Monica cashes in - or so her handlers hope

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The Independent Online
ARE YOU ready for "M" week? "M" stands for March, for Madness and, above all, for Monica. You thought you had had enough of Ms Lewinsky and what she got up to with President Clinton in the Oval Office? No, no, you are hungry for her. You just didn't realise it.

That is the fervent hope of Ms Lewinsky and her handlers, anyway. This week is Monica's chance to wipe off the slime that has stuck to her image over the past 12 months. She has not spoken before - unless you count her testimony to the grand jury contained in the Starr Report, or the more recent glimpse of her giving her video deposition in Mr Clinton's Senate trial.

It is the hope also of all those helping Ms Lewinsky to perpetrate the media storm. They are TV news stars Barbara Walters of ABC in the US and Jon Snow of Channel 4 in Britain. The Walters interview with Ms Lewinsky comes on Wednesday; the ABC network, confident of ratings, has cleared two full prime-time hours for it. Thursday brings the Lewinsky-Snow hour.

Thursday also sees the release of Monica's Story, the vaunted book about her life and experience as Mr Clinton's mistress, co-authored with Andrew Morton, who rose to prominence with Diana, Her True Story.

By rights, Monica week should be a flop. In the US, at least, pollsters are united: the public feels worn down by the scandal that bore her name and is filled with relief that, with the President's acquittal, it is finally over. It is not as if many Americans even like Ms Lewinsky, although some feel sorry for her; only 9 per cent could summon any affection for her in a CBS survey published last week.

As a news story in the US, Monica is fading. TV news channels that virtually sustained themselves on Monica for a full year have now abandoned her - in part because of the message of the polls. (Some, like cable channel MSNBC, have seen viewer numbers plunge 30 per cent since the trial's end.)

What is more, another woman linked in tawdry circumstances to the President has briefly occupied US airwaves and column inches. She is Juanita Broaddrick, a former Arkansas businesswoman who finally came forward to confirm long- running rumours that she was allegedly raped by Mr Clinton in a Little Rock hotel room 21 years ago during a nurses' convention. Luckily for Ms Lewinsky - more luckily for the President - the Broaddrick allegations show little sign of taking hold, largely because the alleged assault happened so many years ago. The statute of limitations on the case would already have expired. Ms Broaddrick herself, moreover, last year signed an affidavit denying that the assault ever happened.

It may be that the rehabilitation of Ms Lewinsky has already happened. She has been praised for choosing quality over tabloid for her media resurrection. (Some may query the interview granted to Hello! magazine last week, but its distribution was confined to Europe and received no attention here.) "Brand Monica", declared the headline on an article in New York Magazine, which argued that she had already shed the image of "slut, victim, valley girl", and turned into "one of the major brands of our time".

Among the deals that Ms Lewinsky reportedly considered and turned down was an interview with the talk-show empress Oprah Winfrey, and an exclusive all-media-rights agreement with Rupert Murdoch's Fox television network for $5.5m (pounds 3.5m). In the end, however, she went for respectability with Walters and Snow. From ABC she will get no compensation; Channel 4 is paying her $600,000 and a cut of foreign broadcast rights. St Martin's Press, which bought rights for US publication of Monica's Story from Michael O'Mara Books in London, is giving her another $600,000 as her share of an advance.

St Martin's has ordered a first printing of 400,000 copies, a huge number for a biography. However, Lynn Goldberg, literary agent for Ms Lewinsky, is confident that, poll figures notwithstanding, people will flock to buy the book, just as ABC is certain that ratings on Wednesday night will be gigantic.

"People tell us that Monica has been over-exposed," Ms Goldberg observed, "but if anything the showing of her Senate deposition on television just tweaked public fascination further. It's human interest, it's world- wide news. What was this young woman really thinking? What was the quality of this relationship? What was her emotional cast of mind? Believe me, this book is going to be immense."

And after all of this? Does Monica go back to private life, or is this week her springboard to long-term celebrity? If New York Magazine is right, she may soon have a television show of her own, or perhaps a perfume brand or a line of fashion. But caution is advised. Once these interviews are done - plus one sit-down with Time magazine - that will be that, her publicity agent, John Scanlon, insisted last week.

"She will let her talk with Barbara Walters stand as a record," he said. And the Snow interview too, of course.

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