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Lewinsky Cancels Interviews

By Lisa de Moraes and Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 24, 1999; Page

Monica Lewinsky is through talking.

The most famous White House intern that ever was became so distraught by the questions Matt Lauer asked her on NBC's "Today" show yesterday morning that she canceled a series of national radio interviews she had promised to do that afternoon.

And that's it for Lewinsky, says her publicist at St. Martin's Press, which published her tell-all tome, "Monica's Story." She'll do no more interviews in this country.

"It was very emotional for her; that's why, unfortunately, she had to cancel the interviews. She felt emotionally drained," Jamie Brickhouse said of his client's encounter with Lauer. "Although I think she handled herself extremely well . . . she just felt like she was not prepared that they were going to ask those kinds of questions."

What she was expecting, Brickhouse says, were questions about her European book tour: What happened there and how she was perceived; how many marriage proposals she received. You know, the kind of softball questions that Liv Tyler, David Spade and Drew Barrymore get asked when they come on "Today." And, the kind of questions Lauer started with in his chat with Lewinsky and co-author Andrew Morton:

Lauer: "How would you say you were received by the people over there?"

Lewinsky: "Surprisingly warmly. It was quite amazing to me and very heartwarming for me as well."

Lauer: "I understand that they treated you like a downright movie star, that they lined up everywhere you went . . . that the police had to be called in to keep the crowd down -- you got marriage proposals."

But quickly, the interview turned from a celebrity chitchat to a woman-who-nearly-brought-down-the- president kind of interview.

Lauer asked her if she "gets it" that the past year and a half wasn't only about her. He asked an increasingly uncomfortable Lewinsky if she realized that "for much of that year, this country came to a screeching halt" and "foreign policy took a back seat to scandal." He even asked her why, if she says she doesn't want to "make a career out of being Monica Lewinsky," she showed up at the Vanity Fair Academy Awards party "knowing that the only reason you were invited to that party is because you are Monica Lewinsky, and that every camera in that room was going to turn to you when you walked in."

By the time he asked Lewinsky why, if she feels for first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and daughter Chelsea, her book included intimate details of the affair, Lewinsky was looking pretty downcast. Morton came to her defense, saying that it was he who insisted on complete candor, and that she had felt certain aspects of the book were "too candid."

Sources at "Today" say that when the interview was over, they heard that Lewinsky was very upset. Executives at ABC Radio say that following the "Today" talk, Brickhouse called them from a limousine, canceling Lewinsky's interviews for its radio stations. "While I was being told that, I heard some woman crying in the background of the limousine," said Julia Heath, producer at ABC's radio operation.

Lewinsky bailed, leaving ABC stations with no star. Morton has agreed to go on ABC's air Monday to explain why Lewinsky canceled. That's small consolation for Steve Jones, director of news and entertainment programming for ABC News Radio.

"She was scheduled to give us two hours of time and was going to go on nearly 20 stations," says Jones. "On many of these stations all day yesterday they said, 'Monica will be by in the morning so make sure you tune in.' That's why they're so embarrassed and upset about this."

The people at "Today" say they don't think Lauer was unduly tough on Lewinsky. "We thought it was a terrific interview, that Matt Lauer was a true professional and that Monica handled herself very well," a "Today" rep said.

Perhaps Lewinsky was already knocked off balance by an interview with Terry Gross, on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air." The program aired yesterday but was taped the day before Lewinsky's appearance on "Today." Gross's questions so rattled Lewinsky that she walked out halfway through the one-hour interview.

Gross asked Lewinsky how it was that she felt like Clinton's "sexual soul mate" although he confessed to her that he'd had "hundreds" of affairs before his 40th birthday. Lewinsky stammered a bit and said she wasn't sure if the president literally meant that he'd had sex with "a hundred other women." But Gross kept her foot on the gas.

"You wrote in your book that the first time you engaged in oral sex, he talked with a congressman on the telephone about Bosnia and at the same time that's happening, you're thinking, 'We clicked on an incredible level.' And I'm reading that and I couldn't help but wonder how he could be on the phone while this is happening and you're thinking about how incredibly well you're clicking."

After a pause, Lewinsky said: "I certainly am not going to go through and reenact for you verbally what was going on and what my feelings and emotions were at the time. I think you just have to accept at face value that that's how I was feeling."

Gross said her next query followed the same line, but, after the first few words, "Lewinsky told me that my questions were 'too intimate' and that she didn't want to continue the interview. She seemed under the impression that our conversation was supposed to be limited to subjects such as her book tour and her recent experiences in Europe. She wasn't hostile and she even apologized for having to end the interview, but end it she did."

Brickhouse says he realizes that bailing on so many shows is bad publicity for Lewinsky. But, he added, "she's a person, with feelings. . . . You can't force someone to do something they are just literally unable to do physically because they're upset, regardless of how it's going to be perceived."

So any requests for interviews will be turned down. Lewinsky left yesterday afternoon for Miami, where she's scheduled to sign books today. On Monday she's bound for New Orleans and Wednesday it's Dallas.

After that?

"She will be on her own," Brickhouse says.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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