Weeks Like These
When Hunter Walker from Talking Points memo called me yesterday afternoon in search of NSFWCORP writer Olivia Nuzzi, something felt off. There was something in Walker's voice as he asked me for comment on claims by Anthony Weiner’s staff that Olivia had only written about her time working for his Weiner’s campaign for her own personal publicity. It sounded almost like glee. But why? “Is there anything specific they’re alleging?” I asked.
“They just had some candid things to say about her,” Walker replied. (I didn't record the conversation, so I'm likely paraphrasing his exact words.)
An hour later, of course, Walker’s tone made perfect sense. Weiner’s communications director, Barbara Morgan, had called Olivia a “cunt,” a “bitch” a “twat” and a “slutbag.” All on the record.
I’d already tipped Olivia off about Walker’s call, of course, and we’d agreed that I’d continue to stand between her and the billion news outlets trying to get her to comment. Whatever Weiner’s people were claiming, Olivia had -- and has -- no interest in joining the media circus. Her pieces for NSFWCORP, and the follow up for the Daily News, were pieces of journalism, written following her experience on a campaign that, even before today, was falling apart.
By the time Walker’s piece was published, Olivia had already moved on to her next task: working on final edits for her upcoming profile of New Jersey Senate hopeful (and current third-place runner) Rush Holt. A few hours earlier she’d turned down a solicitation to appear on Piers Morgan Tonight (but not before Morgan’s producer – a woman – had told Olivia on the phone, not at all creepily, that “I’m jealous of your body”. Does she say that to every guest? Did she say that to Alex Jones?) In fact she has since declined every interview request, from Huff Post Live and ABC News to Sean Hannity, Good Morning America and the Today Show. Hardly the behavior of a fame whore, or even a millennial. But precisely in character for Olivia.
When we first met to discuss her joining NSFWCORP – a couple of months ago – she didn’t even mention the mayoral race until she was about to leave. “I saw you tweeted a photo from a Weiner event,” I said, “What were you doing there?”
“Oh, I’m working as an intern on the campaign,” she said.
In my head: a record scratch.
“Seriously? You work for Anthony Weiner? You have to write about that,” I said.
“Maybe,” she said. But she wanted to go to Washington DC to report the Holt piece first.
It was only after Weiner was once again accused of sending dick pics that I called Olivia and insisted she write about Weiner already. She’d just quit the campaign because it was getting in the way of her writing and her school work.
The two short pieces she wrote for us are what then prompted the Daily News to get in touch, and she agreed to write a follow up for them, on the understanding that they wouldn’t splash her on the front cover or anything ridiculous like that. “We just need a byline photo like we have for all contributors,” they assured her. It was that pic – her Twitter bio pic – that they blew up on the front page, under the headline “EXCLUSIVE: People Only Work For Weiner To Get To Huma And Hillary”.
But, yeah, Barbara Morgan called Olivia a slutbag and accused her of wanting to get famous. “A fame hungry ‘bitch’ who ‘sucked’ at her job” is how TPM’s Walker had quoted her.
“Did you read it?” Olivia asked when the TPM piece landed.
“Woooooooowwww,” I replied.
In hindsight I should probably have asked if she was ok. Expressed concern. Made reassuring sounds. Anything, really, except what I actually texted next:
“It’s fucking Christmas.”
But, look, from NSFWCORP’s purely selfish point of view, it IS fucking Christmas. The comms director of a NY mayoral candidate – a candidate who is world famous for texting pictures of his cock to near-strangers – has the brass balls to try to slut-shame a journalist simply for doing her job, and writing the truth.
Within minutes of the TPM piece landing, our traffic had increased 5000%, and it’s still holding steady. Within an hour, the word “slutbag” was trending. Olivia is 20 years old, still finishing school and barely a month into her gig as a writer for NSFWCORP and suddenly she’s the most talked about intern since… well, the one with whom Weiner confused her. I hired Olivia because she’s a brilliant and funny writer, a great reporter who wanted to write about Rush Holt – one of the duller men in politics – and now suddenly she’s knocking Bradley Manning off the trending topics list. Jingle all the fucking way.
As a startup, NSFWCORP has zero budget for promotion, so we live or die by the quality of our writing and reporting. (Instead of spending money on half a dozen flights, I’ve rented a van to drive the team nine hours to San Francisco for our Future of Journalism Dinner on Thursday night. Come!.) To get this much attention for a story without having to spend a dime on advertising, or to pull some kind of traffic-whoring publicity stunt, is manna from heaven.
I told Olivia I was registering slutbag.org, although I wasn’t immediately sure why.
She somehow managed to communicate her eye roll via text. Then she went back to editing her Holt piece and I went back to dancing around the office like a child.
An hour or so later, Barbara Morgan emailed a short apology – subject line: ‘apologies’ -- to Olivia while simultaneously alerting Buzzfeed to the fact that she’d done so. Her excuse: when she was calling Olivia a cunt she thought she was speaking off the record.
Morgan’s email to Olivia read…
From: Barbara Morgan
Date: Tue, Jul 30, 2013 at 9:55 PM
To: Olivia Nuzzi
I left you a message to this effect, but I wanted to be sure to reach out via email to apologize as well.
In a moment of frustration, I had, what I believed, was an off the record conversation with a reporter and I used vulgar language which was inappropriate and I am very sorry.
There is nothing to excuse my behavior and I am very sorry for this.
This morning, Olivia responded via Twitter. Her first and only public response to all this madness:
“As to Barbara Morgan's apology, of course I accept it.”
If NSFWCORP is lucky enough to survive into adolescence, and if I’m ever asked on some panel or other why I founded the company, this is the week I’m going to think back to. NSFWCORP has made all kinds of lofty claims: we’re going to build the future of journalism (with jokes), we’ll save long form reporting while breathing new life into print. Yadayada.
Really, though, the reason I started the company is this: nowhere else would I have the privilege of hire a brilliant 20-year-old reporter who will brush off being called a “cunt” by Anthony Weiner’s spokesperson, will turn down the chance to appear on the most viewed news shows in America, will humor her 33-year-old editor singing and dancing at the attention her story is bringing… all because she’s on a deadline to finish a profile of Rush Holt and she’d really like to get to sleep before 2am.
That’s the future of journalism right there, and I couldn’t be more proud that Olivia is part of our team.
A couple of hours ago, I emailed Barbara Morgan for comment, specifically on whether she intended to remain in her post and to clarify her definition of the word "slutbag". She has not yet replied. She did, however, tweet this picture of an overflowing swear jar.