Remember when Bill Clinton went on the book tour to promote the thriller he co-wrote with author James Patterson? Back in June, Clinton and Patterson were making the media rounds trying to sell books but interviewers kept asking about Monica Lewinsky. The first time this happened, Clinton reacted with his trademark finger-wagging outrage and denied that hey owed Monica Lewinsky a private apology for his behavior:
“I asked if you’d ever apologized and you said you had,” NBC News’ Craig Melvin said.
“I have,” Clinton said adding, “I apologized to everybody in the world.”
“But you didn’t apologize to her,” Melvin asked.
“I haven’t talked to her,” Clinton said.
“Do you feel that you owe her an apology?” Melvin asked.
“No…I do…I, I do not…I have never talked to her, but I did say publicly on more than one occasion that I was sorry,” Clinton fumbled. “That’s very different,” Clinton added with a big grin. “The apology was public.”
Clinton got a lot of negative press for his reaction which actually got worse from that point on. I’ve posted this a couple of times before but the Daily Beast’s Erin Gloria Ryan really nailed Clinton’s performance:
Instead of remorse, Clinton offered a brand of sleazy obfuscation that has come to personify the gaudy detachment political elites still have from the moment in which we live.
There was the self-pity (“I left the White House $16 million in debt”), the argumentum ad populum (“Two-thirds of the American people sided with me”), and the clever, vague distractions (“you typically have ignored gaping facts in describing this”). There was even the misdirection. “I’ve apologized to everybody in the world,” he said when asked whether he’d expressed sorrow to Monica Lewinsky…
At the time, Monica Lewinsky’s response was limited to a tweet redirecting people to a piece she’d written previously (she walked out on an interview when asked about Clinton’s remarks). Today, Vanity Fair has published a new piece by Lewinsky which addresses the incident more fully. It comes in the context of her participation in a new documentary for which she gave 20 hours of interviews. Diving back into her own history led her to revisit some of the famous moments we all remember from 1998 with fresh eyes:
As the project re-examined the narratives, both personal and political, surrounding the events of 1998, so did I. I revisited then-President Bill Clinton’s famous finger-wagging Oval Office interview from early 1998, in which I was anointed “That Woman,” and was transported to my apartment in the Watergate apartment complex. Sitting on the edge of my grandma’s bed and watching it unfold on TV, 24-year-old me was scared and hurt, but also happy that he was denying our relationship, because I didn’t want him to have to resign. (“I didn’t want to be responsible for that,” I thought at the time, absolving anyone else of responsibility.)
Forty-five-year-old me sees that footage very differently. I see a sports coach signposting the playbook for the big game. Instead of backing down amid the swirling scandal and telling the truth, Bill instead threw down the gauntlet that day in the Oval Office: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” With that, the demonization of Monica Lewinsky began. As it so often does, power throws a protective cape around the shoulders of the man, and he dictates the spin by denigrating the less powerful woman.
A few paragraphs later she notes that Clinton’s NBC interview, the one in which he denied owing her an apology, came after 15 years during which no one ever asked him about this in public:
For the first time in more than 15 years, Bill Clinton was being asked directly about what transpired. If you want to know what power looks like, watch a man safely, even smugly, do interviews for decades, without ever worrying whether he will be asked the questions he doesn’t want to answer. But in June of this year, during an interview on NBC, Craig Melvin asked Bill Clinton those questions. Was I owed a direct apology from him? Bill’s indignant answer: “No.”
She’s right about that of course. But the media had been going along with the decision the media itself reached about the matter 20 years ago. It took the Harvey Weinstein scandal to shake the media out of that curious silence, at least when it comes to Democrats. As for the apology, Lewinsky says she doesn’t feel owed one but that Clinton should want to apologize anyway.
So, what feels more important to me than whether I am owed or deserving of a personal apology is my belief that Bill Clinton should want to apologize. I’m less disappointed by him, and more disappointed for him. He would be a better man for it . . . and we, in turn, a better society.
It’s difficult to see someone wrestle so hard with something that really doesn’t seem like much of a head-scratcher. Bill Clinton never wanted to apologize. He still doesn’t. On the contrary, he’s clearly proud of the fact that he got away with never having to apologize. He grins at the thought of how clever he was to pull that off.
If you stop expecting Bill to be a better man or even a good one, all of this will make much more sense.
But as Lewinsky points out, the problem isn’t just Bill. It’s all the people who made excuses for him at the time and the many who still defend his honor now, including his wife. It’s also all the journalists who gave him a free pass for 15 years because this topic wasn’t trendy until late last year.
Monica Lewinsky has already come a long way toward realizing who Bill Clinton really is and what he was doing to her when he labeled her “that woman” 20 years ago. But she won’t have really arrived at the final destination until she pays serious attention to the other women Bill mistreated, most especially Juanita Broaddrick. Her reluctance to do that shows she still doesn’t get the big picture.