Lewinsky Blasts Shaming Culture in TED Talk

Former Clinton intern says re-emergence is unrelated to 2016 campaign

Monica Lewinsky / AP
March 19, 2015

Monica Lewinsky said Thursday during a TED Talk that her re-emergence in the public eye, which began with an essay published in Vanity Fair last June, and comes as Hillary Clinton prepares to run for president, is motivated by her desire to combat cyber bullying and "has nothing to do with politics."

"Why now?" she asked those gathered for the 2015 TED Conference in Vancouver, Canada. "The top node answer was, and is, because it’s time. Time to stop tiptoeing around my past.… Time to take back my narrative."

Lewinsky recounted her experience following the revelation that she had an affair with President Bill Clinton.

"At the age of 22, I fell in love with my boss. And at the age of 24, I learned the devastating consequences," she said. "Both of my parents feared I would be humiliated to death literally," she said, adding that her parents forced her to shower with her bathroom door open out of fear that she would commit suicide.

Lewinsky recounted what she called the "public shaming" that emerged after the Drudge Report first broke the story of the affair. She was branded a "slut" by online readers and a "narcissistic loony toon" from then-First Lady Hillary Clinton.

Lewinsky said that the internet’s influence on communication and public shaming has grown, pointing to the Sony email hacks that led to the firing of Amy Pascal, the company’s CEO, whose emails about President Barack Obama were characterized by some as racist.

"Public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry," she said. "Someone is making money off of the back of someone else's suffering."

She added: "We talk a lot about our freedom of expression. We need to talk more about our responsibility to the freedom of expression."

Earlier in her Vanity Fair essay she had written, "I, myself, deeply regret what happened between me and President Clinton. Let me say it again: I. Myself. Deeply. Regret. What. Happened."

TED is an annual gathering of leading figures in technology, finance, and the arts. Al Gore, the former vice president, and Bill Gates, the philanthropist and former CEO of Microsoft, are among those attending this year’s conference.

Chris Anderson, the curator of TED, joined Lewinsky on stage following her talk. While most of the 40-plus talks at the weeklong conference are accessible only by those willing to spend $500 for online access or $8,500 to $17,000 for conference passes, he said that the organization plans on uploading her talk to TED’s website as soon as Friday.

"That was a blockbuster talk," he said. "It’s going to be incredibly exciting to send that around the world."

Following Lewinsky’s speech, the conference watched a video of a dog failing to eat a tater tot.