The Monica Lewinsky confessional in Vanity Fair brings back a torrent of unfond memories of the appalling cast of tabloid gargoyles who drove the scandal. Remember them? Treacherous thatched-roof-haired drag-queen Linda Tripp, with those dress-for-success shoulder pads? Cackling, fact-lacking hack Lucianne Goldberg, mealy-mouthed Pharisee Kenneth Starr—the whole buzzing swarm of legal, congressional and gossip industry flesh flies, feasting on the entrails. And, of course, hitting “send” on each new revelation that no one else would publish, the solitary, perfectly named Matt Drudge, operating in pallid obsession out of his sock-like apartment in Miami.
A once-in-a-lifetime cast! Or so we all thought. But what we didn’t know at the time is that they were not some passing cultural excrescence. They were the face of the future. The things that shocked us then—the illicitly taped conversations, the wholesale violations of elementary privacy, the globally broadcast sexual embarrassments, all the low-life disseminated malice—is now the communications industry as it operates every minute of every day.
Monica is right when she writes that “only a few years later, with the advent of social media, the humiliation would have been even more devastating.” Or maybe not: When the feds pressured her to talk that fateful night in the Ritz Carlton bar in Pentagon City, she’d have pulled out her iPhone and called her mom, who’d have told her to say nothing without a lawyer present. She just might have walked away from the hell that followed.