Ben Fishel was all bright-eyed and smiling at Media Matters for America’s book party last night for organization founder David Brock. The only thing we knew when we first approached him was that he is the late Andy Rooney’s grandson. But there’s so much more to this fresh faced young man in a blue checkered shirt and dark tie.
For one thing, he was the press secretary to ex-Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) who first encouraged the congressman to use Twitter. For another, Weiner basically canned him two weeks before the scandal broke. The departure, he explained, was something in between a contentious quitting and a firing.
Fishel, now the press secretary, for the nerdier, wonkier lawmaker and previously a press employee for MMFA for four years, hasn’t spoken publicly about working for Weiner until now. But last night he revealed a few choice details about how Weiner treated his staff. (We’re talking aides, not penis. We know how he treated his member.)
“I had words with him, ” recalled Fishel, who worked for Weiner for one year. “We butted heads. He was really a jerk and called women on the staff ‘fat.’ … He was so unbelievably cruel.” Fishel, who acknowledged the congressman had a quick wit and stood politically for all the things he did, reasoned, “People make mistakes with their penis all the time.” But being cruel? That’s a “day to day decision” a person consciously makes. While other aides would cower under Weiner’s domineering demeanor, he challenged him and called him out for the way he treated office employees. That didn’t go over so well.
Fishel explained that he was the one who initially tried to persuade Weiner to go on Twitter. He sent him a memo detailing why the lawmaker ought to sign up for Twitter. Though he sat mere feet from the congressman, the office red tape was an intriguing clusterf&%k: First he’d write the memo and an executive assistant would take it to the congressman. Next, the congressman would mark up the memo and fax it back to Fishel. “It was very bizarre,” he said.
At first Weiner shooed away Twitter as “trite.” Fishel gave up. But soon Weiner rolled back around and signed up for the Social Media tool that would be his demise. Said Fishel, “I didn’t think I had to brief him on that.”
We attempted to reach Weiner via his Twitter account. His account is up, but he doesn’t seem to use it anymore.
Read about what the aide describes as Weiner’s revolving door of hires as well as Rooney’s phone call to Fishel about Weiner…
Fishel recalled Weiner’s press office being a revolving door of aides who didn’t last long. The flack just before Fishel lasted only six months. He recalled firings being swift in the office — the congressman would demand that a person’s belongings be put in a box and set outside the door.
Despite the stress of working for Weiner, Fishel drew comfort from his grandfather, who clearly adored and doted on him, sometimes calling him up to chat. In characteristic Rooney form, when he was finished talking he’d hang up the phone — no distinct warning, no goodbye. When the Weiner scandal broke, Rooney rang Fishel and said simply, “Ben are you watching?” With that, he hung up the phone.
Update and Correction: According to ex-Weiner staffers in key staffing positions, the press secretary that preceded Ben lasted six months, not six weeks. The above has been changed to reflect that. Noteworthy: Weiner’s Twitter account was set up in Oct. 2009 but was not used in any significant way until Aug. 2010.