Resource

Media Treatment of Monica Lewinsky

A poll and image show how the media treated Monica Lewinsky.

Newsstand with Lewinsky covers

Jon Levy, Newsstand photo, 1999. Jon Levy/AFP via Getty Images.

Poll: Public remains unsympathetic to Lewinsky

“Poll: Public remains unsympathetic to Lewinksy,” AllPolitics, March 5, 1999.

Background

Monica Lewinsky took an unpaid summer internship at the White House in 1995 after she graduated from college. Later that year, she took on a paid position at the White House Office of Legislative Affairs. Between November 1995 and March 1997, she had nine sexual encounters with President Bill Clinton. News of the affair became public in January 1998, causing a major media stir. The House of Representatives impeached President Clinton in December 1998 over lying about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. He was acquitted by the Senate.

Monica Lewinsky became an instant celebrity when the news broke. While much of the negative commentary was directed at the married president, Monica Lewinsky was vilified for her part in the situation. The Wall Street Journal called her “a little tart.” The New York Times described her as a “ditzy, predatory White House intern.” Fox News asked readers in a poll to rate her attractiveness. Decades before #MeToo and the creation of the term “slut shame,” the media and the public blamed the young woman for the affair as much as it did the most powerful man in the world. 

For years, Monica Lewinsky struggled to find work and refused to write a tell-all book, which would have made her an instant millionaire. In recent years, she has become a public voice against cyberbullying and sexual harassment.

About the Document

The photograph shows a newsstand with magazines including Time and Newsweek. Monica Lewinsky is prominently featured on the covers. 

The poll was conducted after Monica Lewinsky gave a televised interview to ABC’s program 20/20 on March 3, 1999. Weeks after Clinton’s acquittal, the majority of the Americans polled still had a negative view of Monica Lewinsky. Their views of her were even more negative than those of Bill Clinton. The responses to the questions give an impression of her as a scheming homewrecker without remorse for the affair.

Vocabulary

  • cyberbullying: A type of bullying mainly done over the internet and/or social media.
  • impeachment: To formally accuse a public official of acting inappropriately or illegally.
  • poll: A survey of people’s opinions, often used to represent the views of a larger group.

Discussion Questions

  • What happened to Monica Lewinsky? How did she become famous?
  • Why do you think Americans still favorably viewed Bill Clinton? Why did they blame Monica Lewinsky for the affair?
  • What type of questions did the pollsters ask? How were the questions biased against Monica Lewinsky? What does that say about the people who created the poll?
  • How do you think the media and the public would treat this news story today? Why might it be different now? Why