From Monica Lewinsky, delivering a speech to 1,000-plus young entrepreneurs and achievers at Forbes’ 30 under 30 Summit in Philadelphia:
Sixteen years ago, fresh out of college, a 22-year-old intern in the White House — and more than averagely romantic – I fell in love with my boss in a 22-year-old sort of a way. It happens. But my boss was the President of the United States.
Fair enough; who doesn’t make mistakes when they’re 22-years-old, especially romantic ones?
But back then, in 1995, we started an affair that lasted, on and off, for two years. And, at that time, it was my everything. That, I guess you could say, was the golden bubble part for me; the nice part. The nasty part was that it became public. Public with a vengeance.
Thanks to the internet and a website that at the time, was scarcely known outside of Washington DC but a website most of us know today called the Drudge report. Within 24 hours I became a public figure, not just in the United States but around the entire globe. As far as major news stories were concerned, this was the very first time that the traditional media was usurped by the Internet.
Not that the traditional media didn’t have a chance. Newsweek had the story and sat on it until after The Drudge Report broke it. This is the first of multiple Monica shots at the internet. Regrettably, from her perspective, we weren’t in Camelot anymore, when a few newspapers and magazines and the three television networks controlled news flow and never bothered telling us about JFK’s philandering, an open secret among the White House press corps.
Overnight, I went from being a completely private figure to a publicly humiliated one. I was Patient Zero.
The first person to have their reputation completely destroyed worldwide via the Internet. There was no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram back then. But there were gossip, news and entertainment websites replete with comment sections and emails could be forwarded.
The Patient Zero reference is clever; the connotation being that Ms. Lewinsky was the victim of a disease over which she had no control. Even at the tender age of 22, did she think that if her affair with the most powerful and publicized figure on the planet was made public people would just ignore and forget about it? She blames neither herself nor President Clinton for destroying her reputation. It’s all that nasty old internet’s fault. Let the pity party begin.
But these are all just words. What does it actually feel like? What does it really feel like to watch yourself – or your name and likeness—to be ripped apart online?
Some of you may know this yourself. It feels like a punch in the gut. As if a stranger walked up to you on the street and punched you hard and sharp in the gut.
For me, that was every day in 1998. There was a rotation of worsening name calling and descriptions of me. I would go online, read in a paper or see on TV people referring to me as: tramp, slut, whore, tart, bimbo, floozy, even spy.
And that was just Hillary Clinton. Her campaigns against not just Lewinsky but all of Bill’s Bimbos, as they were affectionately called by Clinton insiders, were legendary in their viciousness. Lewinsky conflates her long litany of scandal-inspired suffering with that of the cyber-bullied and other people who through no fault of their own are victimized on the internet.
We are all vulnerable to humiliation, private and public figures alike. (I’m sure Jennifer Lawrence would agree with that. Or any of the 90,000 people whose private Snapchat pictures were released last week during “the Snappening”).
The consequences can be devastating. And anyone can be next. One day in 2010, an 18-year-old Rutgers freshman called Tyler Clementi, was next. After his roommate secretly videotape streamed him via Webcam kissing another man, Tyler was derided and ridiculed online.
A few days later, submerged in the shame and public humiliation, he jumped from the George Washington Bridge to his death.
Ms. Lewinsky ruminates on reputation.
It’s been said: It takes a lifetime to build a good reputation but you can lose it in a minute. That’s never been more true than today.
You’re not here in this room by accident. You’re here, all of you, because of your reputations in your chosen fields, your reputations as talented, driven, serious people with something important to contribute to the world.
Reputation is important to everybody whether you’re exceptional people like yourselves or people who count themselves as ordinary.
A reputation isn’t like a fashion accessory or a status symbol: an Apple watch, a Tesla or even an engagement ring from Tiffany’s (though I wouldn’t mind one of those).
It’s part of who you are. It’s part of who you are, socially and professionally. It’s part of how you think about yourselves. It’s part of your personal and your public identity. Lose it, as you so easily can, and you lose an integral part of yourself.
That’s what happened to me in 1998 when public Monica – that Monica, that woman – was born. The creature from the media lagoon.
I lost my reputation. I was publicly identified as someone I didn’t recognize. And I lost my sense of self. Lost it, or had it stolen; because in a way, it was a form of identity theft.
There you have it: Monica the victim, of “a form of identity theft” no less! One searches for any acknowledgement that she might have caused some of the damage that her reputation so tragically suffered, other than one sentence in which she notes, “…her own personal shame…” along with that which befell her family, “…and shame that befell my country—our country.” In other words, her shame was really that she was shamed, as was her blameless family, and this shaming shamed the whole country. No shame is shared by the president who was twice her age, used her sexually, and of course committed adultery, at least by most people’s definition of the word “sex.” No shame is shared by the president’s wife, who pursued vendettas against her husband’s paramours, not for the affairs, but for having the temerity to tell the public. No shame is shared by those “liberated liberals” who scorned “traditional morality,” applauded Ms. Lewinsky and the president’s sexual “venturesomeness,” but would have nothing to do with her.
No, it’s all Matt Drudge’s fault; he published the truth.
Full transcript of Ms. Lewinsky’s speech