President Bill Clinton was not a popular man in Utah. Just look at the election results.
In 1992, Utah was the only state where Clinton finished third, behind both President George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot. And he was a distant second in 1996, behind Bob Dole.
If Clinton was a producer of the FX’s 10-episode “Impeachment: American Crime Story,” you’d want to know. It would be important to know, because you’d have to watch somewhat skeptically.
Clinton is not a producer of “Impeachment.” Monica Lewinsky is.
Remember, the series is “based on a true story.” It’s not altogether true — and it’s beyond sympathetic to Lewinsky. Executive producer Ryan Murphy begged her to join the production, and as Lewinsky tells it, he said he wouldn’t go ahead without her participation.
She was the series’ “main consultant,” according to executive producer Brad Simpson. “We relied on her for specificity and veracity. And we also relied on the many, many, many, many books and documentaries and grand jury testimonies that were written and processed about this.”
But every single page of the script was reviewed by Lewinsky before it was filmed.
“Impeachment” isn’t really about the impeachment itself, it’s about the events leading up to it. It’s told not from the perspective of Clinton (Clive Owen) or any of the other men in power, but from the perspectives of Clinton accuser Paula Jones (Annaleigh Ashford), self-styled whistleblower Linda Tripp (Sarah Paulson), and, yes, Lewinsky (Beanie Feldstein).
Writer/executive producer Sarah Burgess said she worked with Lewinsky on “every script page.” Feldstein said it was a “great gift” to know that “every word that I was saying was approved and had been to Monica first.”
Don’t get me wrong. There’s something to be said for a retelling of the history through the points of view of Jones, Tripp and Lewinsky.
Executive producer Nina Jacobson argued that Lewinsky had been “muzzled” during the scandal by special prosecutor Ken Starr and her own lawyer, who told her she could face charges if she spoke out. “And, so, to have been silenced and really culturally banished for 20 years, there was no way we could make this show and not give her a voice. It would have felt utterly wrong.”
While it may be wrong to exclude Lewinsky’s voice, that doesn’t mean it’s right to rely so heavily on the point of view of one person who is part of the story. No matter whose perspective that may be, it means viewers aren’t getting the full picture.
And I’m no Clinton apologist: I thought he should’ve resigned back in 1998. And I agree with Burgess, who said, “I really do wonder how different things might be for someone in Monica’s position today.”
This chapter of American history played out in a pre-social media world — long before the #MeToo movement — and the hunger for scandal certainly overshadowed the power dynamics between the president of the United States and a White House intern.
Simpson said it was important to Lewinsky that the relationship with Clinton be portrayed as “mutual and consensual.” Because, according to her, it was. Lewinsky was a college graduate, and she knew full well that Clinton was married when she got involved with him.
Lewinsky may have felt silenced at the time, but as a high-profile, anti-bulling advocate and, now, as a Hollywood producer, she has earned the chance to tell her story on her own terms.
Whether the show’s creators made the right call in hiring and catering to Lewinsky is another story.
As Simpson put it: “I hope the show will change peoples’ minds.” In other words, the producers set out to rehabilitate her image.
“Impeachment: American Crime Story“ is pro-Lewinsky propaganda. I hesitate to use this word because it’s inflammatory, but it’s also true.
To their credit, the producers have been upfront about Lewinsky’s involvement and there is that “based on a true story” disclaimer, but viewers tend to miss or ignore those things.
There are, after all, a lot of people who think that the nonsense in Oliver Stone’s 1991 film “JFK” is actual history.
“Impeachment: American Crime Story” premieres Tuesday on FX — 8 p.m. on Dish and DirecTV, 11 p.m. on Comcast.
Clinton vs. Trump
When FX went into production on “Impeachment,” my first thought was — compared to what Donald Trump did while he was president, the Clinton scandal seems trivial. Nobody tried to overthrow the government. Nobody fomented an insurrection.
But, Simpson pointed out, the Clinton scandal may have led directly to the incredibly corrupt Trump administration. “This incident set a standard where somebody can lie and they can just hold on to office,” he said.
Clinton lied about his affair with Lewinsky to his wife, under oath, and to the American people. Not only was he acquitted by the Senate, but he ended his term with the highest approval rating of any president since Franklin Roosevelt. And, as Simpson put it, there was a “casual acceptance” of his lying by those who supported him politically.
Trump lied at least 30,573 times while he was in office, according to The Washington Post. That’s more than 20 lies a day that we know of. And, clearly, that didn’t bother most of his supporters.
“The question I would ask is — is the acceptance of lying … a gateway to where we are now?” Simpson asked.
Good point. And, if you ask me, answering that question would be far more interesting than rehashing the Clinton scandal.