After decades of grappling with her relationship with former President Bill Clinton and the ensuing media frenzy, Monica Lewinsky is bidding goodbye to Roger Ailes, a man who shamelessly capitalized on the scandal.
Or, rather than saying goodbye to Ailes himself, Lewinsky is saying goodbye (and good riddance) to the atmosphere he created. As she wrote in a Monday column for the New York Times: “This is not another obituary for Roger Ailes, who died last week a year after being ousted at Fox News. It is, I hope, instead an obituary for the culture he purveyed — a culture that affected me profoundly and personally.”
Lewinsky outlines the way that Ailes’ success building Fox News into the cable juggernaut it is today was intimately tied to the sensationalization and 24/7 coverage of her most painful public moments. She writes:
Just two years after Rupert Murdoch appointed Mr. Ailes to head the new cable news network, my relationship with President Bill Clinton became public. Mr. Ailes, a former Republican political operative, took the story of the affair and the trial that followed and made certain his anchors hammered it ceaselessly, 24 hours a day.
Some experts have noted that viewers found Fox for the first time because of the crisis. John Moody, a Fox executive editor, reflected on that period: “The Lewinsky saga put us on the news map.” As he put it in another interview: “Monica was a news channel’s dream come true.”
Their dream was my nightmare. My character, my looks and my life were picked apart mercilessly. Truth and fiction mixed at random in the service of higher ratings. My family and I huddled at home, worried about my going to jail — I was the original target of Ken Starr’s investigation, threatened with 27 years for having been accused of signing a false affidavit, obstructing justice, suborning perjury and other crimes — or worse, me taking my own life. Meantime, Mr. Ailes huddled with his employees at Fox News, dictating a lineup of talking heads to best exploit this personal and national tragedy.
Lewinsky acknowledges that every network relentlessly covered her story ― after all, it was a sex scandal and it involved the president of the United States. In 1998 and into 1999, no national news story loomed larger. However, the nature of Fox News’ coverage felt different to Lewinsky, as though there was “no rumor was too unsubstantiated, no innuendo too vile and no accusation too abhorrent.”
After 20 years of running the network, Ailes was ousted from Fox News last summer amid charges of sexual harassment. Since July 2016, when Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit alleging Ailes had sexually harassed her, nine more women, including Megyn Kelly and Andrea Tantaros, have come forward with allegations of harassment.
Lewinsky points out the karmic irony of this turn of events in her column.
“As the past year has revealed, thanks to brave women like Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly, it is clear that at Fox, this culture of exploitation wasn’t limited to the screen,” she wrote. “The irony of Mr. Ailes’s career at Fox — that he harnessed a sex scandal to build a cable juggernaut and then was brought down by his own — was not lost on anyone who has been paying attention.”
Head over to the New York Times to read Lewinsky’s full column.