Frame Game

Monica Unclothed

She wanted to show us who she really is. And it’s not pretty.

At the outset of her interview with Barbara Walters, Monica Lewinsky complains that she’s been “misportrayed.” “Behind the name Monica Lewinsky, there’s a person,” she sobs. For two hours, Lewinsky bares her soul to Walters and the world. Beneath a flimsy undergarment of professed remorse, she exposes a psyche built on blame-shifting, self-interest, and moral indifference.

1. It’s not my fault. Lewinsky delivers her canned message in the interview’s opening seconds: “I waited a long time to be able to express to the country how very sorry I am for my part in this past year’s ordeal. … I wouldn’t dream of asking Chelsea and Mrs. Clinton to forgive me. But I would ask them to know that I am very sorry for what happened and for what they’ve been through.” As the interview progresses, however, Lewinsky defines her “part” in the fiasco narrowly, leaving others to account for “what happened.” When Walters asks whether she takes “responsibility” for the affair, Lewinsky answers, “Not complete responsibility.” Later, Lewinsky speculates that Clinton came to her for a sense of “normalcy.” Walters reasonably inquires, “Can’t you get that from your wife?” Lewinsky bats the question aside. “That’s something for him to answer, not me,” she says.

2.It’s just a disease. Lewinsky calls the affair a “mistake” but frames the mistake in terms of technical error and emotional imbalance rather than moral failure. She refers constantly to self-esteem and anti-depressant medication. When asked why she has had affairs with married men, she explains, “I didn’t have enough feelings of self-worth.” What lesson does she draw from her mistakes? “I have a lot of healing to do,” she concludes. Blaming her excesses on a chemical defect allows her to feel good about her seductive inclinations. When asked whether her behavior with Clinton was “out of control,” she concedes, “I needed help. I needed to be on some sort of anti-depressant.” But she rephrases the question in flattering terms: “For someone like me, who’s a very passionate, loving woman, I think you often get close to that line.”

3. It’s all about me. Walters asks Lewinsky about the May 1997 conversation in which Clinton told her they had to end their affair because it was “not right in the eyes of God.” Lewinsky conveys no interest in this moral appraisal. Instead, she reflects on her own needs. “I was heartbroken,” she recalls. “It hurts.” Later, Walters asks about Clinton’s refusal to have intercourse with her. “I felt it was unfair to me,” Lewinsky pleads, “that I would never know what it was like to be that intimate with him.” As for the episode in which Lewinsky exploded in jealousy over Clinton’s meeting with journalist Eleanor Mondale, Lewinsky explains, “I don’t know that people can understand … how confusing it would be for me to on the one hand have someone saying things to you–‘I promise this, I promise that, I care about you, I don’t want to hurt you, I want to take care of you’–and then the actions are something different. … It’s pretty tough emotionally.” She delivers this speech without a trace of irony.

4.It’s about loyalty. Lewinsky emphasizes at the outset that she’s “very loyal.” She says she “trusted” her friends to keep silent about her affair and feels “violated and betrayed” by Linda Tripp. Why did she give Kenneth Starr the stained dress that was in her mother’s apartment? Because to do otherwise would have violated her immunity agreement, she explains, and “I needed to take care of myself and my family.” Toward the end of the interview, Walters asks, “Have you learned anything from this experience?” “I’ve learned how important family is,” Lewinsky replies. “I have learned the true meaning of friendship.”

5. It’s none of your business. “From the time I was 2 years old,” Lewinsky recalls with a smile, “one of my first phrases [was], ’You are not the boss of me!’ And I’ve been that way ever since.” When Walters suggests that White House aides were right to keep Lewinsky away from Clinton, Lewinsky defiantly retorts, “I don’t think so. I don’t think that my relationship hurt the job he was doing. It didn’t hurt the work I was doing. It was between us. And I don’t think it was their business.”

6.It’s OK if you don’t get caught. Walters asks Lewinsky about her phone sex with Clinton. “It’s fun,” the younger woman giggles. “Did you ever think about Hillary Clinton?” Walters inquires. “I did,” says Lewinsky. “But I never thought she’d find out.” In the interview’s final seconds, Walters asks, “If you had it to do all over again, would you have the relationship with Bill Clinton?” Lewinsky reflects on what she has learned. “There are some days that I regret that the relationship ever started,” she says, still grinning. “And there are some days that I just regret that I ever confided in Linda Tripp.”

ABC’s pre-interview hype depicted Lewinsky as a smitten, deluded romantic. She thought Clinton was her “soul mate,” went this spin, whereas he was actually a reckless, ruthless narcissist. What the interview actually suggests, however, is that both perceptions are true. The man Lewinsky seduced was scheming, shameless, and incapable of accepting responsibility for his conduct. And in her, he met his match.