Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, March 5, 1999

The world according
to Monica Lewinsky

ANY accident -- even a minor fender-bender -- will turn the usually expedient H-1 freeway into a slow-moving caravan. Rubberneckers on both sides of the highway will gawk and ogle to see if they know the hapless victims involved.

Nobody wants to admit to such primitive behavior because rubbernecking is an embarrassment and a nuisance, since it impedes traffic flow. Still, it's part of human nature -- the morbid, voyeuristic, thrill-seeking side.

Somehow, this "car crash" metaphor kept popping up for me during the agonizingly long, two-hour interview of Monica Lewinsky on Wednesday night by ABC's Barbara Walters. Like almost everyone who watched the special edition of "20/20," I simply couldn't help myself.

After months of being subjected daily to the TV newsclip of this woman hugging President Clinton on the White House lawn, I wanted to hear "Monica's Story," which coincidentally is the name of her newly published book.

I needed an explanation to the question asked of Hugh Grant by an incredulous Jay Leno, after the actor picked up a street prostitute and almost ruined his career: "(Sound of hand slapping forehead) What were you thinking!?"

Boy, am I sorry that Lewinsky answered. It was painful to watch this articulate 25-year-old -- hair pulled back, conservative black pantsuit, shiny pink lipstick -- deteriorate into a giggly teen describing her flirtation with a guy who happened to live and work in the White House.

The show, called "In Her Own Words," should have been subtitled, "Everything You Wanted To Know About Monica, And A Lot You Didn't Want to Know." For example, Lewinsky explained that:

bullet She and Clinton were "sexual soulmates."

bullet She wanted to express to the country how sorry she was for "her part in this ordeal," but that she wouldn't "dream of asking the forgiveness of Chelsea and Hillary."

bullet The reason she showed the president her thong underwear ("Where did you get the nerve?" queried Walters) was that they got caught up in intense sexual teasing that led to physical gratification on both sides.

bullet When she said, "I love you," he would respond, "That means a lot to me."

bullet She didn't keep the stained blue dress, which allegedly contained DNA evidence of the affair, because she wanted it as a memento; she simply never got around to sending it to the dry-cleaners until Linda Tripp urged her to keep the frock as "insurance."

bullet After being transferred to the Pentagon, she met someone named Thomas, got pregnant by him and had an abortion.

bullet She loves her parents, pities Tripp, is afraid of Ken Starr, sometimes hates the president and is sometimes proud of him -- which sounds pretty much like most of us, doesn't it?

THEN, in the last 15 minutes of the interminable interview, Lewinsky started crying, which was almost like a public catharsis and a definite signal that the staged spectacle would, mercifully, soon be over. Bring on the book signings!

Like a bad automobile accident, the entire two-hour TV special was sickening to behold. Yet it was also curiously mesmerizing, like a crash on H-1.

I watched the interview with Monica Lewinsky for the same reason people rubberneck at accidents. They want to see if they can relate in some way. You are relieved when you don't know the poor saps and even more thrilled that, thank goodness, it wasn't you.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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