Skip to main content

Stop judging Monica Lewinsky

By Mel Robbins
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mel Robbins: Monica Lewinsky makes her first speech about affair with Bill Clinton
  • Lewinsky's brave to go on as aftermath left her humiliated, almost suicidal, Robbins says
  • Robbins: Media cashed in on, exploited news of consensual affair
  • Robbins: Real story here is Lewinsky taking back narrative, helping others bullied on Internet

Editor's note: Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator and legal analyst. She is the founder of Inspire52.com, a positive news website and author of "Stop Saying You're Fine," about managing change. Robbins speaks on leadership around the world and in 2014 was named outstanding news talk radio host by the Gracie Awards. Follow her on Twitter @melrobbins. A version of this commentary first appeared in May.

(CNN) -- "My name is Monica Lewinsky. Though I've often been advised to change it." With humor and grace, anti-cyberbullying crusader Monica Lewinsky on Monday stepped back into public life with her first speech -- an emotional and powerful one about her role in the world's most infamous sex scandal. The theme of her remarks at the Forbes Under 30 Summit: public humiliation, privacy and cyberbullying.

Lewinsky briefly acknowledged her affair with former President Bill Clinton but mainly brought detail to its fallout, which, she said, left her "shattered" and wanting "to die." She also discussed the recent spree of celebrity nude-photo thefts, warning "anyone can be next." She should know; she was humiliated and shamed on a global scale.

Mel Robbins
Mel Robbins

As she put it, she "I was patient zero." By the looks of it, she's no longer suffering. She's cured herself. Vanity Fair ran an article by Lewinsky, "Shame and Survival," in June, and what I wrote about it then, I stand by now: We could all learn a few things from Monica Lewinsky, particularly about ourselves.

As many will recall, when her affair with Clinton came to light in 1998, it became a global story. It almost took down the President -- he was impeached -- and sent Lewinsky into such an isolated state of hell, she wrote, that she had suicidal thoughts at times and a "fear that I would be literally humiliated to death."

It was a powerful account to read, but it's way more powerful to hear and see someone tell her personal story in front of you. As Forbes writer Jeff Bercovici tweeted while attending, "@monicalewinsky fighting tears telling her story at #under30summit. Turns out the butt of all those late-night monologues is a human person."

Monica Lewinsky embraces U.S. President Bill Clinton at a Democratic fundraiser in Washington in October 1996. Lewinsky, the White House intern who had a sexual relationship with Clinton during his time in office, has finally broken her silence on the affair in a Vanity Fair article. Monica Lewinsky embraces U.S. President Bill Clinton at a Democratic fundraiser in Washington in October 1996. Lewinsky, the White House intern who had a sexual relationship with Clinton during his time in office, has finally broken her silence on the affair in a Vanity Fair article.
Monica Lewinsky: Life in the spotlight
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
>
>>
Monica Lewinsky: Life in the spotlight Monica Lewinsky: Life in the spotlight
Lewinsky's mission: End cyberbullying
Monica Lewinsky tweets: #herewego

Frankly, when you consider just how intense, relentless and abusive the Lewinsky bullying has been for 16 years -- by the media, the politicians, the public and trolls on the Internet, it's a wonder she had the psychological stamina to resist those early suicidal thoughts. And thank God she did.

Lewinsky on Clinton affair: 'Time to burn the beret and bury the blue dress'

You can't underplay how huge the news of the Lewinsky-Clinton affair was at a time when the Internet wasn't only used for trolling celebrities; it had such an impact in the public arena that there are people who are still making money off it. The founder of the Drudge Report, Matt Drudge, broke the story of the affair on his then-mostly unknown website in 1998; the story put him on the map. In 2014, the site averages more than 1 billion page views a month.

Another view: Monica Lewinsky is shameless

When Barbara Walters interviewed Lewinsky in 1999 on "20/20," a record-breaking 70 million viewers tuned in. While the media pointed fingers at "that woman," they were taking advantage of the hottest story in presidential scandal history and squeezing every dollar they could out of Lewinsky's demise.

Heck, when Beyoncé "dropped" her album in December, she cashed in as well -- reducing Lewinsky to a line in "Partition" as a reference to ejaculation. Lewinsky replied in her essay: "Thanks, Beyoncé, but if we're verbing, I think you meant 'Bill Clintoned all on my gown.' "

Sexual affairs are happening all over the world at this very moment -- with politicians, world leaders, famous actors and people you know personally. Yes, affairs and other indiscretions are disgusting and immoral, but you can hardly be surprised anymore when you hear about them (looking at you Vance McAllister, John Edwards, Anthony Weiner, Donald Sterling). After all, you don't publicly execute people for these everyday offenses between two consenting adults, and yet that's basically what the world did to Lewinsky.

In 2014, it appears that Lewinsky is finally claiming both her freedom and the new identity she deserves: survivor and crusader.

The powerful story here isn't the cigar and the blue dress with semen on it, it's that after 16 years of relentless bullying and a past that won't go away, Lewinsky has figured out a way to use the experience to help others by taking ownership of it.

Lewinsky spoke about the fact that she may be the first person ever at the center of an Internet cyberbullying event, and that it was the case of another victim of similar bullying, Tyler Clementi, that made her own suffering "take on a different meaning."

Clintons' relationship with media still testy after all these years

"Perhaps by sharing my story, I reason, I might be able to help others in their darkest moments of humiliation." In the same way that a sitting President can sooth a community struck by a hurricane, mudslide or mass shooting, I have no doubt that Lewinsky could help a victim of cyberbullying get through the pain and humiliation -- and be instrumental in encouraging him or her to stay strong.

One of the most powerful tools you have in life is the truth, and here's the truth: Regardless of what she says, people will judge. Pundits will pontificate, project and wonder aloud about political motivations in the timing. We will wonder if this will hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016 or if Lewinsky was paid by the Republican National Committee to unburden herself like this. Go down that road and you miss something way more powerful than politics -- a lesson in humanity and personal power.

In Vanity Fair, she wrote that it's time to "stop tiptoeing around my past -- and other people's futures. I am determined to have a different ending to my story. I've decided, finally, to stick my head above the parapet so that I can take back my narrative and give purpose to my past."

By telling her story, she's doing exactly that. It takes remarkable courage to confront your humiliating mistakes and painful past, and still hold your head high.

It's in our failures that we often find our strength. Good for you Monica Lewinsky, you found your strength. I for one will be cheering you on.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
updated 2:51 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
updated 6:07 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
updated 4:12 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
updated 11:36 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
updated 10:21 PM EDT, Sun October 19, 2014
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
updated 8:05 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
updated 9:00 AM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
updated 4:33 PM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
updated 12:42 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
updated 4:43 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
updated 4:58 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Fri October 17, 2014
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
updated 4:27 PM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
updated 12:07 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
updated 12:29 AM EDT, Thu October 16, 2014
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
updated 6:45 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
updated 1:00 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
updated 7:01 PM EDT, Wed October 15, 2014
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
updated 9:35 AM EDT, Sat October 18, 2014
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
updated 10:08 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
updated 7:25 AM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
updated 4:04 PM EDT, Tue October 14, 2014
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
updated 9:07 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Sat October 11, 2014
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT