Let us count how many crises got managed in the debut of “Scandal,” the “deliciously dumb” ABC drama about the business of fixing some very bad behavior in the Capital of the Free World.
●One two-timing U.S. president carrying on not just with a naive intern who attempts suicide but also the foxy damage-control diva around whom the show is built. That would be Olivia Pope (played by Kerry Washington), inspired by real-life crisis manager Judy Smith, more about whom in a moment.
●The Russian kidnappers Pope buys off with $3 million cash in return for the ambassador’s baby boy who is retrieved from his abductors in a cardboard box.
●An Iraq war hero and church deacon who’d rather take a false murder rap for his girlfriend’s killing than be outed as gay, until Olivia
convinces him to man up.
Which brings us back to Judy Smith, she of the steely nerves and notorious clientele: BP Oil and its Deepwater Horizon eco-disaster; Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton’s favorite intern and former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, busted for smoking crack in a downtown hotel with a woman not his wife, and when the cops arrived, famously swore, “the b---- set me up.”
And on. And on.
At 53, Smith and her high-priced firm no longer fly under the radar. An attorney, a former deputy White House press secretary for George H.W. Bush and corporate spokeswoman for NBC, she is now cross-marketing like mad.
In addition to co-producing “Scandal” (show creator Shonda Rhimes et al suggest nightmare scenarios, Smith offers solutions), she is hyping her book, “Good Self, Bad Self: Transforming your Worst Qualities Into Your Biggest Assets,” for those who need to “repair reputations, save corporations, quiet rumor mills, calm, scare and stay out of trouble in the first place.”
I first met Smith in the mid-‘90s, when I was co-writing The Post’s dishy “Reliable Source” gossip column and she was counseling any number of beleaguered bold-facers.
This week, we had a little catch-up Q&A.
Why does it seem that men screw up more than women?
While women are certainly in substantial positions of power, that number is still lower compared to men, so I think that probably has something to do with it. I have more high-profile men involved in cases concerning allegations of sex … Women are more inclined to weigh consequences. Women are smarter about it. Over the years, beginning with Gary Hart, we have seen politicians get into trouble in this area and we have seen the ‘stand by your man’ wife go away over time.
How closely does Olivia Pope’s reality reflects yours?
“Scandal” is soooo Hollywood. It’s not me. [Shonda] Rhimes has done a really good job translating the kind of high-wire jam-packed days that we have, and I feel very lucky that the general public gets a sense of what a crisis manager does.
And that would be?
At 9 a.m. a corporate CEO might resign. At noon, I’d be representing a country. At 2 o’clock, there would be a celebrity in trouble. I never get bored. It’s in the DNA.
How much do you charge for crisis management? Is it, ‘If I have to ask, I can’t afford you?’
Ha ha. If I answer that, you may not call. I charge by the hour or I am on a retainer. We try to work with the client.
What’s your best advice for those smart enough to take it?
Look at the facts as they truly are, not as you want them to be. And here is something your parents would say: Tell the truth because it doesn’t go away. The facts always come out.
Were you ever involved with President Bush?
Annie Groer is a former Washington Post staffer and writes widely about politics, culture, design and 21st-century manners; her work has appeared in Politics Daily, More magazine, Town & Country and TheAtlantic.com, among others. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnieGroer.