on her mother and father. The incongruous giggles that punctuated her descriptions of even the seamiest episodes in her affair with the man she called her "sexual soul mate," Bill Clinton, gave way to sobs. "People have no idea what this has done," she choked out. "Behind the name Monica Lewinsky there's a person and there is a family. And there has been so much pain that has been caused by all this. It has been so destructive."

In the interview and in Monica's Story, the tell-all book by British biographer Andrew Morton, Lewinsky finally stepped out on her own - free for the first time to shape her story without most of the strictures imposed by a legal investigation. After being subjected to so much political spin, she was able to do her own spinning, portraying herself as a free-spirited but well-meaning young woman who found herself both in love with the President of the United States and being used by his enemies as a "pawn" against him. She made a point of apologizing to Hillary Clinton and daughter Chelsea "for what they've been through." And in a culture where fame and infamy often seem indistinguishable, she was able to use her metaphorical 15 minutes to start generating some serious money - at least $7.5 million from her book advance, magazine deals and interview fees in Europe.

There were few revelations - not surprising for a relationship already exhaustively documented by squads of investigators. Lewinsky, still only 25, did reveal more about her taste for older men. She told Morton that in 1996, while she was involved with Clinton, she had an affair with a co-worker at the Pentagon, a man she identified only as "Thomas." Morton, best known as the conduit for the late Diana, Princess of Wales's account of her failed marriage to Prince Charles in his best-seller Diana: Her True Story, writes that Lewinsky became pregnant and had an abortion. That upset her so much that she sought therapy, and came to understand that she took up with married men because she lacked self-respect. "What I've come to see is that that happened because I didn't have enough feelings of self-worth," she told Walters. "So that I didn't feel that I was worthy of being No. 1 to a man."

Mainly, the talk was all about Monica - how she felt, suffered and ultimately survived. But she did offer insights into the two most important men in her recent life: Clinton and Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who dragged her clandestine affair into the harsh light of public scrutiny. The portrait she draws of Clinton is, despite his famously dismissive reference to her as "that woman," mostly sympathetic. She no longer loves him, she insisted, but found him to be "a very sensual man who has a lot of sensual feelings ... I think he struggles with his sensuality because I don't think he thinks it's OK. And I think he tries to hold himself back. And then can't any more." He is, she found, lonely at the top - "emotionally needy, vulnerable and ultimately alone," in Morton's words. What's more, the President is "a good kisser" - something she discovered during the first of their infamous trysts near the Oval Office.

At the same time, after watching him deny their affair for months and try to portray her as a "stalker," Lewinsky sadly concluded that he lied to her and about her. "I always knew he wasn't a very truthful person," Morton quotes her as saying, "but the events of the last year have shown him to be a much bigger liar than I ever thought. Now I see him as a selfish man who lies all the time."

But whatever bad feelings Lewinsky harbours against Clinton, they pale beside her loathing for Starr and his operatives. Under the immunity deal she reached with him last year, Starr must approve any interviews she gives and she is forbidden from directly criticizing his office. But Morton leaves no doubt about what she thinks of the way the prosecutors treated her, starting on Jan. 16, 1998, when they took her to a hotel room and, she says, threatened her with 27 years in prison if she did not co-operate. "During his investigation," Morton writes, "Kenneth Starr had not once met Monica Lewinsky, and yet she felt that he had defiled and molested her - not physically, but by using his legal and constitutional power to strip away every vestige of her dignity and her humanity."

Morton, a writer to whom subtlety is a stranger, titles his chapter about Lewinsky's ordeal that day "Terror in Room 1012." After being invited for lunch at the hotel by her erstwhile friend Linda Tripp, Lewinsky found herself surrounded by FBI agents and prosecutors who saw her as the key to their attempt to show that Clinton had lied and obstructed justice in Paula Jones's sexual harassment case. Lewinsky was held for 10 hours, writes Morton, and discouraged from contacting her lawyer or her family. Not only did they threaten to prosecute her, she recalls, but they said they would go after her mother as well: "I find it difficult to describe the raw openness, the fear I felt. It was as if my stomach had been cut open and someone had poured acid onto my wound."

By Morton's superheated account, she contemplated killing herself. "The room had sliding windows, and she considered throwing herself out, to crash to her death through the glass canopy below." But "in her overwrought and terrified state, she thought that the FBI had a sniper on the opposite building, ready to shoot her if she made any threatening or otherwise untoward movement." Even now, Morton writes, "the moon-faced figure of Kenneth Starr" continues to haunt Lewinsky: "Monica lives in dread of the special prosecutor, fearing that at any moment he will revoke her immunity and send her to jail."

Overwrought indeed. But if Lewinsky's account has any impact beyond feeding the curiosity of the dwindling circle of scandal aficionados, it may well be here. Nothing she says about Clinton is especially damning, but the way she portrays Starr could blacken him even more. The U.S. justice department is considering whether to launch an investigation into Starr's methods, including how he treated Lewinsky. Her account bolsters the case of those who argue that Starr trampled the rules in his eagerness to get Clinton. In particular, Monica's Story makes clear that his investigators had a copy of Lewinsky's false affidavit denying a sexual relationship with Clinton even before it had been officially filed in court. By preventing her from contacting her lawyer and telling him not to file the papers, it can be argued, Starr's people manipulated her into committing the very crime - signing a false affidavit - they used to force her to testify against Clinton.

As for Lewinsky, her ambitions are painfully modest. All she wants, she told Walters, is a normal life - the very thing that may prove most elusive for a woman who admits that "I'm well-known for something that isn't great to be well-known for." She said: "I know it's corny, but I'd really like to find the right person and have a meaningful relationship and have kids." Walters asked: "What will you tell your children, when you have them?" The answer: "Mommy made a big mistake." No one could argue with that.

The Monica Follies

THE MONEY: After what she calls her "nightmare" year, Monica Lewinsky finally began to cash in big-time last week. She stood to take in $7.5 million from her book deal, her photo shoots for European magazines and her interview with Britain's Channel Four, which has been sold to more than 25 countries. But she still owes an estimated $3 million in legal bills. The biggest winner may be the American Broadcasting Corp. Her interview with Barbara Walters, which Lewinsky did for free, brought in an extra $45 million for the network, according to industry watchers. It netted a 48 "share," the percentage of households watching at least part of it - still short of the record celebrity interview, Oprah Winfrey talking with Michael Jackson, which gained a 56 share in 1993. In Canada, a third of TV sets were tuned to Lewinsky, double the audience CTV would normally get.

THE BOOK: Monica's Story, by British author Andrew Morton, debuted at No. 1 on Amazon.com's Web-based bookstore. Publisher St. Martin's Press said the book, retailing at $36.99 in Canada, had U.S. advance sales of 400,000, nearly eating up its first printing of 450,000 copies for North America.

THE EX-BOYFRIEND: While Lewinsky's interview was airing, Clinton was attending a fund-raiser for New Jersey Senator Bob Torricelli. There, as disco queen Gloria Gaynor took the stage, Clinton happily sang along to her song I Will Survive.

THE EX-GIRLFRIEND: On the day of the ABC broadcast, Linda Tripp, the Pentagon staffer who taped Lewinsky's phone calls, ended a year-long stint working at home and began a regular job as a "public affairs specialist" at the defence department's manpower data center in Rosslyn, Va. Salary: $94,098 (U.S.), the equivalent of $142,900 Canadian.

Linda recently on Monica: "I would want to give her a hug."

Monica on Linda, after learning of the taping: "I wanted to hurt her. I felt like an animal wanting to claw at her skin."

THE LOOK: According to Walters, Lewinsky didn't like how her hair fell in front of her face during her last TV appearance - the video of her U.S. Senate deposition - so she got a stylist to slick it back. And her weight, currently 172 lb., has been the bane of her existence, as she told Walters, "all my life." But it was her lipstick, Club Monaco's Glaze, that scored with viewers. The company said the shade sold out across North America after the show aired.

THE TOYS: Sales are still brisk for scandal-related knick-knacks. Monica's image or name adorns everything from large cigars from the Philippines (Monica Special) to T-shirts, Monica-face gourmet cookies, joke books, buttons, dolls and sculptures. A set of Russian-style dolls features the likeness of Clinton, which opens up to progressively smaller dolls of Lewinsky, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers and Kathleen Willey. Estimated sales of Monica ware: $50 million.

THE CANADIAN CONNECTION: Lewinsky told Morton that as the scandal broke, she and her mother briefly considered fleeing to Canada, but feared the FBI was watching every airport and border point. The longest she could have stayed in Canada as a tourist is six months - unless she applied for asylum as a refugee. An Ottawa spokeswoman said Lewinsky would have been eligible for a hearing.

Maclean's March 15, 1999