Monica Lewinsky’s personal humiliation became a public punchline that she had to endure in the spotlight.
The former White House intern opened up to John Oliver about “the avalanche of pain and humiliation” that she experienced about her affair with then-president Bill Clinton.
Oliver’s show “Last Week Tonight” featured a special segment on public shaming. The special, which aired Sunday, highlighted an interview with Lewinsky, 45, about the high-profile scandal that rocked Washington, D.C. in the '90s.
Lewinsky was a 21-year-old recent college graduate from Los Angeles when she began working at the White House as an unpaid intern in July 1995. She has previously revealed that between August and October of that year, she and Clinton shared a number of “flirtatious encounters.” However, things escalated in November 1995, during the federal government shutdown.
After the story broke, Clinton publicly denied the allegations and famously declared, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.”
On Dec. 19, 1998, the House voted to impeach Clinton for lying under oath to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice. On Feb. 12, 1999, the Senate acquitted Clinton, who would go on to finish his term.
While Lewinsky attempted to move on, she was still ridiculed by the press.
“You were on the receiving end of one of the worst Internet-fueled public shamings of all time,” noted Oliver, 41. “How the f--- did you get through that?”
“I don’t actually know,” Lewinsky admitted. “It was a s--- storm.”
“At 24 years old, it was really hard to hold onto a shred of dignity or self-esteem when you know, you’re the butt of so many jokes.”
Lewinsky noted that in addition to the “slut-shaming,” it was the countless comments about her appearance that emotionally pained her.
“Part of my vanity now comes from the wounds of having been made fun of for my weight, people saying I was unattractive,” said Lewinsky. “It was terrifying not only because I was watching myself, or this version of myself, running away from me, but my identity — my identity was stolen in a different way.
“Not to say that I wasn’t flawed and that I didn’t make terrible mistakes or do stupid things or say stupid things because of course, I did…. But it’s not like I was this perfect angel right? But I watched this sort of deconstruction of me, and rebuilding of me.”
Lewinsky shared that she was so fiercely ridiculed by the press, it was difficult for her to find work.
“It was interesting because I went to graduate school in 2005 and I graduated in 2006 and I thought, ‘OK, now I will begin my life, I will now put being Monica Lewinsky behind me and move on to be so and so’s employee,” Lewinsky explained.
“And when I couldn’t find a job, you know somebody either offered me a job for the wrong reasons, like ‘Oh, you’ll be coming to our events, that’s your job, and there’s media there,’ or people saying to me like, ‘Well, could you get a letter of indemnification from the Clintons because we rely on government money and Hillary might be president,” she added. “So there was this wide range of not being able to support myself and also have a purpose, which is equally important to feel that you matter in some way.”
Despite all the obstacles Lewinsky endured after her relationship with Clinton, she never considered changing her name.
“There were several reasons I didn’t,” said Lewinsky. “I mean, first of all, I don’t think it really would’ve even worked. But I think it was also a principle in the sense that, Bill Clinton didn’t have to change his name. Nobody’s ever asked him, did he think he should change his name?
“And so, I think that was an important statement. I’m not proud of all the choices I’ve made in my life, but I’m proud of the person I am. I’m not ashamed of who I am and I think that, as hard as it has been to have that last name sometimes and the pain I have felt of what it’s meant for the other people in my family who have that last name, I’m glad I didn’t change it.”
Oliver told Lewinsky that he, along with many comedians, have since regretted making jokes at Lewinsky’s expense. He specifically pointed out that former late-night host Jay Leno seemed to be the most relentless.
“Those jokes have not dated well in any sense of the word, and they’re pretty rough, especially coming from a guy who just this week complained about late night TV, saying he would ‘like to see a bit of civility come back,” said Oliver about Leno, 68. “You know, like that time he did a fake book about Lewinsky titled ‘The Slut in the Hat.’ And if that’s what he means by civility, let me offer my new book, ‘Oh the places you can go f--- yourself Jay Leno!’”
Oliver added Lewinsky was “the perfect person to remind all of us what the consequences can be to a misdirected flood of public anger.”
Still, Lewinsky, now a contributing editor for Vanity Fair and an anti-bullying activist, noted that shaming has only gotten worse over the years with social media.
“I think with the advent of the internet and, of course, social media, we now have situations where it’s exacerbated beyond what I think anyone could have imagined initially,” she said. “And the anonymity that comes with that, that sort of unleased these who new personas for people.”
These days, Lewinsky insisted she has moved forward with her life. She even wore a beret to a ‘90s theme party.
“For the first time in 18 years, I donned a black beret and went to my friend’s party,” said Lewinsky. “In part because I thought it was fun. Berets, I can laugh at. Other clothing jokes, not so much. [And] I get a lot of empowerment out of blocking people. I wish people would not say s----- things. … Blocking is unbelievably empowering. Actually, I was lucky in some ways that social media wasn’t around [back then]. I think that would have made it worse in some ways.”
Lewinsky also made sure to give some no-nonsense advice to those being bullied online.
“You can get through it,” she stressed. “You can move past it. I know it feels like in this one moment that your life will be forever defined by this, but it won’t. It may be hard, it may take more time than you ever could have imagined, but you can move past something like this.”
Back in November 2018, Lewinsky provided an in-depth reflection about her relationship with Clinton in a six-part docuseries for A&E titled “The Clinton Affair” from Academy Award and Emmy-winning producer Alex Gibney’s Jigsaw Productions and Emmy-winning director Blair Foster.
The special examined the jaw-dropping events that led to the now-72-year-old’s impeachment.
Lewinsky and her parents, as well as those close to Clinton, including former senior adviser Sidney Blumenthal and former lawyer Bob Bennett, participated in the documentary. Foster previously told The Hollywood Reporter that while the Clintons were aware of the project, they were not involved with the series.
At the time, an attorney for the Clintons did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment.