To compete with those indelible images of Anthony Weiner’s erect penis, the New York City mayoral campaign now has new mental picture: the slutbag.
That’s what Weiner spokeswoman Barbara Morgan called an intern with the campaign who had quit and written a tell-all for the New York Daily News. Olivia Nuzzi described the campaign as a adrift, Morgan as unqualified, and fellow interns as only taking on the assignment to get in good with Weiner wife and Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
And that’s not all Morgan called Nuzzi in a conversation with a reporter for Talking Points Memo that the spokeswoman said later she thought was off the record. Besides “slutbag,” there was “bitch,” “twat,” “cunt,” some cringe-inducing valley-speak (“Like it was, like, terrible and I had to like—she would like, she would just not show up for work”), along with threats of the “you will never work in this town again” variety.
It was a surprising showing by Morgan, previously a well-regarded flack for the New Jersey Department of Education and prior to that at the New York City Department of Education. Pickings for top political operatives were slim by the late date Weiner announced his run—never minding that staffers weren’t exactly clamoring to climb on board with the scandal-scarred pol—and Morgan had handled the attendant circus with aplomb and some degree of grace. She joked, for example, with a reporter on her way up to the press conference where Weiner admitted that he had been sexting even after he resigned from Congress that she was just, you know, “living the dream.”
Morgan’s comments Tuesday, however, brought more unwelcome news for a campaign that has seen nothing but since that fateful press conference. Weiner had been cruising in the polls, besting his rivals in a few of them, until news broke that he was engaging in online liaisons under the nom-de-Internet Carlos Danger even as he and Abedin were telling sympathetic interviewers that they were deeply in love and that Weiner’s wild days were done. Just as voters seemed to be signaling that they didn’t care about the scandal, suddenly Weiner was trailed by a swarm of reporters wherever he went. That his cyberamour, Sydney Leathers, embarked on a media campaign of her own didn’t help. (When the question is raised on the Howard Stern show if you are jerking off too much to be mayor, you have generally lost control of your message.)
Weiner’s campaign manager quit. A series of stories suggested that the Clintons were appalled by the spectacle and wanted it over. The “ideas book” that he touts at every opportunity—his plan to lead the nation’s most populous city—has been overwhelmed with questions about when Weiner really stopped sexting. His fellow candidates have suggested he drop out, since, in part, it has become extraordinarily difficult to talk about affordable housing or your plan for education reform when the penis of one of your competitors keeps popping up online. His poll numbers sank. A majority of New Yorkers said they wanted him out of the race and off their television screens. “Anthony Weiner has lost his mind,” Politico said in conclusion.
As for Morgan, political communications pros say they are mixed about what she did. For sure, the intern who penned the behind-the-scenes tell-all for the Daily News was operating way outside the bounds of normal behavior for political operatives, and the judgments she rendered as a political newbie were fairly shallow.
Morgan “always seemed like a professional to me,” said Bruno Tedeschi, a communications pro who flacked in the same Jersey educational circles as Morgan. “She seemed to have a good handle on her subject matter, she understands how to communicate, she is a good writer.”
Still, he said he wondered whether she made a mistaken assumption that her story was off the record when it wasn’t.
“I have had many conversations with reporters off the record that I would be embarrassed if they were made public,” he said. “A lot of this goes to what kind of relationship you have with a reporter and establishing right away what is on the record, what is off the record and on background. The assumption should be that it is on the record unless it is explicitly stated otherwise. Any public relations professional knows that it is on the record unless you are talking to a reporter you know very well.”
Josh Marshall, editor of Talking Points Memo, said in an email that after he heard the tape of the conversation and was certain that Morgan never went off the record, he and the site’s managing editor “scrutinized everything related to the story.”
As for Morgan, she seems to be trying to be a good sport about it all. On Wednesday afternoon she tweeted, “Not my best day yesterday. Should’ve known better, been better. Gotta pay up.” Attached was a photograph of swear jar, overstuffed with hundred-dollar bills and a Visa card.