Following a punchy 15-minute talk about the ravages of online bullying on Monday, Monica Lewinsky took her place alongside star Israeli news anchor, Yonit Levy, for a chat about the issues she has turned into a life mission. The Jerusalem convention hall was packed with A-list political and media types on hand for Ms. Levy’s whopper of an opener.
“Do you still expect a personal apology from President Clinton?”
Lewinsky abruptly rose, politely stating: “Sorry. I can’t do this.” And left the stage.
The Jerusalem-Tel Aviv corridor has been buzzing about this very American reality/ambush moment, speculating as to what really happened. Nothing, it seems, is ever as it, well, seems.
Viral video of the encounter shows Lewinsky very calmly putting down her microphone, leaving her fireside chat chair, and striding confidently offstage. Levy did her best to feign casualness and followed, very awkwardly. It made for cringe-worthy watching.
A few hours after the mishap, Lewinsky said that Levy had personally misled her alleging that they had agreed in advance on very clear parameters that were acceptable for discussion. “In fact, ” stated Lewinsky on Twitter,” the exact question the interviewer asked first, she had put to me when we met the day prior. I said that was off limits.”
She said, she said.
On behalf of Levy, Israel News Company, the conference organizer, is standing firm. In a statement, they claimed that all agreements with Lewinsky were honored and that the offending question was squarely within the scope negotiated for her appearance.
Lewinsky was thanked by Israel News Company for her insightful talk, respected for her sensitivities, and wished all the best.
Keeping up her end of public politesse, Lewinsky apologized to the audience for the unfortunate manner in which the talk ended.
“I left,” Lewinsky explained on Twitter, “because it is more important than ever for women to stand up for themselves and not allow others to control their narrative.”
Fair enough. I would have thought, however, that Lewinsky could have more than held her own in the duel with Levy. They are both strong, intelligent women. It would have had far more impact if Lewinsky cleverly and boldly exposed the chicanery to which she alleged she had been subjected.
“Yonit,” she might have asserted, “I came here to speak about and discuss internet bullying. Our written and verbal agreements are very clear that you are not to ask questions on this topic and I refuse to answer them. I’m happy to proceed with this interview on the agreed upon terms. Otherwise, I will have no choice but to cut this exchange short.”
Levy would have been loath to engage in a pedantic exchange parsing the details of legal and verbal agreements, and I expect the producer coaching in her earpiece would have instructed her to shift gears. In a flash, Lewinsky would not only have continued to control her “narrative,” but she would have demonstrated the authority, finesse and confidence that, regrettably, is required to do so.
Exactly what transpired between Lewinsky and Levy is unclear and, in many ways, irrelevant. Much more significant is the commendable work that Lewinsky has done in educating the public about the extreme perils of cyberbullying and shaming. For those who haven’t yet watched her superb Ted talk on cyber-bullying, do so.
As a veteran of decades of misogynist battles and sexual harassment in the professional and media milieux, I also urge Lewinsky to invest in some reinforced armor if she wants to ensure that her message and insights are heard and continue to influence the public discourse on these very critical issues.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
For a very limited time, we are extending a six-week free trial on both our subscription plans. Put your intellectual life in order while you can. This offer is also valid for existing subscribers wishing to purchase a gift subscription. Click here for more details.