Monica Lewinsky: I was patient zero in Internet bullying

On the one hand, she paid a steep price in being sentenced to life as a worldwide punchline for one youthful lapse in judgment. On the other hand, that was some lapse. She seems shocked to this day that having an affair with the president of the United States inside the Oval Office, which led to his eventual impeachment, might somehow end up the subject of a media frenzy. Why couldn’t people just respect her privacy? All I could think of while watching this was an old, crass, very funny bit from one of Dave Chappelle’s stand-up shows years ago, in which he was explaining to the audience how it felt to suddenly be famous for his comedy. I’m not that famous, said Chappelle; Bill Clinton, now that’s a famous man. Imagine how famous you must be, he continued, to have someone service you and suddenly they’re famous. Lewinsky seems perplexed by that, even now.

As for the Internet bullying, I’m not sure what her point is. She says she was the target of endless snotty comments online. True. Those comments were, and would have been, made in private conversation too, Internet or not. Is she saying she wishes that Matt Drudge had worked for a print publication instead of for his own website, as a print shop might have spiked the story? I’m skeptical. Per Matt Bai’s new book, it was the Gary Hart affair 10 years before Monicagate that marked a sea change in the media’s willingness to report on politicians’ sexual indiscretions. Michael Isikoff, who was famously scooped by Drudge on the Lewinsky story, said later that his Newsweek editors had merely demanded that more work be done on it before it ran, not that they had spiked it altogether. It would have come out, Internet or not. The one solid point she might have here is about the level of detail that ended up being publicized. Would Newsweek have mentioned the blue dress? Would the Starr Report have gone into detail if Drudge and the media hadn’t already? Hard to say.