Lewinsky was the first victim of the internet’s public shaming ritual. That she has come out on the other side of this is an important counter punch to the online world’s increasing degradation of public discourse. Fear of the Clintons led prospective employers to keep Lewinsky at arm’s length. But now, amid the #MeToo reassessment of Bill Clinton’s sexual misbehavior and Hillary Clinton’s loss in the 2016 election, marking the end of the power couple’s reign, it’s clear that Lewinsky has outlasted the Clintons.
The 2015 TED Talk was one of the first public addresses Lewinsky had given in nearly a decade. She had gone dark in the early 2000s and had been quietly living her life out of the public eye, to whatever extent the media allowed her. She earned a master’s in social psychology from the London School of Economics in 2007. In The Ted Interview, a podcast follow-up to her TED Talk, Lewinsky recounted that these years were, in many ways, more difficult than 1998, when she was under intense legal and public pressure. She had more time to sit and dwell on what happened, she had trouble finding work, and she was dealing with PTSD from the fallout of the scandal. Her friends were able to move on with their lives. She was stuck in 1998.
In a 2014 Vanity Fair essay, Lewinsky explained that in a job interview during Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential run, a potential employer told her she’d need to get a letter of indemnification from the Clintons because there was a “25 percent chance that Mrs. Clinton will be the next president.” Given the Clintons’ penchant for hiring private investigators to smear opponents, including women making claims against Bill, and the general scorched-earth tactics they tended to employ against foes both real and imagined, the sense of intimidation is easy to understand. Around the same time, Clinton was pulling in six figures a pop for speeches in front of fawning audiences who didn’t want to bring up his scandals and wouldn’t dare if they did.