The History-Scarring True Events Behind Impeachment: American Crime Story

Watch: What Sarah Paulson Would Have Done If in Monica Lewinsky's Shoes

Monica Lewinsky was far from the first young woman to have an affair with a married American president. She was just the first one unlucky enough to have Linda Tripp for a confidante.

"Make her stay and watch," Lewinsky told the federal prosecutors who greeted her in Room 1012 at the Ritz-Carlton in Arlington, Va., to question her about the nature of her relationship with the 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton. "I want that treacherous bitch to see what she has done to me."

The "treacherous bitch" was Tripp, and what she did was secretly record phone conversations she had with Lewinsky while pumping her for details about her office romance with the commander-in-chief, which began Nov. 15, 1995, when Lewinsky was a 22-year-old White House intern, and effectively ended on March 29, 1997. 

All of which proved so much catnip for an independent counsel named Ken Starr, who was already investigating Clinton for other alleged malfeasance when Tripp brought him tapes featuring 20-plus hours of girl talk. Once intended to be fodder for a tell-all Tripp was hoping to write about the Clinton White House, she soon imbued her efforts with a greater purpose: Taking the president down.

photosThe Cast of Impeachment: American Crime Story

The whole spectacle—from the sexual relations that most definitely did occur, the stained blue dress Lewinsky had to turn over to the Feds and the infamous cigar to the rabid partisan hunger for Clinton's downfall, the sexual harassment lawsuit that laid the foundation for so many lies to be told and the second-ever impeachment of a sitting president—is the subject of FX's Impeachment: American Crime Story. Which is the long-awaited third installment of the anthology series that previously brought us the takes on the O.J. Simpson murder trial and the hunt for Gianni Versace's killer that we didn't know we needed until we saw them.

"Really, why?" may have also been the response when word got out a couple years ago that the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was next on the agenda, the subject matter not seeming at first like a natural fit within the parameters of the true-crime sagas that came before. 

But most stories benefit from hindsight, and Lewinsky's is no exception.

James Duncan Davidson/TED

After a few years of trying to navigate in the hypercritical public eye after the impeachment—telling her story to Princess Diana biographer Andrew Morton, making cameos as herself on Saturday Night Live to bookend the beret-punctuated parodies, starting a line of handbags, hosting a Fox dating show, Mr. Personality—she'd had enough, particularly after the release of Clinton's 2004 memoir My Life.

Telling the Daily Mail that he was a "revisionist of history," Lewinsky ended up moving to England in 2005 to get her master's degree in social psychology from the London School of Economics. After finishing her thesis, titled "In Search of the Impartial Juror: An Exploration of the Third-Person Effect and Pre-Trial Publicity," she set about living a private life.

Social media as we know it today was in its infancy in 2006, MySpace still rather popular and Facebook slowly becoming a thing, Twitter brand new. Instagram was still four years away. Subsequently, Lewinsky watched in horror as it all became what it is now: Useful and irreplaceable in some respects, but so much of it a cesspool of nastiness and disinformation.

Never having lost her name-brand recognition, she alerted millions of people to what being the object of the world's ire, disdain, ridicule, pity and misguided martyrdom was really like in her viral March 2015 TED Talk, "The Price of Shame." 

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"At the age of 22, I fell in love with my boss," she told an audience of almost 1,400 in Vancouver. "And at the age of 24, I learned the devastating consequences."

"Not a day goes by that I am not reminded of my mistake, and I regret that mistake deeply," she continued. "In 1998, after having been swept up in an improbable romance, I was then swept up into the eye of a political, legal and media maelstrom like we had never seen before…Now I admit I made mistakes—especially wearing that beret—but the attention and judgment that I received—not the story, but that I personally received—was unprecedented. I was branded as a tramp, tart, slut, whore, bimbo and, of course, 'that woman.' I was known by many, but actually known by few. I get it. It was easy to forget 'that woman' was dimensional and had a soul."

She was addressing a different world than the one that had mercilessly picked on her, in so far as countless new ways existed in which to mercilessly pick on somebody. "There is a very personal price to public humiliation," she said. "And the growth of the Internet has jacked up that price." Taking aim at cyberbullying and online harassment, Lewinsky said, "What we need is a cultural revolution…It's time for an intervention on the Internet and in our culture."

Well, she tried.

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