By Jim Hagerty
Former White House intern Monica Lewinsky launched a campaign to end online bullying Monday, Oct. 20, claiming to be the first person to have her name smeared online.
“I was Patient Zero,” Lewinsky said at the Forbes Under 30 Summit in Philadelphia, speaking of her 1998 presidential sex scandal. “There was no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram back then. But, there was gossip, news and entertainment websites replete with comment sections and emails which could be forwarded. Of course, it was all done on the excruciatingly slow dial-up. Yet, around the world the story went.”
Lewinsky said her story represented the first arguable moment of “social media” that created what the world now knows as a viral event.
Some say her romantic ties to former President Bill Clinton and Linda Tripp’s wiretapping of phone calls revealing the tryst helped, too — at least on news shows and through Saturday Night Live genius. And when Clinton fired the “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” shot heard around the world, it was clear who Lewinsky was. By the time the soiled blue dress emerged and Clinton came clean, to say the story went viral may still be the understatement of the 20th century. Lewinsky spoke Monday of how backlash came with bouts of depression. She even thought about suicide when the scandal broke.
“I spent the day shouting: ‘Oh my God!’ and ‘I can’t believe they put that in’ or ‘That’s so out of context,’” she said. “And those were the only thoughts that interrupted a relentless mantra in my head: ‘I want to die.’”
Lewinsky said she fell in love with Clinton after meeting him for the first time at 22. She was later transferred to the Pentagon when her superiors felt she was getting too close to the married president. Meeting Tripp followed, and Lewinsky was suddenly the most scorned woman in the world.
For Clinton, allegations of oral sex and acts involving a cigar tube with Lewinsky in the Oval Office were media fodder and rekindled the barely doused flames of the Paula Jones mess. Lewinsky submitted an affidavit in the Jones probe denying she had sexual contact with Clinton. Asking Tripp to lie about the affair was even more damaging, especially when Tripp’s tapes surfaced. Few can forget Clinton’s claim that oral sex cannot be encompassed by the definition of “sex” because he and Lewinsky didn’t have intercourse. While the president’s impeachment took some attention away from Lewinsky, her life as a commoner was over.
Lewinsky said she was moved to stop cyber bullying four years ago after learning of the death of an 18-year-old who committed suicide when pictures of him kissing another man surfaced online.
“Having survived myself, what I want to do now is help other victims of the shame game survive, too,” Lewinsky, now an accomplished author and TV personality, said. “I want to put my suffering to good use and give purpose to my past.”
Lewinsky joined Twitter for the first time Monday, attracting thousands of followers within hours of her Forbes speech. Follow her @MonicaLewinsky.
From the Oct. 22-28, 2014, issue