Slate's Jeremy Stahl set out to find out how much—and just what—millennials remembered about the Monica Lewinsky scandal for his piece Why Millennials Don’t Care About Monica Lewinsky. Stahl talked to several millennials on the Slate staff for his reporting. Here’s what they said:
Culture blogger Aisha Harris (10 in 1998): It definitely forced my parents to talk to me more about sex than they had probably anticipated, since it was pretty much inescapable—it was still a while after that before I understood what the stain on the dress meant and why it was such a big deal though. I have much more vivid memories of the OJ trial than Lewinsky—and I was 7 then.
Assistant editor L.V. Anderson (11): I was definitely aware of it and interested in it, and I gleaned a lot of information from newspapers/TV, though I don’t recall my parents talking much about it, except to denounce the congressional Republicans’ prurient exploitation of it. I was totally oblivious of how the Clintons threw Monica under the bus, though. And, of course, since I was 11, I thought Monica, at 22, was a legit adult—I had no idea that 22 is really way too young to be taken seriously.
Video and podcast producer Chris Wade (10): This was largely both my generation’s first memory of politics and (one) of our first awarenesses of sex. I definitely learned what a blow job was and how Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution grants Congress the power to impeach the president in the same week. It's a weird conflation for a 10 year old: “The president is the boss of the country, he makes sure everyone follows the laws and Congress makes sure he's not allowed to have special private time with that lady who's not his wife, or else the dress gets dirty and that's ... bad? Illegal? Something.”
Photo editor Juliana Jimenez Jaramillo (11): I also remember having an intensely awkward sex talk about it—I very unfortunately had gotten a haircut that looked exactly like hers and boys would tease/bully me about it. For like three weeks my nickname was Lewinsky. My dad found out and somehow thought it was my fault? Thus the talk and the ensuing bottomless, soul-crushing shame. So I sympathize with her. It was a big deal even in Colombia.
Copy editor Ryan Vogt (13): I feel like I remember it very well. All the various Time covers (we were subscribers). The story of the photographer who took the famous picture of Clinton and Lewinsky hugging. (Turns out tons of people had photographed the same scene, but they had all deleted their pictures because it was in the relatively early days of digital photography. (The photographer had a quote like “This is why I’m never switching from film. All the pictures I take are there forever.”) I remember girls in school named Monica had a tough time for a few weeks, at least. I might have trouble with a timeline, but I feel like I’m familiar with the highlights—the “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky” speech, the “vast right-wing conspiracy” quote, Clinton’s admission that he “misled” people, the fanfare around Clinton being the second-ever president impeached, etc. I could pick Linda Tripp or Kenneth Starr out of a lineup. I feel like people forget how explosive it really was. Imagine Obama having a “blue dress” situation on his hands. It would be unbelievable.
Copy editor Abby McIntyre (10): I remember having a conversation about the impeachment in class (fifth grade) at one point, but we were only just learning about the concept of government so the whole idea was very foreign and confusing even as our teacher tried to dumb it down for us. I also remember hearing a skit on late-night radio that I used to listen to about the “blue dress,” and I knew it was related to the whole scandal somehow but I certainly didn't know any of the details. The whole scandal remains opaque to me to this day. In my U.S. history class in high school we never covered this. (Our history book only went up until Reagan if I recall correctly.) I actually remember there being a question on my AP U.S. History test about why Bill Clinton was impeached. I was able to get it right by multiple-choice elimination, but I remember many of my classmates complaining that they really had no idea!