Former Monica Lewinsky attorney William Ginsburg and a panel of media experts discussed “Lawyering in the Glare of the Media” at GW Law School Tuesday afternoon.
National Public Radio legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, and GW School of Media and Public Affairs professors Carl Stern and Steve Roberts rounded out the panel’s discussion on the news media’s effect on legal representation in heavily publicized cases.
The panelists, moderated by law school Professor Stephen Saltzburg, probed Ginsburg about his representation of Lewinsky in the early phase of the presidential impeachment scandal.
Ginsburg, a prominent California civil litigation attorney and friend of the Lewinsky family, was dismissed as counsel six months after his client first made headlines.
The panel questioned the attorney’s decision to defend Lewinsky on numerous television news and commentary programs.
Ginsburg said his nearly daily television appearances were designed to divert media attention from Lewinsky and spare her additional emotional trauma.
The panelists said Ginsburg’s approach made his client’s defense more prominent, but his overexposure may have shaped public opinion of Lewinsky.
But Ginsburg said he stands by his decision to appear on television, which he said he thinks inspired a media-wide inquiry into independent counsel Kenneth Starr.
“After the first couple of days, I would’ve told him to shut up,” Totenberg said.
Those frequently in the media must be wary of what they say, she said.
“I think Mr. Ginsburg learned the unfortunate lesson of Washington life, which is don’t overexpose yourself,” Totenberg said.
She said Ginsburg’s situation is similar to that of GW law professor Jonathan Turley. The networks lost interest in Turley’s comments on the presidential scandal when he appeared on television too frequently, Totenberg said.
Roberts echoed the opinion that Ginsburg faced overexposure in the press.
“The media loved it,” he said. “(Ginsburg) was accessible, he was good copy and he was there for the shows.”
Roberts said the problem with Ginsburg’s representation was he acted both as Lewinsky’s attorney and her public relations manager.
“They are not the same thing of course, and the balance is hard to calculate,” Roberts said.
Stern, a former Department of Justice spokesman, said the type of exposure Ginsburg received also was a problem.
The repeated images of the attorney getting out of luxury cars and dining at exclusive eateries weakened sympathy for Lewinsky, whom he tried to portray as a victim of the president and the Office of the Independent Counsel.
“There was a natural residue of sympathy for (Lewinsky),” Stern said. “But after about six days, (Ginsburg) needed to suffer more.”
Ginsburg said the networks provided all the transportation in which he was seen and restaurants offered him free meals to generate publicity.
“As for suffering, I was only away from my wife and three children for six months, lost three-fourths of my clientele and didn’t make any money in the time I was involved,” he said. “Being in the glare (of the media) has its problems and its penalties. But no one from the press is interested in that.”