The Quick Report

10 Scandals That Defined the ’90s

OJ Simpson Trial
Youtube | Investigation Discovery

The 1990s was a decade marked by cultural shifts, technological advancements, and, of course, its fair share of scandals. Despite the fact there was no social media and the internet was just getting off the ground, there were a handful of stories that had the nation on the edge of their seats.

But, while some scandals are still talked about to this day, others have faded into obscurity over the years. Here are the top 10 ’90s scandals that may, or may not, have slipped your mind.

Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan

Nancy Kerrigan After Tonya Harding attack
Youtube | Intersport Chicago

There’s a solid chance that if you’re under the age of 30 you’ve never heard of either Tonya Harding or Nancy Kerrigan. So with that being said, let’s take it back to 1994, shall we? Olympic figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan were embroiled in a scandal that rocked the sports world after Harding’s ex-husband orchestrated an attack on Kerrigan. 

He hired a man to bludgeon Kerrigan while she was practicing on the ice, which injured her knee and led to doubts about her ability to compete in the upcoming Winter Olympics. The incident captivated audiences and sparked a media frenzy, tarnishing Harding’s reputation and forever altering the landscape of figure skating.

The Lewinsky Scandal

Monica Lewinsky greeting Bill Clinton in a crowd.
Youtube | CBS New York

This one is a hard one to forget, let’s be honest. One of the most infamous scandals of the decade, the affair between President Bill Clinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky dominated headlines in the late ’90s. 

In fact, you couldn’t turn on a TV or open a newspaper without hearing about it. The scandal led to Clinton’s impeachment by the House of Representatives on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice — although he was acquitted by the Senate — and unfairly tarnished Lewinsky’s reputation for decades.

The O.J. Simpson Trial

OJ Simpson Trial
Youtube | Investigation Discovery

“If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” The trial of former football star O.J. Simpson for the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, gripped the nation in 1995. Dubbed the “Trial of the Century,” the case became a massive media spectacle. 

Simpson’s defense team, led by famed attorney Johnnie Cochran, skillfully navigated issues of race and police misconduct, while the prosecution relied on forensic evidence and eyewitness testimony to build their case. In the end, Simpson was acquitted of all charges, sparking debates about the criminal justice system, race relations, and the influence of celebrity in the legal process.

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The Heaven’s Gate Cult

Heaven's Gate Mass Suicide
Youtube | CBS 8 San Diego

The Heaven’s Gate cult, led by Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles, gained notoriety in 1997 when 39 of its members committed mass suicide in a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, California. The group believed that by shedding their earthly bodies, they would be transported to a spaceship trailing the Hale-Bopp comet and achieve salvation. 

The meticulously planned event shocked the world and raised serious questions about the dangers of cult indoctrination and the power of charismatic leaders. The tragic incident spotlighted the need for vigilance against extremist ideologies and the importance of critical thinking and skepticism in the face of manipulation.

The Menendez Brothers Trial

The Menendez Brothers trial
Youtube | Grunge

This was a court case for the ages. Lyle and Erik Menendez were accused of brutally murdering their wealthy parents, Jose and Kitty Menendez, in their Beverly Hills mansion in 1989. The brothers claimed that they acted in self-defense after enduring years of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their parents. 

The trial, which occurred in 1996, became a media spectacle, with vivid details of the family’s dysfunction and the brothers’ lavish spending habits splashed across tabloid headlines. Ultimately, the brothers were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

The Jenny Jones Show Murder 

Jenny Jones Murder Case
Youtube | ABC News

In 1995, Scott Amedure, a guest on The Jenny Jones Show, revealed his romantic feelings for his friend Jonathan Schmitz during a segment about secret crushes. Days later, Schmitz fatally shot Amedure in a crime that was later deemed to be a result of embarrassment and humiliation.

The tragic incident raised questions about the dangers of sensationalizing personal relationships for entertainment purposes and prompted increased scrutiny of reality TV programming. It also led to changes in the way talk shows handle sensitive topics. 

The Newt Gingrich Ethics Controversy

Newt Gingrich
C-Span

This may seem like nothing compared to the political scandals of today’s world! In 1997, Newt Gingrich faced scrutiny over his use of tax-exempt organizations for political purposes and the acceptance of improper gifts.

The House Ethics Committee ultimately reprimanded Gingrich and fined him $300,000 for violating House rules, but the controversy tarnished Gingrich’s reputation forever. It also raised concerns about the influence of money in politics and the ethical standards expected of elected officials. Times certainly haven’t changed. 

The Bobbitt Case

Lorena and John Wayne Bobbit
Youtube | ABC News

Lorena Bobbitt made headlines in 1993 when she infamously severed her husband John Wayne Bobbitt’s member with a kitchen knife while he was sleeping.  Lorena claimed that she had endured years of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her husband, and the act was a desperate response to his violence. 

Needless to say, the case sparked intense media coverage and ignited debates about domestic violence and gender roles. Ultimately, Lorena was acquitted of criminal charges because of temporary insanity.

The Whitewater Scandal

Hillary Clinton During Whitewater Investigation
C-Span

The Whitewater scandal, which began in the late ’70s but gained prominence in the ’90s, involved allegations of impropriety and financial misconduct by then-President Bill and First Lady Hillary Clinton regarding a real estate venture in Arkansas. Simply put, the Clintons were accused of receiving preferential treatment and financial benefits from their involvement in the venture, as well as engaging in illegal activities such as fraud and bribery. 

While multiple investigations were conducted, including by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, no charges were ever filed against the Clintons directly related to the Whitewater affair. However, the scandal dogged the Clinton administration throughout Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Read More: 10 Hilariously Outdated Examples of 1990s Tech

The Y2K Panic

Man showing stockpile of food for Y2K
Youtube | National Geographic

The Y2K panic, which reached its peak as the year 2000 approached, stemmed from fears that computer systems worldwide would malfunction or crash due to a programming oversight. No seriously, this was a real thing! The glitch, known as the “Y2K bug,” arose from the practice of representing years with two digits instead of four, potentially causing systems to interpret the year 2000 as 1900. 

As a result, governments, businesses, and individuals invested billions of dollars to update or replace outdated systems. While the Y2K bug ultimately caused minimal disruptions, the panic surrounding it highlighted society’s growing dependence on technology and the need for proactive risk management.

Read More: The Top 10 Geeky Shows from the 1990s