In 1998, Roger Ailes used the titillating scandal of then-President Bill Clinton's affair with a 22-year-old White House intern to build his cable news network, Fox News. Ailes passed away last week, one year after being ousted from Fox News amid sexual harassment allegations. Now, that intern — also known as Monica Lewinsky — has put voice to how it felt watching her life become hysterical cable news fodder.
Writing in The New York Times on Monday, Lewinsky offered an obituary not for Ailes, but for the "culture he purveyed." Ailes' directive to his employees to cover the affair and subsequent trial "ceaselessly" meant that her life became a "nightmare," Lewinsky wrote:
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 [...] 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.
For myriad reasons — information gathering, boredom (I couldn't leave my home without being trailed by paparazzi), and a touch of masochism — I watched the news around the clock. On Fox, it seemed, no rumor was too unsubstantiated, no innuendo too vile and no accusation too abhorrent. [Monica Lewinsky, via The New York Times]
Lewinsky is quick to clarify that Fox News was not the only cable network to make ratings out of her personal life, but she points out Fox's almost gleeful coverage of it. "Just days after the story broke," Lewinsky recalls, "Fox asked its viewers to vote on this pressing question: Is Monica Lewinsky an 'average girl' or a 'young tramp looking for thrills'?" She also notes a particular irony in Ailes' career: that "he harnessed a sex scandal to build a cable juggernaut and then was brought down by his own."
"Our world — of cyberbullying and chyrons, trolls and tweets — was forged in 1998," Lewinsky writes, burnished by Ailes' round-the-clock coverage of her dalliance with Clinton. Read her entire op-ed at The New York Times.