9:06am PT by Katherine Schaffstall
John Oliver Interviews Monica Lewinsky About Public Shaming After Bill Clinton Affair
John Oliver interviewed Monica Lewinsky during a segment about public shaming on Sunday's episode of Last Week Tonight.
The HBO host kicked off the conversation by asking Lewinsky if bullying has worsened over the years.
"I think that with the advent of the internet, and of course social media, we now have situations where it's exasperated beyond what anybody could have imagined," said Lewinsky, who has participated in many initiatives to stop online bullying. "The anonymity that comes with that, that sort of unleashed these whole new personas for people."
Oliver then asked if public shaming could have positive effects, like forcing the person being shamed to acknowledge their flaws. "I do think there's a spectrum of behavior on which we can kind of sort of judge as a society," she said. "Is this where shaming is effective to change social behavior or is it damaging?"
Lewinsky then reflected on the "shit storm" she went through while being shamed for her infamous affair with Bill Clinton. "It was an avalanche of pain and humiliation," she said. Lewinsky added that the support of her family and friends helped her get through the situation.
"I think at 24 years old, it was really hard to hold onto a shred of dignity or self-esteem when you're just the butt of so many jokes," she continued.
Lewinsky touched on the "bizarre" character that the media portrayed her as during the scandal. "It was, I say, extraordinary — not with any positive connotation — not only just the slut-shaming, not only just having had an intimate relationship with someone who was now describing me in a way that no young woman would want to be described," she said.
"My identity was stolen in a different way. Not to say that I wasn't flawed and that I didn't make terrible mistakes or do stupid things or say stupid things because of course I did," she continued. "I watched this sort of deconstruction of me and rebuilding of me."
Lewinsky then touched on how the public shaming influenced her professional life. She said that she graduated with her master's degree in 2006 and hoped to move on from the scandal.
"When I couldn’t find a job, either someone offered me a job for the wrong reasons like, 'Oh, you'll be coming to our events. That's your job and there's media there.' Or it's people saying to me the opposite. 'Could you get a letter of indemnification from the Clintons,'" she said. "There was this wide range of not being able to support myself and also have a purpose, which is equally important."
She revealed that she considered changing her name, which she chose not to do because it was a "principle." She explained, "Bill Clinton didn't have to change his name. Nobody's ever asked him did he think he should change his name and so I think that was an important statement."
"I'm not proud of all of the choices I've made in my life, but I'm proud of the person I am," she continued. "As hard as it has been to have that last name sometimes and the pain that I have felt of what it's meant for other people in my family who have that last name, I am glad I didn't change it."
After Oliver joked that he already had fake names picked out for himself in case he had to change his identity, he asked Lewinsky how long it took for her to be able to joke about the affair. She said that it happened in "stages" and credited a '90s themed party that she attended as a stepping stone to be able to laugh about it. Lewinsky chose to wear a beret to the party, which she was often associated with during the scandal.
They also spoke about social media. Lewinsky said that social media could have had both negative and positive effects if it had been around during the scandal. "It might have been worse in the sense that there certainly would have been a lot more opinions that were out there, but where it may have been better would've been that I think I would have heard some support from people," she said. "It might have been a little more balanced."
Earlier in the segment, Oliver addressed Jay Leno's interview on NBC's Today last week. During the interview, Leno said that late-night television lost its "civility" due to the current political climate.
Oliver then shared a number of jokes Leno had made targeted at Lewinsky. Some of the jokes included Leno stating that the humidity outside made people's clothes "stickier than Monica Lewinsky," while another clip showed the host laughing at a headline that read "Lewinsky Gets Back On Her Feet." Oliver also shared that Leno did a Dr. Seuss-inspired bit that featured a book titled The Slut In the Hat.
“If that’s what he means by civility, may I offer my new book: Oh the Places You Can Go Fuck Yourself, Jay Leno," Oliver responded.
Oliver argued that while most public shaming is bad, it can also "increase accountability."
Earlier on the show, the host reflected on a recently re-released radio interview that Fox News' Tucker Carlson did. Oliver explained that he "called Iraqis semi-literate primitive monkeys, compared women to dogs and said Warren Jeffs, who is serving a life sentence for the sexual assault of his underage brides, 'wasn’t that bad.'"
After Carlson refused to apologize for his comments, hashtags including #boycotttuckercarlson and #fIretuckercarlson were trending on social media.
The host joked that while #tuckercarlsonfuckshisroomba was not yet trending, "I have this weird feeling it will be in 20 minutes or so.”
"I would argue that Tucker is actually a good example of an internet pile-on being merited," Oliver said. "He’s a public figure, he made his comments publicly, they are appalling and he’s standing by them."
On Tuesday, Lewinsky took to Twitter to thank Oliver for the segment and the aim of "shifting our culture of humiliation a wee bit." Saying she was "overwhelmed" and "grateful" for the reactions online, she added, "John’s regret over his past jokes about me (mild in comparison to many others), has had an inspirational knock-on effect."
Watch the full segment below.