Is Emily Miller A Victim Of Sexism, Or Her Own Abrasiveness

Illustration for article titled Is Emily Miller A Victim Of Sexism, Or Her Own Abrasiveness

It's hard to read this Washington Post profile without some seriously conflicted feelings about Emily Miller, the Republican press secretary turned gossip blogger who found herself at the center of stories about the Abramoff scandal.


Miller's ex-fiance, Michael Scanlon, pled guilty to conspiracy charges relating to his business partner, Jack Abramoff, and the man they had both worked for, former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. By then, Scanlon and Miller had broken up, rather dramatically. Miller in Howard Kurtz's profile:

"The day before her bridal shower, Miller says, Scanlon called off the wedding. They reconciled, Scanlon backed out again, and three weeks later he married a 24-year-old waitress from [a] Delaware resort town."


According to a 2006 front page story in the Wall Street Journal, Miller's "jilting" motivated her to help bring down Scanlon, and, by extension, Abramoff and eventually DeLay, who eventually resigned.

Miller is not the most sympathetic character: besides being DeLay's image-maker, she worked as a flack in the State Department in the lead-up to the Iraq war, and defended the Republican rent-a-mobs during the 2000 Florida recount. And yet it's hard not to see how her story — by both her own actions and the way she's been portrayed — has been heavily shaped by her gender. Miller didn't respond to requests for an interview to talk about this aspect of her experience. Still, the whole affair ticks off so many stereotypes that are used against women in public life, and whether or not they're true in this case, they still made me wince. Among them:

1. She's a ballbuster. Kurtz says she got through a job interview for DeLay by telling herself, "Don't show fear." In 2004, Miller famously cut off a video interview with her then-boss, Colin Powell, on Meet the Press, either because it was going long or because Tim Russert was going to ask a hardball question about the rationale for the Iraq war. The Washington Post wrote of Miller at the time:

In just six months on the job, Miller, 33, who controls access to Powell, seems to have made more enemies than usual among the reporters who cover the State Department. "Her manner is brusque, abrasive, demeaning," said one, asking to remain anonymous so as not to be frozen out of interviews with Powell. "She's not doing the secretary a service; she's doing him a disservice."

In 2001 Miller was working as press secretary to then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay when she lashed into Post Magazine writer Peter Perl while he was doing a profile of her boss, screaming: "You lied! . . . You betrayed him! You twisted his words! . . . We don't know you. You don't exist. . . . You are dead to us." A DeLay spokesman told us yesterday, "Tom thinks Emily did a fine job for him."

2. She's a blabbermouth. Kurtz's profile today:

Miller does have a tendency to over-answer questions. "I just have no filter, and I really need to work on that," she says. "If it's in my head, it comes out of my mouth."


She also claims to have been manipulated by faux-empathy when the FBI craftily sent two female agents to interview her:

The FBI contacted Miller months later and arranged an interview with two young female agents, who questioned her on matters ranging from Scanlon's strange use of different first names to his work for the tribes. Her lawyer had warned her to limit her answers, but Miller says she babbled on after the agents commiserated with her romantic turmoil. The lawyer chided her afterward: "You won't shut up!"


3. She cooperated with the FBI because she's a woman scorned.

This has been the stickiest part of the story. In the thicket of business deals and lobbyist favor-trading, the "hell hath no fury" storyline was certainly sexier and more digestible. It's a retelling that Miller disputes, telling Kurtz, "At the end of the day, what do I get? I get to be known as the woman scorned, forever?"


4. She is (now) needy and vulnerable.

Miller is all about her softer side now. "I was so ambitious in my 20s and early 30s. I worked all the time," she tells Kurtz. "It was all about success and power. Somehow I thought that would make me happy, and make me feel good about myself." Now, she is writing about DeLay returning to Dancing With the Stars and about unabashedly wanting to find a husband.


Miller has also been fighting her portrayal in a new film about the Abramoff scandal starring Kevin Spacey. She tells Kurtz that in the film, "I'm a bitch, I'm materialistic, I'm bad in bed."

Women like Miller test the outer boundaries of my feminist solidarity. Is there evidence that she was not the most discreet or pleasant person to deal with, and that she represented the most machine-like, lobbyist-friendly streak of Washington politics? Yes, very much so. Was her role in the scandal blown out of proportion (Abramoff has blamed her for his jailing) in part because the bitchy, wronged-female revenge narrative was so saleable? Also yes.


In the meantime, Miller says she's tried to start over, this time with "a sense of empathy and compassion for others who are struggling." Everyone deserves another chance, right?

Sideswiped By Scandal, Trapped By the Past [Washington Post]

Related: Behind Unraveling Of DeLay's Team, A Jilted Fiancée [Wall Street Journal]
Fox News: Conservative Women Are More Scrutinized By the Media [Feministing]

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I hate that they specified that Scanlon left her for a waitress — that sort of thing always implies such classism, like of course it's so much worse that he'd leave her for some working class floozy.