Perhaps the biggest presidential scandal since the Nixon administration came to light in January 1998. This is when the now infamous Monica Lewinsky first appeared on our television sets. The American population did not know Ms. Lewinsky until the scandal broke. After the media was informed of the activities between President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky the little known woman was instantaneously the topic of conversation all over the world. The intention of this paper is not to figure out who was right or wrong in the scandal, the reasoning behind it is to show how the mass media shapes and implements our own ideas and opinions about people. Every opinion we have is somehow related to who and what we see around us. The way that these things are portrayed on television or in magazines influences our overall attitude towards them. In many situations we have only the media to rely on when learning about certain events. Sometimes you can check more than one source to get a different opinion, but more times than not the overall image generated by all media platforms of a person or event is very similar. In this sense it is very hard sometimes to get a fair perspective of the occurrences. The views that the American public has towards Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky have been directly affected by how the mass media portrayed each individual.
Susan Douglas’ book Where The Girls Are is a reflection of just how controlling the mass media is over the opinions and ideas of the people that it reaches. Douglas talks about the ways in which the mass media forms an individual’s character. She focuses on the effects that the media has on women as they grow-up in America. If this is true then perhaps Monica Lewinsky was shaped in such a way that she felt obligated to give in to the president’s wishes of having a relationship. After the scandal broke the media then proceeded to shape the publics opinion of Ms. Lewinsky. It is very easy for our opinions to be swayed if we know nothing about the subject or individual.
One place that is near impossible to hide from the public and media is the White House. Bill Clinton has been plagued by scandal since entering the White House in 1992. As the Lewinsky scandal began President Clinton was just recovering from the Whitewater scandal. Before Lewinsky, Clinton was accused of having a sexual relationship with Gennifer Flowers while he was the governor of Arkansas. Clinton denied these reports during his 1992 campaign. However, in a deposition a few years later the president admitted to having an affair with Flowers. Paula Jones who worked for him while he was governor also sued Clinton. Jones disputed that Clinton treated her unfairly after she refused to have a sexual relationship with him. Despite these repeated scandals Mr. Clinton has maintained a fairly supportive reaction from the mainstream media. I strongly feel that Clinton’s lack of accountability is due to the fact that most of the scandals that he has been involved in pertain to sexual relationships with women. The male dominated media portrays this in a lighthearted way. On the other hand, the females involved in all of these scandals have been made out to be unjust sluts looking for a big payday.
Contradictory to Clinton’s past is that of Monica Lewinsky. Monica grew up in Beverly Hills California. Her father owned a chain of cancer treatment clinics. When researching the depictions that those close to Ms. Lewinsky have, a very different person is revealed. “Monica is very, very energetic and very charismatic and has tremendous ideas and no matter what task you give her, she gets involved and goes to it,” said her dad, Dr. Bernard Lewinsky. Richard Makoff, Lewinsky’s former headmaster, said, “I remember her being a nice kid and pretty normal young lady. The only extra-curricular activity she was involved in was chorus.” Monica graduated from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon in May 1995. The following summer, Monica arrived at the White House as an intern (Aiken). The media has shown Monica Lewinsky in a totally different light than her father and friends remember her.
On January 21, 1998 this woman who was unknown to the public was instantaneously thrust onto every possible form of media in the country. On this date several news organizations began reporting of an alleged scandal between a White House intern and President Clinton. When asked about the rumors in a previously arranged interview with PBS and National Public Radio President Clinton denied having a sexual or inappropriate relationship with the intern (Blitzer et al). Along with Lewinsky, Linda Tripp soon surfaced in connection with the alleged scandal. Apparently Tripp set the scandal in motion by taking taped conversations between her and Monica to Kenneth Starr. Starr was the special prosecutor in the Whitewater scandal. He had already been investigating rumors of the scandal. Starr claimed to only be interested in whether the president committed obstruction of justice or perjury (Blitzer et al). Even after just one day of being in the media, the scandal was the talk of all daytime and late night talk shows.
As the scandal progressed rumors of whether the president should resign began to surface. Clinton responded firmly that he owed it to the American people to remain in the White House. At this point President Clinton remained fairly safe from media attacks. Conversely, Monica Lewinsky was being mobbed by uncountable amounts of reporters. Her family’s privacy was also being invaded. FBI agents questioned Lewinsky’s younger brother Michael about his sister’s involvement with the president (King and Franken). In defense of Monica Lewinsky a non-profit group that studies women in the workplace contributed $10,000 to aid with her legal funds (O’Connor).
Throughout the hearings the media continued to hound Monica. She was mobbed everywhere she went. For twenty years she had led a private life. Now every time she opened her door she was photographed and questioned by hundreds of reporters. Monica’s name was mentioned on almost every possible television show in the country. From Jay Leno to David Lettermen the sex jokes about her seemed to be a nightly ritual. All across America households were talking about the sexual scandal in the White House.
As the scandal neared a conclusion the average person’s opinion of Monica Lewinsky continued to be influenced by the way she was being portrayed by the mass media. Most people thought of her as an overweight gold-digger. These ideas about Monica were placed at the front of people’s minds by every TV show and magazine article voicing an opinion about her. On the other hand, President Clinton’s image seemed only slightly tarnished. After all the coverage, trials, and testimonies President Clinton received little more than a slap on the wrist. Most public opinion polls across the country actually showed a gain in support for the President as the hearings came to an end.
Since the 1950’s television has had a major influence on the viewing audience. As technology continues to grow, so does the amount of influence the mass media has on the opinions of those reached by it. In a matter of minutes information about an unknown person can suddenly be transmitted into nearly every household in the country. Being the only source of information about certain issues, the mass media is free to influence our opinions in one way or another. The fact that Monica Lewinsky’s character has forever been changed in the minds of people across the world by the media is unfair. Her name is nothing more than the butt of jokes told at bars and dinner tables throughout America. The opinions we have of her now are very different than that of the ones held by the people that knew her as she was growing up. Conversely, Bill Clinton’s persona has been modified by the media’s representation of his involvement. He seems to be a sort of hero to many men across America. The vast difference in the opinions of the two seems to root itself in the traditional depiction of men and women by the media. Throughout time the media has depicted women more as objects and possessions of men, rather than equal to those men (Douglas). In this sense the public accepts President Clinton’s actions because he is a man. Monica’s life is not completely ruined by this media circus. In fact, Monica Lewinsky has made millions selling her story to the very same individuals that invaded her privacy and smeared her name. What is the final price of all this fame and fortune, a tarnished reputation and perhaps bad knees?
Aiken, Jonathan. “Who Is Monica Lewinsky?” All Politics: CNN 6 Aug. 1998. 30 March 2000 http://220.127.116.11/ ALLPOLITICS/1998/08/06/lewinsky.profile/
Blitzer, Wolf., et al., eds. “Clinton Denies Affair With Intern, Cover-up Attempt.” All Politics: CNN 21 Jan. 1998. 30 March 2000 http://18.104.22.168/ALLPOLITICS /1998/01/21/clinton.starr.am/
Douglas, Susan J. Where The Girls Are. New York: Times Books, 1995.
O’Connor, Eileen. “Clinton Aide Appears Before Grand Jury.” All Politics: CNN 26 Feb. 1998. 29 March 2000 http:// 207. 25.71.29/ALLPOLITICS/1998/02/26/lewinsky.scandal/