Public shaming

Piling on someone whom the internet has decided is worthy of public shaming is now a commonplace phenomenon. John Oliver has an excellent segment on when public shaming is justified and when it is horribly wrong.

The second half of this segment features an interview with Monica Lewinsky who was viciously and unjustifiably slut-shamed twenty years ago. She has weathered the storm that surrounded her and which could have easily destroyed her. Remarkably, she seems to have come through that ordeal and the interview reveals her to be a delightful person who deserves an apology from all those who attacked and ridiculed her.


  1. Steve Cameron says

    I can’t view the video on account of living in Canada where it is “unavailable” but, from what you write, it sounds like Oliver is cribbing from fellow Brit Jon Ronson’s great book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, which came out 4 years ago. Ronson even did media appearances with Monica Lewinsky on it’s release, though she isn’t featured in the book IIRC. I’m not calling foul or anything; in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if John and Jon knew each other.

    Mano, have you read anything by Jon Ronson? Very interesting “gonzo” journalist who writes, but also podcasts and makes documentaries, about people on the fringes. For his fist book, Them, he profiled (among others) then-unknown conspiracy nut Alex Jones. His recent works include a couple of podcast series about the porn industry, one of which investigates the death of a pornstar who allegedly committed suicide after an online shaming.

  2. says

    The podcast series “slow burn” tells Lewinsky’s tale from a distant perspective. It’s fascinating. She really suffered, to protect an experienced and manipulative cad.

  3. Katydid says

    Wait, wait! Before we all hop aboard the “Lewinsky is an ANGEL ON EARTH, a PERFECT SAINT”, let’s remember the facts. Lewinsky, fresh out of college where she engaged in a number of relationships with her married professors, knowingly had a sexual relationship with a married man, and then was stupid enough to confide in a Republican woman who not only egged her on in it, but illegally recorded everything she had to say about it and used it against her.

  4. lanir says

    @Katydid: Doesn’t that seem a bit ridiculous to bring up at this point? Especially with the content and subject of the video being what it is?

    Monica is about my age and around that time I was in a relationship with someone who was married. We’re not famous so our names wouldn’t mean anything to you or anyone else here. But let’s say one of us was, do you really think that one thing should be foremost in the minds of everyone I meet or anyone who talks about who I am at this point? I don’t even have the power gap that Monica had to deal with in any of the relationships described. Perhaps we should both be wearing scarlet letters the rest of our lives?

    Personally I think this is all based on a bunch of puritanical BS. It seems fine at first because many of us are exposed to it growing up but once you really look at it it’s just a cesspool of ugly, awful nastiness all the way down. If you’re going to participate in a public shaming I feel like this is quite possibly one of the worst reasons to do so.

  5. Katydid says

    @Lanir; my greater point was that in the midst of all the Clinton-bashing that’s become so popular, to remember that Lewinsky wasn’t the delicate, naïve little greenhouse orchid who stumbled completely innocently into a nest of vipers, and that she was used by the Republicans who were looking for any excuse to impeach Clinton. There’s a saying in my native language: lie down with dogs and get up with fleas. Should this be her only accomplishment in life? No, but the whole thing would never even have been a blip if a Republican woman hadn’t egged her on, and the Republicans are the puritanical party of “affairs are okay for me but not for thee”.

  6. Mano Singham says


    I don’t think that even Lewinsky portrays herself as some kind of angel and the interview does not claim that either. The point that is that what she experienced was way out of proportion to what she actually did. she got it from two sides: Republicans eager to use her to discredit Bill Clinton and Clinton-backers anxious to deflect attention from him. She did not deserve that sustained level of attack.

  7. lanir says

    @Katydid: That sounds a lot like guilt by association. Which seems an odd justification when no one else seems to have caught the same degree of consequences.

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