‘Scandal’ inspiration, Smith, shares experiences of Washington


Brian Achenbach/Iowa State Daily

Judy Smith, crisis manager and real life inspiration for the character Olivia Pope in the television show Scandal, answers questions from the crowd during her lecture about her life experiences and the show on March 10 in the Great Hall.

Jaden Urbi

“I did not have sex with the president. I just thought I would clear that up in case someone decided to ask that,” said Judy Smith, real-life inspiration of Olivia Pope, lead character in ABC’s “Scandal.” 

The audience erupted in laughter as Smith talked about how she “casually” told Oprah how some elements of the show aren’t true to her real life.

On March 10, around 175 students, staff and community members gathered in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union to listen to Smith speak as part of Iowa State’s Women Leadership Series.

“I heard Smith was coming a while ago, so I started to watch ‘Scandal’ and got excited to meet her in person,” said Adam Goldberg, sophomore in pre-industrial design.

Smith spent the majority of the lecture talking with audience members and answering any questions they had, whether it was about “Scandal” or her career in crisis management. 

“I watch the show religiously, and it’s really cool that she came here to talk about her life as inspiration for ‘Scandal,’” said Amy Jones, junior in accounting. 

Smith explained that when people get jobs in Washington, it’s usually due to one of two reasons: You know someone in Washington or your family has a lot of money. Smith made it to Washington for neither of these reasons, and was shocked when she found out she would be George W. Bush’s deputy press secretary. 

“I thought someone was pulling a prank on me. There’s a lot of Judy Smiths,” Smith said.

When asked how she keeps her personal opinion out of her work, Smith responded by saying that she is a very non-judgmental person and she enjoys helping people back up.

“I think candidly that we all screw up, we all make mistakes, and we all fall down. The only difference between our mistakes is that we don’t read about ours in the paper and on the news,” Smith said.

She shared a story of how she came home one Thursday night and lounged on the couch in her raggedy pajamas with a glass of wine and bowl of popcorn. As the new episode of “Scandal” began, Olivia Pope was sitting on her couch in silk pajamas with a glass of wine and bowl of popcorn.

“The show does a good job at dramatizing my real life. There’s no way I could look like that every day,” said Smith.

Smith claims her life is not as exciting as Olivia Pope’s, but is no less accomplished than her television drama counterpart.

“I was surprised at how many high-profiles clients Smith represented and how comfortable and casual she spoke of them,” Goldberg said.

Along with being co-executive producer of “Scandal,” Smith is founder and president of a strategic crisis communications firm called Smith & Co., has been senior vice president of corporate communications and she recently published a new book called “Good Self, Bad Self: Transforming Your Worst Qualities into Your Biggest Assets.”