Saturday 8 December, 9pm
More
< Articles

Interview with Blair Foster, series director of The Clinton Affair

Blair Foster, series director of The Clinton Affair spoke to HISTORY about Monica Lewinsky setting the record straight, why Hillary Clinton stuck by Bill and whether she'd like to make a documentary on the various Trump scandals in a wide-ranging and fascinating interview.

In light of #MeToo, do you think the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship was a consensual love affair or a gross abuse of power?

I think it was both of those things. I don't think those things are mutually exclusive. Monica's always been very clear that it was a consensual relationship. Though I'm not sure there's a more extreme power imbalance than the President of the United States and an intern and a 22 year-old intern at that, so I think it could be both of those things.

Do you feel Monica Lewinsky needed to set the record straight about the scandal after all these years?

I do think she needed to set the record straight. It was a very intense experience to have lived through and to be publicaly treated that way and not just in the United States - there were news broadcasts from Japan and from Europe - the whole world was watching her. Not only was she brutally scrutinised, she was not allowed to speak for herself at the time because she was in legal jeopardy. The Clinton Affair gave her an opportunity to talk honestly about what happened to her in a way she hasn't ever done before.

Why did you want to include Monica Lewinsky's parents in the series?

Her mother has never given an interview, not even in print. An aspect of the story I didn't know was that Lewinsky's mother was threatened potentially with jail. At the time, it didn't even occur to me to think that Monica is someone's daughter and the whole family gets swept up in the events and it was devastating for them.

One of the most shocking part of this scandal was how Lewinsky was treated by the media. Do you think she would be treated like that today?

There was no-one coming to her defence - no-one. It was astonishing to me how alone she was and how thrown to the wolves she was. Even prominent feminists were defending President Clinton which is kind of a shocking thing for me. But the tendency back then was to automatically believe the man and we're now in a world where people are thinking 'maybe we shouldn't be doing that and need to step back.' I would hope that she would be treated better.

How could Hillary Clinton reconcile her feminist views with her ongoing conduct?

Something we talked about throughout the process of the series and it's relevant not just with Hillary Clinton, but with other women who stay with their husbands is that women should not be held accountable for the actions of their husband. I know she's a very religious person, she has a deep faith and I think that's true of a lot of women who stay with their husbands. But I honestly don't know how she can reconcile it

It's a weird contradiction that Bill Clinton who did a lot of great political things for women, behaved so appallingly towards them in his personal life.

It is but I wish I could say it's unusual but it's not there' s a long history of politicians behaving like that. Ted Kennedy springs to mind as well as someone, in terms of policy, did a lot of good things for women but in his personal life was not exactly known for that.

'Should we hold our politicians to a higher standard than we hold ourselves?'

It points to an issue that is finally being spoken about which is when you have a society that is governed by men, your choice is kind of limited and that might be the best choice you had, is someone that maybe privately is not acting the way you would like to but at least publically is doing the greater good for women.

Maybe with more women in power and maybe with these discussions we can start to change that.

Bill Clinton was not involved in the documentary but if you had him in front of the camera, what would you ask him?

I've thought about this a lot. The question that I keep coming back to is should we hold our politicians to a higher standard than we hold ourselves? Meaning that should we expect them to act in their private lives the way we expect ourselves to act in our private lives.

I think this really speaks to us as citizens. Look at our current President too. A lot of people talk about morality and character but at the end of the day, I'm not sure everyone votes on that, certainly based on Trump.

What one question would you like to ask Hillary?

The obvious question - and I'll be honest, I don't know I'd have the nerve to ask her this question - is why did she stay with him? I'd like to think I'd have the nerve to ask that one but I'm not sure that I do. That's something that everyone wants to know. I'd also like to ask her  about the fact that his actions do end up having an effect on her career and what she thinks about that.

To me, this is fascinating. Yet another reason why I wanted to do this series was about how these things don't go away. I think we often think of history as that box of photos and keepsakes in the attic that we bring down occasionally to look at when we're in the mood for it. That's not how history works it's around us all the time, past and prologue. I think the inability to address a lot of these issues is something that we're living with now. The Clintons in 2016, is a prime example of this.

There are echoes between the Clinton Scandal and the current situation in America. Would you like to come back in 20 years and do a documentary on the Trump White House?

The Trump White House, I feel would have to be a 50 part series. I'm not sure I'm up for the commitment of that.

What was the biggest challenge putting the documentary together?

I had a fantastic team of people who worked on this, and would say out biggest challenge is to get people to participate. It was key to me that we reach out to everyone involved and that they had the opportunity to have their voice heard. I wanted the story to be told from everyone involved. I had to step aside and let the story unfold organically. 

For a lot of people, this was a very painful and difficult period of their life, one they didn't want to necessarily revisit. A lot of people felt, why do we need to revisit this? Why bother when there are so many more important things going on right now?  I think persuading people to participate was the biggest challenge and we did it by taking a very serious approach and not a sensationalist approach. There was no political agenda here.

I came to this with as blank a slate as I could. I said to everyone on the team, we have to put all of our prejudices aside. Oftentimes we would have discussions and we would be talking about Bill Clinton and I would say 'OK, now substitute Trump for  Clinton, do you still think the same way?' We challenged ourselves to put our own politics aside, to make sure we were treating everyone fairly.

Was there a Republican conspiracy against Clinton?

There's no question there were groups of Conservatives working to take Clinton down. That's not a newsflash that's called politics but I think there were a couple of unique aspects to what they were doing and one is an emerging conservative media even before Fox News, in the form of Rush Limbaugh, Conservative magazines and things like that.  They were very sophisticated and clever in the way they used media to get their agenda out. 

There's no question that there were a group of conservative lawyers who were colloquially referred to as 'the elves' who were helping Paula Jones's lawyers who helped sweep Lewinsky up in the lawsuit. So I definitely think there were groups of Conservatives working to bring him down. 

Conspiracy I think it's a loaded term and one I'm very wary of but there's no question there were those like Lucianne Goldberg who was unabashed in her desire to - in her own words -  expose Clinton for who he really was.

The Clinton Affair starts Monday 8 December at 9pm.