PR #protip: Don't Call An Ex-Intern A "Slutbag" While On the Record

Should you find yourself saying this stuff -- even though you really shouldn't be in the first place -- you definitely should confirm you're off the record when you say it.
Publish date:
July 31, 2013
sexism, politics, Anthony Weiner, olivia nuzzi, exposes, M

You know how it goes. You write a disgruntled tell-all about your experiences working on a mayoral campaign that totally bombed-out, and then you're being called a slutbag and a cunt. Just another day in New York politics -- or perhaps, another punch on the ticket to Weinerville.

I have to confess: I have a strange fascination with Anthony Weiner. Not his weiner, mind. Please do not send me unsolicited Weiner weiner pics, as I have thus far managed to avoid them with aplomb. But the whole thing is just so bizarre, so oddly American, so outrageous.

I recall that the first time he let his weiner fly, I was in Chicago visiting friends, and we wandered around Hyde Park late at night talking about how his career was effectively over. I mean, how do you come back from that? But we were wrong, as we discovered when Weiner was once again embroiled in a weiner scandal (seriously, man, TWICE? REALLY?!), and oddly enough, my friends happened to be in California for this revelation, so we could walk around the headlands having the same conversation we'd had in Chicago all those years ago.

So here comes Olivia Nuzzi, talking about her experience on the campaign for the “New York Daily News,” and unsurprisingly revealing that it was a bit of a shitshow. I mean, this seriously cannot come as shocking news to, uh, pretty much anyone, I hope. She freely admits that she joined the campaign because she was young, ambitious, and wanted to try to get an inside angle on the sweet sweet Clinton magic through Weiner's wife Huma.

She stuck it out for a month before moving on. That might not have been news except that Weiner couldn't keep it in his pants, so suddenly her tell-all had a fascinating, prurient, delicious aspect that the media couldn't resist.

Needless to say, the fast-sinking campaign was less-than-thrilled to have themselves exposed (so to speak) like that, and here's where things got fascinatingly ugly. Like, slowing down for a trainwreck even though you're totally trying to pretend you're not gawking ugly, because it's just so much. You can't believe your eyes.

Barbara Morgan is the communications director of the campaign, with experience including a variety of spokesperson positions for people and organizations. Exactly the kind of woman, in other words, whom you could expect to have a good handle on handling PR disasters like this one smoothly and elegantly. Right? Like, this is her job, just like my job is to lie around being fat and lazy in my pajamas.

But in an interview with Talking Points Memo, she proceeded to rip a new one on poor Nuzzi; the former intern was a slutbag, a cunt, a fucking twat. Her profanity-laced tirade included threats to sue, and, apparently, a general lack of comprehension about how media relations works.

Because, the thing is, one, you don't say this stuff. You just don't. You say it at home when you're lying in your bedroom staring at the wall thinking about the “stupid interns” who just made your campaign look like a total farce in the media. You do not say it to journalists or people who associate with journalists, to bloggers or others who simply love passing on juicy details.

And should you find yourself saying this stuff -- even though you really shouldn't be in the first place -- you definitely should confirm you're off the record when you say it. Like, really, people, this is pretty basic. If you can't even be arsed to verify that a conversation is really truly off the record, you kind of get what you deserve, which is a public pillorying for calling a former intern a “fucking slutbag.”

I don't know what the hell kind of thoughts were going through this woman's mind, but one of the first rules of public relations is that you don't go into these kinds of interviews angry, and you keep your cool at all times. Even if you're strongly inclined to imaginatively and creatively express your rage, you do that on your off time, not in a situation where it could be used against you.

Morgan claims she thought she was off the record, and is shocked, simply shocked, by all of this – though she has, of course, apologized. Somehow I can't help but think of her line about how Nuzzi will have trouble “ever [getting] a job in this town again.” She might as well have been referring to herself with that comment -- or maybe not, given how quickly scandals seem to rise and fade in the public consciousness.

All I'm saying is that I sure as hell wouldn't hire a communications director who had a history of completely losing her shit in a pretty routine interview about a disgruntled intern's snarky tell-all for the news. Because if you can't at least handle that, you're gonna have a really tough time dealing with actual communications crises for your candidate or organization.

I'm glad that Nuzzi, at least, seems to have realized the potential of this PR disaster -- she's working it for all she's got on her Twitter profile: