Judy Smith, the inspiration Olivia Pope, heroine of the ABC’s Scandal, handles scandals

Judy Smith is the Washington, D.C., ‘fixer’ whose career is the basis for the television show ‘Scandal.’
Judy Smith is the Washington, D.C., ‘fixer’ whose career is the basis for the television show ‘Scandal.’
Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images


Judy Smith, the inspiration behind the tough, sexy Olivia Pope, heroine of the ABC television phenomenon Scandal, feels the pain of your hellish divorce, your professional plummet, your gaffes — and she is there for you.

Smith is the Washington crisis manager — a former deputy press secretary to President George H.W. Bush — who went on to represent such clients as Monica Lewinsky, Paula Deen and various corporate giants, sports stars and celebrities.

Co-executive producer and technical adviser for the political drama, Smith, in her book, Good Self, Bad Self, aims to help us all pick ourselves up from life’s tumbles and avoid future falls.

This week, in advance of Saturday’s sold-out Jungle Island author’s luncheon, sponsored by the Greater Miami chapter of The Links Incorporated — aptly titled Scandalicious — I spoke with Smith about the business of crisis management and the show that made her and her vocation household names.

Thanks to Scandal, the words “fixer” and “crisis management,” once reserved for political and corporate-strategy sessions, are now part of the American lexicon.

It’s easy to see how Smith gets it done, as she chats you up as if you’re an old friend, even when she skates past a question, with confidence and finality, a la Ms. Pope. She won’t dish on her notorious clients, including Lewinsky. However, in a telling Scandal moment, Olivia Pope says, “You know who else was a good person? Monica Lewinsky and she was telling the truth, and she still got destroyed.” And no, as she has said many times, she never slept with the president. Olivia Pope, the creation of Scandal writer, director and producer, Shonda Rhimes, who also gave us Grey’s Anatomy, is having a steamy affair with the Republican president.

When did you decide this is what you wanted to do?

Smith: I can’t really say it was one of those “a-HA” moments. I think a lot of times your skill set and the things that you’re good at sort of drive you to where you need to be. One of my first cases was Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton. And certainly having worked at the White House and the experience that I had was extremely helpful. I don’t think I made that conscious decision. In a lot of ways, as I say in the book, it’s sort of been in my DNA, and it found me, if that makes sense.

Have you ever turned down a client?

Smith: Yes. What we really do when we decide to take on a client is start from the end goal, the end solution, of what the client might want, and we try to map out a strategy to see if we can get there. And the question is really whether you can assist in rebuilding the brand, whether you can move the needle or not. And if it can’t pass that test then we don’t move forward.

There’s some personal preference involved too.

Smith: You just know it when you see it. You know what I mean. I’m sure you’ve been in that situation. You know it when you see it. And that’s a good thing. I think that comes not only with instinct, but experience and wisdom, as well.

Twenty years ago, you advised Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court. Anita Hill is now somewhat of an icon, with a new documentary out this month. Would you have advised her to do anything differently at the time?

Smith: Well, you know when I was at the White House, I was President Bush’s deputy press secretary and worked on a whole host of issues, but I would not attempt to advise her.

What skills are required of a fixer?

Smith: I think it’s important that the client, whether the client is a corporation or an individual, is able to trust the person sitting across the table from them, that the client feels that that person is obviously good at what he or she does. I think you have to have good sound judgment, and a sense of calmness about you. I think the communication skills are important, and being a strategic thinker.

Don’t you think it clouds the issue when a person or entity is “fixed”?

Smith: It depends on what it is, and I’m not trying to vague. There are certain politicians who have a reputation of being forthright and honest. So it would be inconsistent for anyone, if you were a press secretary or communications director, to try to change what the perception or the reality of the voters and members of the community already have.

At times we’ve probably all wished that there was someone who could swoop in and fix our situations at work or home. Is that what you’re trying to tap into with Good Self, Bad Self?

Smith: Yes, the purpose of the book was to take the experience that I’ve had over the 20 years, and really point out that some of the same qualities and traits that I’ve seen in crisis are the same that everyday people have.

The only difference that separates us from high-profile folks is just that. My thought was that we all go through challenges, ups and downs and, hopefully, in the book there are some tips that are helpful.

What’s next for you?

Smith: I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. I love it. At 9 o’clock, we could have a corporate crisis with a product defect, at 11 something involving a celebrity. Twelve o’clock, it’s a politician or athlete. You never get bored.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald

Tony Lesesne


    Tony Lesesne: Overkill, and an apology

    Yes, it happens in South Florida, too — and it shouldn’t. Black men pulled over, needlessly hassled by police officers who give the rest of their colleagues a bad name, who make no distinction when a suspect has no other description than ‘black male,’ who harass residents because they can. A North Miami Beach officer pulls over a black man in a suit and tie — and behind the wheel of an Audi that simply had to be stolen, right? In another Miami-Dade city, an officer demands that an African-American man installing a vegetable garden justify why he has a shovel and seedlings. Detained for possession of cilantro? Here are five South Floridians who tell of their experiences in this community and beyond, years ago, and all too recently.

Delrish Moss


    Delrish Moss: Out after dark

    “I was walking up Seventh Avenue, just shy of 14th street. I was about 17 and going home from my job. I worked at Biscayne Federal Bank after school. The bank had a kitchen, and I washed the dishes. A police officer gets out of his car. He didn’t say anything. He came up and pushed me against a wall, frisked me, then asked what I was doing walking over here after dark. Then he got into his car and left. I never got a chance to respond. I remember standing there feeling like my dignity had been taken with no explanation. I would have felt better about that incident had I gotten some sort of dialogue. I had not had any encounters with police.


    Bill Diggs: Hurt officer’s feelings

    “I’m the first generation in my family to go to college, and if I wanted to do nothing else, I wanted to make my mom happy. I was living for my parents, I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to go to work and not have to put on steel-toe boots. And here I am in Atlanta, I have finally grown to a particular level of affluence. I wasn’t making a lot of money, but I was a college kid, wearing a suit, driving a nice BMW going to work everyday. Can’t beat that. I would leave my house, drive up Highway 78, the Stone Mountain area, grab some coffee, go to work. So on this particular morning, there’s a cop who’s rustling up this homeless guy outside the gas station where I was filling up. I’m shaking my head, the cop looks at me. This homeless guy is there every morning. I get in my car and on to the expressway. The police officer comes shooting up behind me. I doing 65, 70. He gets up behind me, I notice he’s following me. I get in one lane, he gets in the lane, I get in another lane, he gets in that lane. He finally flips his lights on, he comes up to the car. I’ve been pulled over for speeding before, I know the drill. Got my hands up here, don’t want to get shot, and I think he’s going to say what I’ve heard before: ‘License and registration, please.’ He says ‘Get out of the car!’ and he reaches in and grabs me by my shirt. He says, ‘So you’re a smart ass, huh?’ Finally he says, ‘License and registration.’ I tell him it’s in the car. He says, ‘Get it for me!’ He goes back to his car, comes back and asks, ‘So where did you get the car from?’ I say ‘It’s a friend of mine’s.” He says, ‘Is it stolen? What are you doing driving your friend’s car?’ I finally asked, ‘Is there a reason you stopped me? You followed me, what’s up, man?’ He says, ‘I’m going to let you go with a warning, but if you see me doing what I’ve got to do for my job, don’t you ever f---ing worry about it.”

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category