How the Monica Lewinsky Scandal Would Be Different Today
(WASHINGTON) — Monica Lewinsky is reclaiming her story.
In her second column for Vanity Fair magazine, published online on Thursday, Lewinsky writes about how people who are tarnished in public scandals or who face bullying online have an unprecedented opportunity to defend themselves — through social media, online essays, and other forms of modern communication.
Using Lewinsky’s own advice, we wondered how the scandal involving her and President Bill Clinton may have been different if it happened today:
1) Taking Charge of the Narrative
News of the “Lewinsky scandal” first broke in January 1998, when a relatively new online outlet called the Drudge Report posted a story about a White House intern having a sexual relationship with the president. From there on, Lewinsky was largely defined by a series of characterizations: the woman in the blue dress who performed oral sex on the president.
“More and more I’m finding that those who have lost command of their public narratives, do the opposite. They shake off the assault or the slight, take control of their rightful place in their community or the larger culture, and use social media to return the salvo,” Lewinsky wrote. “They refuse to have their identities swindled or misshapen. Instead, they take charge. They turn the attack on its head and use it as an opportunity for self-definition, instead of just taking blood as they go down.”
2) Writing an Online Rebuttal
After news of the affair broke, and President Clinton issued a denial referring to Lewinsky as “that woman,” the former White House intern escaped the public eye, hiding out at her mother’s house. If the scandal happened today, perhaps Lewinsky would have published an essay on the Internet that addressed the her side of things.
“I was listening to NPR’s ‘All Things Considered.’ One segment of the show addressed a trend: ‘The Rise of the Online Rebuttal,'” Lewinsky wrote in Vanity Fair, quoting from the NPR segment that explained the rebuttal “allows for people who feel they have been wronged or misrepresented to forcefully answer in their own voice.”
3) Using Social Media to Push Back
After remaining silent through the long and very public investigation into her affair with the president, Lewinsky finally participated in a biography written about her and was interviewed by Barbara Walters for an ABC News special in 1999, two traditional forms of media relations. But today, Lewinsky could have direct and immediate access to the millions of Americans reading about her story; she could tweet, Instagram or write lengthy Facebook posts directly to readers.
“[The NPR] report reminded me of a story that had come across my browser in recent days. It concerned a young woman who was not even remotely a public figure until acquaintances began body shaming her. They graffiti’d some rocks on a local beach with ridiculous insults about her rear end,” Lewinsky wrote. “She posted a sweet and sassy photo of herself on social media — a photo taken from behind, peering over one shoulder, grinning.”
4) Capitalizing on the Bad in Order to Do Good
Lewinsky has written previously about how she had trouble finding work for years after the Clinton scandal, but she pointed out in the new Vanity Fair essay that people who have been bullied have capitalized on their worst moments by using them as a platform to spread awareness.
“As of this month, [the young woman] has been named an ambassador to ReachOut.com [to help spread the word about the perils of body shaming] and a featured guest blogger for AMightyGirl.com, a Web site that serves as a resource for ‘courageous girls,'” Lewinsky wrote. The young woman’s father now “hopes that her daughter’s story and the ensuing dialogue will help bring real support to people who need it.”
5) Looking at the Silver Lining
Lewinsky argues in her essay that perhaps the very things that allow for bullying or negativity could be used for the opposite. If she found herself enmeshed in the Clinton scandal today, perhaps Lewinsky would be able to use those tools to fend off some of the “haters.”
“Perhaps it is our access to the subterranean depths of the Internet — a shadowy medium that exists outside the physical world — that has allowed us … to begin to have the means of reclamation,” Lewinsky writes. “In [the case of the body shamed young woman], her body-positive photo went viral. An online rebuttal . . . in all meanings. Sounds good to me.”
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