Lewinsky’s potentially innocence

Critical discourse analysis or CDA, is a conscious way of exploring language, discourse and physical gestures. It does not belong to any particular school of thought or field, but it is an analytical way of studying a source which anyone can use to explore their hypothesis. CDA is extremely problem orientated, users of CDA often want to analyse the different ways language can be used to present and examine issues such as racism, sexism or politics.

This paper will explore how critical discourse analysis can be used to analyse the way newspapers described the Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton scandal. More specifically the way in which Clinton was in political danger which was highlighted throughout the tabloids but was not scathed for the affair unlike Lewinksy who was referred to in much more derogatory terms despite both parties being fully aware of their situation.

This study will focus on two newspapers, the Sunday Tribune1 and the Liverpool Echo2, which were published throughout the United Kingdom during the time of the scandal; Jamie Dettmer was the journalist writing the article for the Sunday and Susan Lee wrote on the scandal for the Liverpool Echo3 and so not only will this study be assessing the way the both Lewinksy and Clinton as a female and male are written about but also how a male and female journalist compare when discussing the scandal. Presumably, one would hope that the gender of the subjects involved would be irrelevant but as this study will show, it is not the case. It is important to discuss the scandal itself before this study can continue as it is important to delve into the context of what occurred to fully understand the notoriety of the affair and how it became international news.

The affair focuses around Monica Lewinsky who was a twenty-two-year-old intern and began working in the White House in nineteen ninety-five. Lewinsky confided in Linda Tripp, her friend who worked for the Defense Department that she and Clinton had a total of nine sexual encounters between nineteen ninety-five through to nineteen ninety-seven. Tripp secretly recorded their phone conversations and when she discovered that Lewinsky had sworn on an affidavit that she and Clinton had never taken part in any activity that was not professional, Tripp released the tapes to different investigative bodies which eventually led to Clinton’s impeachment and Lewinsky being publicly shamed. This paper will look at the way a multitude of newspapers which include The Tribune, The Daily Mail, The New York Times and The Washington Post who all discussed the scandal at the time when it was first brought to the attention of the public and the media back in nineteen ninety eight.


The newspapers used within this study are that of the Liverpool Echo4 and the Sunday Tribune5. The focus of the study is on the way in which the press and media of the United Kingdom covered the Lewinksy-Clinton affair and how the majority of the blame fell directly on to Lewsinsky despite both individuals admitting their part within the scandal. Both of the newspapers used are of British and Irish origin and are written by British and Irish journalists therefore it will be interesting to explore how unbiased reporters will argue the affair to their British readers with whom the affair has no major affiliation with. If the study were to focus on American newspapers, there could be an extreme amount of bias as journalists may have been Clinton supporters thus giving them a motive to place the blame on Lewinsky and vice versa. Critical discourse analysis seems to be the most appropriate method to use when studying written texts such as newspapers because it allows for the researcher to explore and explain the word choices behind the text and why the writers may have used the language that they have. This is particularly interesting when looking at such an infamous scandal as the journalists involved in writing articles about the affair would have very passionate views based upon their newspaper’s pre-existing morals. For example, the Sunday Tribune6 was an Irish Sunday broadsheet newspaper which often take a very traditional approach to the dissemination of the news and focuses on in-depth coverage. The Liverpool Echo7 was initially a broadsheet newspaper but in the nineteen eighties it was developed for my compact reading thus transforming it into a tabloid which allowed for much obscene stories and language to be published.

Literature Review:

There has been a considerable amount of research that has occurred which is assess the relationship between language and gender, the earliest study dates back to the work of Otto Jesperson (1922). Jesperson founded the deficit approach which argued that the language of women is deficient, and the language of men is the ‘norm’. Jesperson found within his studies that women spoke a lot more than men and that they have a smaller vocabulary because it is down to men to develop new words which women will then go on to use.

Robin Lakoff (1975/1973/2004) is a much more modern researcher on language and gender but still found similar results to Jesperson such as women apologise more, use more hedges and use super polite forms.8 However, the approach which is suited more towards this study and its nineteen nineties time frame is that of the difference approach.9 This approach views women’s language choices as culturally different rather than incorrect like other approaches. In terms of gender and critical discourse analysis, Lanchukorn Sriwimon and Pattamawan Jimarkon Zilli explore how CDA can be used to analyse gender stereotypes within political media within their paper Applying Critical Discourse Analysis as a conceptual framework for investigating gender stereotypes in political media discourse. 10They focused on a former female Thai president and looked at how she was described in clauses during her campaign, post- election and inauguration. They found that she was mostly described as a very intelligent business woman but lacked in terms of political experiences. They also criticised CDA for selecting minimal numbers of texts thus tainting representativeness.

Findings and Discussion:

Norman Fairclough (1989/1995) developed many processes for analysing a text through CDA. And finally, the sociological context which ultimately governs the two previous stages. With this in mind it is important to note despite both newspapers reporting on the same scandal, they both use very different structures even though they both blame Lewinsky predominately for the affair. My hypothesis appears to be incorrect based upon the headings of both newspapers as the Sunday Tribune12 states ‘Lewinsky to be targeted by the FBI’. The use of the verb ‘targeted’ suggests that Lewinsky is being unfairly treated by investigative bodies and that she has been set up.

The Liverpool Echo13, which at this point in time was a tabloid newspaper, instead focused on Lewinsky as ‘The mistress from hell is really just a lovelorn girl’. The use of the noun ‘girl’ connotes Lewinsky’s potentially innocence within the scandal and the adjective ‘lovelorn’ not only suggests unrequited love but also that she may have been deceived is some way by Clinton. However, when delving further into the articles it appears my hypothesis is then confirmed by the leads of the articles. As Caldas-Coulthard (1996) states “the lead is the most important paragraph of the story” 14. Dettmer begins by stating that Lewinsky was “endangering Bill Clinton’s presidency.” this is the first time Clinton has been mentioned with the main focus of the lead being on how the affair is Lewinsky’s fault. Interestingly, it can be presumed the affair would have also endangered Clinton’s marriage and family life but to Dettmer, his presidency thus his job is paramount which is a very patriarchal view. In contrast, Lee capitalises “SHE” at the beginning of her lead to emphasise and foreshadow that the article will mainly be discussing Lewinsky rather than Clinton.

Lee uses alliteration as “SHE’s been painted as a tart and a traitor.” to display the views of the general public. However, the use of the dynamic verb “painted” is really quite gentle potentially connoting her femininity despite how damning Lee’s initial introduction was. Lee uses a variety of scathing terms to describe Lewinsky stating in one sentence alone that she is a “conniving bitch who flashed her knickers at the President.” the most predominant word within this sentence is the dynamic verb “flashed”, again, this suggests that Lewinsky is to blame for the affair as she performs the verb and there is no mention of Clinton taking any physical action with or against her.

Similarly, Dettmer also uses dynamic verbs to place the blame on to Lewinsky as he talks about the “five- year affair she conducted with a married man…”. the use of the verb “conducted” suggests Lewinsky methodically set out to have an affair with Clinton and that it was planned, also this is the first time Clinton is referred to as a “married man”. The adjective of “married” connotes happiness and loyalty and therefore makes Lewinsky sound even more awful as it suggests she has ruined his familial life. Dettmer then goes on to further blame Lewinsky by quoting outside sources “Ken Starr have disclosed to The Sunday Tribune15 that Lewinsky technically lied when she avoided mentioning the affair…”. the use of the outside source does offer a degree of credibility to the article however, there is still no mention of what Clinton claimed or testified when confronted over the affair. The use of the verb “avoided” also suggests Lewinsky was being difficult with investigative bodies thus portraying her as guilty before any substantial details about the scandal had come to light.

Lee, at certain points throughout her article appears to take sympathy upon Lewinsky as she describes her “girlish giggle and hand-over-the-mouth embarrassment…” the alliteration here again suggests Lewinsky’s innocence and the description of her physical movements also suggests she is not proud of what had occurred. However, her sympathy soon turns into frustration as she argues that Lewinsky’s embarrassment is a display for media and press purposes due to how she spoke about Clinton not only to the media but also to her friends. Lee states “But then, that’s what it’s like when you’re 14 and in love.” the use of the simile does connote innocence but immaturity more so, Lee argues that Lewinsky has essentially behaved a certain way for the media to portray herself as more of a victim rather than someone who should have taken equal responsibility for the events that happened. Lee concludes by comparing Lewinsky’s overall media appearances to that of Kate Winslet in Titanic and that she is “a dreamer whose fantasies became real and then turned into nightmares.” This is the final sentence of this section of the article and still suggests that despite her earlier comments, Lee clearly believes Lewinsky has in some way been deceived and led on.


Overall, both articles conform to the ideas discussed in this paper about gender. Both focus more upon Lewinsky and place the blame at for the affair on her for the most part. However, Lee at certain points throughout her article appears to side with Lewinsky over particular situations; this could be because Lee herself is a woman and may have some understanding of how much pressure Lewinsky was under, but this still does not stop her from criticising the way Lewinsky handled herself in front of the media. rather than owning up to what had occurred and apologising as a full-grown woman would, Lee view’s Lewinsky’s actions as potentially damning and stereotypically feminine. Dettmer on the other hand focuses solely on placing the blame on Lewinsky and only refers to Clinton as a “married man” and as the “President”, not someone who also took part in the affair. Both articles conform to their newspaper structures, Dettmer is very conservative in the way he describes the scandal unlike Lee who uses profanity and extremely scathing terms to describe Lewinsky which suits her tabloid’s form.