Bill Clinton’s affair with a former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky, is one of the biggest American political scandals of all time. From the fact that Clinton is married, to their 27-year age gap, to the skewed power dynamics of the then-president of the United States
president of the United States having an affair with an intern, everything about this situation screams “scandal.” Despite the scandal being so widely heard of, there are several intricate details that far fewer people are familiar with — these details constitute season two of the political podcast “Slow Burn.” Everyone knows the general outline of the scandal, but “Slow Burn” reveals all the minute points and stretches them out into a full, detailed and telling narrative.
“Slow Burn,” a Slate podcast, focuses on political scandals. Season one covered the Watergate scandal of former president Richard Nixon, spending eight episodes unraveling the story. Season two moves on to Bill Clinton’s impeachment, the ultimate result of his affair with Lewinsky. Hosted by Slate writer Leon Neyfakh, each episode focuses on one layer of the affair and places it under scrutiny.
From start to finish, the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal is complicated. It extends much further than the facts of what happened between the two of them, with the political implications beginning before Clinton even reached the White House and dragging on long after the affair ended. And with a multitude of other key players — from the woman who exposed the scandal, Linda Tripp, to the man who investigated the former president, Ken Starr — there are many layers to keep up with. Yet “Slow Burn” not only keeps these individuals distinct but also becomes utterly interested in each of them.
In “Episode 5: Tell-All,” Neyfakh manages to interview Tripp for the podcast. They discuss, in detail, her motivations for recording her conversations with Lewinsky and eventually her reasons for giving the tapes to then-independent counsel Starr. Tripp is given the opportunity to explain for herself the moral predicament she found herself in — betraying her friendship with Lewinsky or bringing attention to what she saw as unacceptable behavior for the president. Listeners get to decide for themselves how they feel about Tripp’s decision as the kickstarter for the scandal becoming public.
Similarly, in the uproarious season finale, “Episode 8: Move On,” each and every detail available is given to the listeners, allowing them to come to their own conclusions. This episode focuses on Juanita Broaddrick’s accusation that Clinton raped her in 1978, before he was governor of Arkansas. In an interview with Broaddrick, she details her account of the rape and discusses the aftermath with Neyfakh. Neyfakh then examines the implications of the accusation, namely how Clinton was never really impacted by it; he denied the allegation and then it was, for the most part, dropped by the public. The episode doesn’t come to a solid conclusion, but every detail available is laid out.
The significance of exposing these details is what makes this season of “Slow Burn” so worthwhile. Each episode explores difficult and timely subjects without explicitly setting out to do so — these topics come with the subject matter and are treated carefully and with consideration. The initial affair brings questions of power dynamics to the forefront. The aftermath illuminates the gender disparity of how participants in a scandal are treated — Lewinsky’s public image versus Clinton’s. And the idea of how assault victims are treated threads throughout each episode, whether it is Lewinksy, who didn’t see herself as a victim despite Tripp treating her as such, or Broaddrick, whose claimed herself a victim yet whose story hasn’t been as lasting.
“Slow Burn” strings together details that might not even seem relevant and displays just how much a scandal is made up of a million tiny pieces. If you think you know where your opinions on the scandal stand, you will change your mind multiple times during each episode. There is still an immense amount of ambiguity at the end of season two of “Slow Burn.” And, maybe most importantly, without ever calling it out, the timeliness of “Slow Burn” is strikingly evident, making it especially important and captivating for all who tune in to listen.