U.S. News

08.01.13

Olivia Nuzzi Lawsuits, Movies & More: 2013 Is the Year of the Intern

They’re embroiled in the Anthony Weiner scandal, declaring their love for Paul Ryan, and suing everyone from Gawker to Fox Searchlight. Brandy Zadrozny on the interns who are shaking things up.

It’s 2013, and the interns will not be ignored.

Not since the Monica Lewinsky scandal has this free workforce been such a hot topic. Gone are the days when thankful trainees, grateful for the experience alone, made copies and brought coffee before blending into the wallpaper.

As an intern at Chanel, Sofia Coppola didn’t cause a big fuss. “I was getting coffee and doing intern stuff, but just to be around him [Karl Lagerfeld] was amazing,” she said.

But today’s interns are looking for more: more money, more exposure, more of it all. And they’re getting it everywhere, fighting in courts to be paid for their efforts, on the silver screen, and in headlines—as leakers, rabble-rousers, and epic failures.

Here are a few of the eager beavers who have made 2013 the year of the intern.

Weiner’s Gal

Fordham University junior Olivia Nuzzi is the latest intern to grab her 15 minutes. She gathered just enough dirt during her one-month internship for Anthony Weiner’s kamikaze mayoral campaign to land a front-page story in the New York Daily News detailing some fairly tame experiences—the interns really wanted to work for Huma Abedin, and Weiner called several of her colleagues “Monica.” The real news came when Weiner’s press secretary, Barbara Morgan, lashed out in what she later said she thought was an off-the-record conversation, calling Nuzzi a “slutbag” and a fame-hungry “bitch,” along with a few other choice epithets. Morgan said at first that Nuzzi was a real go-getter and “begged me to be my intern” despite warnings that the job wouldn’t be glamorous. But soon Nuzzi’s enthusiasm waned and she was missing work and failing at her job, according to the foul-mouthed spokeswoman. “She sucked,” Morgan said. “She was clearly there because she wanted to be seen.” Mission accomplished, whippersnapper.

The Political Prodigies

Interns are wasting no time shaking things up in Washington.

They are often told to be proactive, but one self-starter at the National Transportation Safety Board got the axe for acting “outside the scope of his authority” and erroneously confirming the names of the flight crew on Asiana flight 214 that crashed at San Francisco International Airport this summer. That mistake led a Bay Area TV news anchor to read on air what in hindsight seem to be obvious and offensive fake names: Sum Ting Wong, Wi Tu Lo, Ho Lee Fuk, and Bang Ding Ow. Even after the intern’s firing, an NTSB spokesman told Politico, “It’s unfortunate because he’s a very intelligent young man who made a very big mistake.”

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Another underage congressional intern came to work “absolutely hammered” before offering a slurred declaration of his love for Rep. Paul Ryan and losing a shoe while he went to score a burrito, according to an internal memo sent to Gawker. “Needless to say,” the cable said, “he was promptly sent home to sleep it off and I’m down an intern for the remainder of the summer.”

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And Byron Thomas, a confederate flag–loving intern for South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott, is serious about patriotism, and he’s using all of his intern power to start a Pledge of Allegiance movement in the Senate. In an email that was almost immediately forwarded around the Hill and to news organizations, a very earnest Thomas pleads with staff and underlings to put their hands over their hearts.

“I’ve only been here for 8 days but I can tell that something is wrong, (in my opinion),” he writes. “We have American flags in front of every room, but I’ve never seen anyone take the time to proudly say the Pledge of Allegiance ... I would love to say the pledge with the different offices before 9 a.m. (because that’s when I start work). All I want is for our generation to show that we’re united and that we’re going to stand together.”

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The Lawsuits

Interns aren’t letting all this publicity go to waste. Now they’re fighting for their right to get paid.

Increasingly rejecting the learning-experience narrative, a number of interns are successfully winning the wage war in court. A June ruling that unpaid production assistants for the 2010 film Black Swan were de facto employees of Fox Searchlight paved the way for the interns to kick off their training wheels and demand compensation.

In the last couple of months, interns have won cash settlements from Charlie Rose and his production company, as well as clothing designer Norma Kamali. And they’re swarming courts with petitions, at least 13 this year, against companies including Condé Nast and W magazine, Warner Music, MSNBC, Gawker, and Saturday Night Live.

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The Movie

In the midst of all this intern hoopla, someone thought it would be a good idea to make a $60 million feature-length buddy-comedy about two middle-aged wannabe Googlers competing for a summer internship. That person was wrong. The movie-watching world yawned at Vince Vaughan and Owen Wilson’s antics, and The Internship flopped, earning $18 million at the weekend box office and coming in fourth place.

Presaging the lackluster response, Wilson told Entertainment Weekly, “Flops are actually more relaxing than hits. Because that initial opening weekend when something bombs, it’s like, ‘OK, it’s over.’”