It’s been exactly one year since Andrew Cuomo left office in epic disgrace. But enough about that guy.
Let’s talk about Lis Smith’s comeback tour of fantastical delusion.
Smith is out promoting her new book, Any Given Tuesday, a dishy tell-all about her life as a political consultant to the likes of Pete Buttigieg, Bill de Blasio, and, yes, the former governor of New York. What exactly did she do for Cuomo? You don’t have to put money in her pocket to find out; just read Attorney General Letitia James’s 168-page report verifying Cuomo’s misconduct and his team’s efforts to smear the women who spoke out about his abuse. Smith is all over text messages and e-mails, gleefully taking credit for putting her spin in MSNBC anchor Katy Tur’s mouth; telling off Matt Flegenheimer from The New York Times; and bending the ears of media bigwigs like Bill Maher, George Stephanopoulos, and Chuck Todd. A PR sharpshooter, Smith’s job was to take out Cuomo’s enemies, in this case a cascade of former and current government employees who’d been propositioned, forcibly touched, and sexually harassed by their boss. According to her, though, she was practically on a humanitarian mission: “It’s impossible to describe the isolation and hopelessness that consume you when you’re in the eye of a PR shit storm. I couldn’t live with myself if I let anyone I knew well go through it alone,” she writes. But Cuomo couldn’t be saved, despite her best efforts. That’s on him, she concludes, not the responsibility of an amoral operative who is neither naive nor stupid, and who stuck with the Prince of Darkness for six months straight through endless revelations.
With the exceptions of Sarah Jones and Erik Wemple, who wrote withering columns about the media and political economies that make Smith’s absurd about-face possible, she’s been treated to mostly fawning profiles. “There’s nobody more fun to get spun by than Lis Smith,” blared New York magazine. “Lis Smith is not your grandfather’s political consultant,” smirked The New York Times in a piece headlined “Confessions of a Political Swashbuckler.” Politico somehow managed to conduct an entirely straight-faced, 90-minute interview, repeatedly describing the book as “honest,” without once asking about or speaking to the women who’ve been on the receiving end of Smith’s “talents.”
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They have thoughts.
“The saddest piece that she has to live with, which is what she was staking her name and reputation on, was that this abusive man was going to destroy the women. That I and other women would be destroyed by this, and he was going to win,” explains Lindsey Boylan, a former aide and the first person to speak publicly about Cuomo.
Smith bet big that defending one of the most powerful Democrats in the country and shitting all over his victims would pay off in her favor. That is, until her own reputation was on the line. Again, you don’t have to buy her book to get the facts—let’s go to the videotape! You can watch Smith being deposed by thoroughly uncharmable prosecutors, as she squirms to explain her response to a March 3 e-mail from a reporter asking if she would speak to him for a story about the people advising Cuomo. In a message to Cuomo’s top aides, she declines, writing, “it would be bad for my credibility and yours.”
Office of the Attorney General (OAG): You didn’t want your help public, correct?
Smith: I’ve been advising people behind the scenes for months, I didn’t feel the need to have my name in the paper.
OAG: Did you have a concern that your credibility would be undermined, given that you were presenting yourself as an independent source with respect to the sexual harassment allegations?
Smith: There was maybe a small element of that. In my conversations with reporters, I didn’t go out of my way to [stumbles, long pauses] about the fact that I was advising the governor at this level…. I didn’t want to be in the media right then, in the middle of this firestorm. That was my main concern.
This goes on for several more minutes of filibustering and lots of “I don’t recalls” from Smith, but the basic facts are clear to Charlotte Bennett, another former aide and the second person to come forward: “The only reason she’s writing this book is because she made the wrong political calculation. It’s truly just trying to step away from the biggest career mistake she could’ve made.” But not because she cared about the facts, or the humanity of the women at the center of the “PR shit storm” she was raining down on their heads.
OAG: At any point did you believe the allegations by accuser #6?
Smith: When I heard them I was shocked and I wanted to hear what the governor said before I drew a conclusion. For me, it’s important to hear what different sides have to say and when I heard him I believed him.
OAG: Considering that it’s important to you what different sides have to say, have you heard what accuser #6 has to say about the allegations?
Smith: Yes, I’ve read the press coverage.
“Everyone has to have a job, and it’s going to be someone’s job to work for abusers like that and know what they’re doing, but let’s just be clear about it, and that’s what I would appreciate,” adds Boylan. “She can make all the money she wants smearing people for the candidates she represents but I think she should earn both sides of that reputation.”
That’s something for Michigan state Senator Mallory McMorrow—Smith’s latest star client—to consider, as well as the reporters who continue to rehab her image by quoting Smith on everything from the New York congressional primaries to Joe Biden’s sunglasses.
“Unlike her, I didn’t have a choice, it was literally the only thing I could do and I had to bend over backwards seven times to do it,” explains Bennett, recalling the experience of speaking up and being smeared. “At this point no one can take anything away from me. They tried to take everything from me. Whatever I have now isn’t going anywhere. There have been points at which I haven’t felt myself. At the same time, on the other side, it’s just you. You’ve survived and you did it for yourself, and your family, and your beliefs. For the right reasons. And I want to be the person who does the right thing for the right reasons.”
Where’s the book deal in that?