How It Used to Be Done: Monica Lewinsky's Romantic Cassette Recording

In the ultimately "remember the '90s" nod, a seductive new electronic message sent from Monica Lewinsky to Bill Clinton has surfaced. On a cassette tape. Because in 1997, that's how it worked. Now, this sexy bit of history is simply cute.

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In the ultimate "remember the '90s" nod, a seductive new electronic message sent from Monica Lewinsky to Bill Clinton has surfaced. For those too young or old to remember, the message was an audio recording encoded onto a cassette tape. Because in 1997, when this was recorded, that's how it worked.

It's impossible not to draw the parallels, so let's get it out of the way. Yes, this is Bill Clinton, whose wife is the boss of Huma Abedin, Anthony Weiner's wife. Yes, this is a young woman with political aspirations who is trying to seduce a Democratic elected official. And, yes, it is better for Hillary Clinton's future aspirations that this recording come out in the doldrums of late July 2013 than in early June of 2016, but we're sure that's a complete coincidence. What's interesting about this isn't really the politics (unless, in true Weinerian fashion, this thing was recorded after Clinton left office). What's interesting is how the differing messages and media reflect the times.

According to Radar Online, the National Enquirer has a copy of the November 1997 recording, in which Monica Lewinsky plots a rendezvous with the then-president. This was shortly after the internet was thrown open to commercial entities. It was while AOL still dominated the web, when Geocities was still a top-tier destination. It was when Hotmail was a year old. Bill Clinton wasn't sending messages to Monica Lewinsky using Formspring or Facebook; after all, the guy only sent two emails as president.

In 1997, this was still what you did: you made tapes. If you wanted to share songs with people, you made a tape. If you wanted to record a special message to someone you loved, you mailed them a tape recording of your voice. CD burners existed, but were mostly used by record companies; audio existed on computers, but the compression and bandwidth needed to make sending them feasible were still a ways away. Cassettes played such an outsized role in culture that nostalgists have tried to resurrect it. (It won't happen.)

So when Monica Lewinsky wanted to send a secret message to her lover (also the president), she pushed play and record on her tape deck. It's how it worked.

It's also worth noting how tame the excerpts are, compared to the interactions between Weiner and Sydney Leathers. Radar Online only has excerpts, but only ministers from certain denominations would find them offensive.

On the audio tape obtained by The National Enquirer, Lewinsky at one point tries to seduce the commander in chief: “I could take my clothes off and start… well… I know you wouldn’t enjoy that? I hope to see you later and I hope you will follow my script and do what I want.”

If you need a reminder of how that differs from the Weiner transcripts, please feel free to visit Those conversations involved more profanity.

This, too, is a side effect of the medium. Lewinsky may have sent numerous tapes to Clinton of which this is the only one surviving. (Rest assured, someone at GOP headquarters is newly inspired to double-check.) But each tape was an ordeal — getting the tape, recording the message, re-recording it because you didn't like how that one part sounded, getting it to the other person. Anthony Weiner and Sydney Leathers could cover more ground over the nearly four minutes of the Lewinsky tape than Lewinsky and Clinton may have exchanged over their entire relationship. The instantaneous back-and-forth the internet allows is much more conducive to the energy of the Weiner chats than a tape recording would be. And a tape was tangible. It was a gift, a presentation. It was lingerie. A Formspring message is a message on a bathroom wall. (Also a way in which people used to communicate.)

Perhaps the most perfect part of this story, though, is how it came about. The National Enquirer running details in its print edition, picked up by Matt Drudge on the Drudge Report. That's the quintessence of late-'90s scandal media, and precisely the vehicle that this news should have taken to the public. This being 2013, though, Radar (and everyone else) hijacked it en route.

At it's heart, this isn't a political story. This has no reflection on Hillary Clinton and her perhaps-inevitable second-stab at the presidency. It reveals no new information about the president (beyond expanding our understanding of his staff's involvement in the situation). It's pure nostalgia, at a moment more than ready for it. It's weirdly charming in a way: the young lady nervously re-listening to her message, assuring its perfection, before sending it off to the man she loved, fingers crossed. In 1997, this was outrageous scandal. In 2013, it's cute.

In other words: Bide your time, Mr. Weiner.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.