Who was giving Harvard’s Ex-President Gay PR advice? And maybe this wasn’t a good idea?
Harvard University has turned to another Democratic firm, Precision, to help it handle fallout from turmoil over pro-Palestinian protests on campus in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks. The school was engulfed in controversy for weeks over its response to campus groups that said they held Israel “entirely responsible for all unfolding violence.”
The firm, which had a pre-existing relationship with the school, provided communications support after Oct. 7 to help with the crisis on campus, two people familiar with the arrangement said. The school also has turned to PR behemoth Edelman and the firms of former Chuck Schumer aides Risa Heller and Alex Levy.
Precision was co-founded by Stephanie Cutter: a name you may remember from the Obama era, who was helping ex-Pres Gay.
Stephanie Cutter, a leading Democratic political strategist, has served as a public relations consultant to Harvard President Claudine Gay since she was announced as the University’s next president in December 2022.
Precision Strategies, one of the most prominent Democratic consulting firms in the nation’s capital, was co-founded by Cutter in 2013 alongside two fellow former advisers to former U.S. President Barack Obama. The firm has worked with groups ranging from gun control nonprofit March For Our Lives to Bank of America and the National Football League.
A former adviser to several key Democratic politicians in Washington, Cutter has been described by Politico as one of the party’s “top strategists and crisis managers.”
In Congress, Cutter worked for former Senator Ted Kennedy ’54-’56 and former Senator Harry Reid during his time as minority leader. In addition to working for Obama, Cutter also served as an executive producer for President Joe Biden’s inauguration.
Cutter should be the last person you bring for crisis management since her only apparent skill was sneering at the camera and doubling down on whatever horrible thing she was defending. It’s not hard to spot the fingerprints of that on Gay’s strategy.
Stephanie Cutter had become infamous among Dems and yet somehow her firm landed contracts with Harvard, not to mention Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and GE.
The Kerry people hated her.
Eight years ago, many doubted she would ever work in politics again after her stint as communications director for John Kerry’s presidential campaign came in for a raft of criticism in the losing effort’s post-election circular firing squad.
In many of the conversations I had about Cutter for this story, eventually my interlocutor would murmur: “Did you read the Newsweek story?” A harsh depiction of Cutter played a major role in the book-length election postmortem traditionally published by the magazine.
“It was a career-ending article,” says one Democratic operative not affiliated with the Obama campaign. “The fact that it not only didn’t end her career but she’s now basically running the country — it’s impressive.”
Cutter, in the magazine’s account, was tagged with the decision not to respond more forcefully to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth attacks — what many regarded as the campaign’s fatal mistake. Reporters took issue with her blunt manner, while fellow campaign staffers viewed her as controlling and difficult. “Kerry staffers snidely made a verb of her e-mail name (email@example.com),” according to Newsweek. “‘To Scutter’ meant to try to control or dominate. Its second meaning was cruder, ‘to f— something up.'”
Everyone on the Obama campaign hated her.
Frustrated, some inside Obama’s inner circle hatched a plan to push Cutter out of the picture. Messina gathered a small group together at a White Sox baseball game, where Larry Grisolano, Axelrod and Plouffe spent half the game talking about the Cutter question. They needed Pfeiffer to take over the communications staff after the convention in September. Then Cutter’s role would be confined to TV. The only remaining challenge was: who would tell Cutter of her effective demotion? Messina offered, but that was rejected as an impractical move that would rupture Chicago. Plouffe wanted to keep his distance. There had already been several stories about how few women there were in Obama’s inner circle, and nobody wanted to be involved in a story that could leak about the demotion of the only high-profile woman inside campaign headquarters.
When they consulted the president, he made it clear that he wanted Cutter to stay in some role. “Do what you want,” he said, “but she better not quit.”
Cutter’s guarantor was, in fact, the most high-profile woman of all in Obama’s inner circle: his wife. “Given Michelle Obama, she’s not going anywhere,” said one of the plotters. “The First Family feels very strongly that Stephanie is an asset. When things have gotten bad especially for Michelle, people go to who they trust. When anything goes bad in the East Wing world, she looks at all of her staff and says, “Go get me Cutter.”
So who liked her? Michelle Obama. And that fits with the Obama connection.
Former President Barack Obama has secretly lobbied Harvard University officials to stick by embattled President Claudine Gay as she faces pressure to resign for giving cover to antisemitism on campus and for committing plagiarism.
Gay can blame the Obamas for this. Without ‘Scutter’, she might have behaved like a normal human being and avoided this whole mess.