Skip to main content

Stop judging Monica Lewinsky

By Mel Robbins
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
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
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 0148 GMT (0948 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
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
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
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
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
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
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
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.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
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.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
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
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
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
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
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.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
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.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
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
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
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
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
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
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
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
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
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?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
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
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT