Questions surround Lewinsky's return

Monica Lewinsky is back — and this time she has a cause.

The woman who became a punch line for sexual encounters with Bill Clinton is returning to the spotlight after more than a decade, hoping to become an advocate for ending bullying online.

ADVERTISEMENT
While her speech on the topic in Philadelphia drew a standing ovation, it remains to be seen whether Lewinsky can escape her past — and the politics of being “that woman” — to help end what she calls a “culture of humiliation.”

Vanity Fair, which hired Lewinsky as a contributor, said the response to her first foray into public advocacy with her column has been “very positive.”

"Even [liberal comedian] Bill Maher said, 'I was very moved by [her column],'" said Vanity Fair spokeswoman Beth Kseniak.

Lewinsky, who declined comment through a representative, said one of the “principal reasons” she decided to break her silence was the 2010 death of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student who committed suicide after intimate pictures of him were posted online to humiliate him and "expose" him as being gay.

"While it touched us both, my mother was unusually upset by the story and I wondered why," Lewinsky said in her speech. "Eventually it dawned on me: she was back in 1998, back to a time when I was periodically suicidal; when she might very easily have lost me; when I, too, might have been humiliated to death."

Lewinsky specifically mentioned The Tyler Clementi Foundation in her speech, providing a boom of publicity for the organization that his parents started.

"We're very appreciative she'd mention our foundation and our work," Clementi's mother Jane said in an interview with The Hill.

Jane Clementi said a "mutual friend" introduced her to Lewinsky after her first Vanity Fair column, and the two discussed her son.

"She shared with us how Tyler's story impacted her and her mom," Clementi said.

Some advocates say they do not want Lewinsky to become the face of the anti-bullying movement.

StopCyberbullying founder Parry Aftab said Lewinsky's involvement would "set back" their efforts.

"I find it a bit insulting to the people who have been cyber bullied to have Monica Lewinsky step out and say she's the poster-child for cyber bullying," said Aftab, whose nonprofit is organized in 76 countries and began in 1995. 

Aftab said that Lewinsky's baggage would take attention away from the main issue.

"Look at her interviews — it's all about Monica," Aftab said. "She's setting us back years. She doesn't know what she's talking about."

Aftab argued that Lewinsky wasn't cyber bullied after her affair with Clinton was exposed by the Drudge Report, a conservative website, because she became "a public figure and it was newsworthy."

While StopCyberbullying has sought to appeal to young people by working with MTV, the Spiderman comic book series and celebrities such as Nick Lachey and Victoria Justice, Aftab said the group has no interest in working with Lewinsky.

"One of the housewives from 'Real Housewives of Orange County' came to us the other week — I don't even remember her name," Aftab said. "We said, 'No.' These people just want the publicity."

Forbes editor Randall Lane, who helped organize the Philadelphia event and book Lewinsky’s appearance, disagreed, arguing that Lewinsky has the “ultimate point of view” on cyber bullying from having experienced it “first hand.”

"There's not a single person in this age group — the first generation to grow up with the Internet — that hasn't either been cyber bullied or know someone who has," Lane said. "They innately get what she's talking about."

"Also, she made a mistake in her 20s that will haunt her for the rest of her life — that resonates, too."

The Clementi Foundation says Lewinsky’s advocacy is helping them reinvigorate the national debate on cyber bullying and share Tyler's story.

"Unfortunately, most people only think about Tyler's final hours," Clementi's mother Jane said. "That's sad because that's so not Tyler. He was a sweet, kind, caring, giving and thoughtful person.”

"In a moment of despair, he didn't find the right answer," she said. "This is all outside of my world — it's not what I'm used to, but there's an importance in sharing someone's story and starting a conversation."

But can Lewinsky help?

"I believe that she can," Clementi said. "If Tyler could see the impact he's had — I think it'd be overwhelming and amazing for him."

This story was corrected at 3:04 p.m. to clarify remarks from Vanity Fair.