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Lewinsky Opens Up on TV Here, Abroad

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  • By Howard Kurtz
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, March 4, 1999; Page C01

    The marketing of Monica kicked into overdrive yesterday with a sometimes tearful television interview in which the world's most famous former intern said that President Clinton occasionally "makes me sick" and that "sometimes I hate his guts."

    After 13 months of scandal and betrayal, of interrogation and ridicule, Monica Lewinsky began the arduous task of reshaping her battered image and persuading the public that she is more victim than vixen.

    From her emotional sit-down with ABC's Barbara Walters last night to a paid session with Britain's Channel 4 airing today to the release of her much-anticipated book, Lewinsky has finally seized the opportunity to tell her side of the melodrama that nearly brought down a president.

    But independent counsel Kenneth Starr is already trying to rein Lewinsky in. Angry at her harsh criticism of his prosecutors in her book, Starr's office, invoking its immunity agreement with Lewinsky, yesterday threatened to cancel her planned interview with Time magazine, according to a magazine source.

    As if the story lacked sufficient excitement, a new book surfaced, charging that Israeli spies electronically intercepted phone-sex conversations between President Clinton and Lewinsky. But the book, by Gordon Thomas, does not say that Israel "blackmailed" Clinton with the tapes, contrary to a New York Post account yesterday. A White House spokes man dismissed the report, and Israeli government spokesman David Bar-Illan said that "we don't respond to every bit of nonsense published either in newspapers or in book form."

    The "20/20" interview took center stage last night, with Lewinsky saying that "I was at the end of my rope" toward the end of her relationship with Clinton and probably out of control.

    "I could not recognize that I needed help. . . . I needed to be on some sort of antidepressant," said Lewinsky, adding that she is now on medication. She also said she began therapy after having an abortion stemming from her relationship with a high-ranking Pentagon official during the same period as her affair with Clinton. "I'd tease him about it and tell him he had competition," she said of the president.

    Lewinsky told Walters it was "so very harsh" and "hurtful" when Clinton told the country he did not have sexual relations with "that woman." And when Clinton acknowledged their affair on Aug. 17, "I felt like a piece of trash," Lewinsky said. "I felt dirty and I felt used and I was disappointed."

    Asked by Walters whether Clinton gave the impression that she was "servicing" him sexually, Lewinsky replied: "That was the impression he gave."

    Did the president feel genuine remorse for the affair? "When I think of the person that I thought was Bill Clinton, I think he had genuine remorse," Lewinsky said. "When I think of the person that I now see is 100 percent politician, I think he's sorry he got caught."

    Lewinsky's media moment comes amid the full flowering of what has been called Moniculture: the famous thong, the black beret, "Leaves of Grass," Altoids, the Big Creep and the other nomenclature of the sex scandal, along with nonstop cable coverage, radio chatter and Jay Leno jokes. Now the woman who has achieved Madonna-like first-name fame gets to weigh in.

    "This is a huge opportunity for her to create an image," said political consultant Mike Murphy. "This is her big shot to brand herself. In this trashy pop culture, she's going to have something she can do." But if things don't go well, "we don't know if she'll be opening shopping malls in five years."

    Richard Johnson, editor of the New York Post's gossipy Page Six, doesn't expect Lewinsky to fade. "She manages to provide new angles every day," he said. "There's a lot more to Monica than Gennifer Flowers or Donna Rice or Fawn Hall."

    A USA Today poll found that 70 percent of those questioned are very or somewhat unsympathetic toward Lewinsky, compared with 26 percent who are very or somewhat sympathetic. Some of Lewinsky's friends are concerned that if she flacks her book and interviews too aggressively, the public will quickly tire of her and view her as too self-promotional.

    On his radio show, Rush Limbaugh yesterday complained about "this ongoing orgy of Monica, Monica, Monica. . . . This woman is now famous, she's rich, she's a star, she's a celebrity." And that, said Limbaugh, could convince young women "that in order to make it, you've got to seek out the president of the United States and service him sexually."

    The day began with a bit of counterprogramming as NBC's "Today" chatted up Jon Snow, Lewinsky's British interviewer, even as Walters was playing a clip of her interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" (before dropping by "Regis and Kathie Lee").

    On "20/20," the Beverly Hills native took a swipe at her loquacious former attorney, William Ginsburg, saying he damaged her cause. "It became more about Bill Ginsburg than it did about my well-being and my welfare," she said.

    Lewinsky still maintains that presidential pal Vernon Jordan did not know of her affair with Clinton while helping her find a job in New York. "But maybe you'll have an affair with him when he's out of office," she quoted Jordan as saying.

    Recalling her first meeting with Clinton, Lewinsky said she was "very nervous . . . so I blurted out, 'I have a crush on you.'" Contradicting the president's sworn denial, she said she was sexually gratified during their encounters. But she described performing oral sex as just "messing around."

    Clinton initially would not let Lewinsky complete the sex act, first saying "that he needed to be able to trust me more" and later that he didn't want "to get addicted to me." The president refused to have intercourse, saying "there are consequences to those types of things," Lewinsky said. At times, "he was very tender with me. He was very affectionate with me," and she still has feelings for him.

    Given all the pressures on a president, Lewinsky said, "sometimes you just need, you just need a piece of normalcy."

    "Can't you get that from your wife?" Walters asked.

    "That's something for him to answer, not me. I'm sorry."

    Lewinsky denied passing on any White House threats to her ex-friend Linda Tripp, as Tripp has alleged. When Lewinsky learned that Tripp had taped their conversations, she felt "gutted and violated and betrayed." And when she was confronted by Starr's prosecutors, she was "petrified. . . . I have never been so afraid in my entire life. I wanted to die. I wanted to kill everybody in the room."

    Walters asked Lewinsky how she felt upon learning that Clinton had told White House aide Sidney Blumenthal that she had been stalking him. "That was the defining moment when I really knew and fell out of love with him," Lewinsky said.

    Appearing angry at suggestions that she saved her infamous semen-stained dress for sentimental reasons, Lewinsky said that was "ridiculous" and "ludicrous."

    "I know it's a lot more fun to think that I kept it as a souvenir, to think that I cherished this and I would never clean it, and, and I was some sick, deranged person who kept this as a trophy," she said. "But that's not what it was."

    Lewinsky said she had put the dress away because it no longer fit, and that she told Tripp and other friends of the stain because it was "funny."

    "This dress is one of the most humiliating things that has happened to me," Lewinsky said, and if she ever gets it back, "I'll burn it."

    Despite the apparent adrenaline of the forthcoming media blitz, Lewinsky freely admits she has spent many sleepless nights crying. Over the past year, she said, her stepmother "got me into knitting. So I started to knit. And I've knit quite a many scarves and still trying to finish my first sweater.

    "I have a lot of healing to do," she said.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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