The Magazine

Pat Buchanan Loses a Press Secretary

The strange hiring and firing of Neil Bernstein

Jun 26, 2000, Vol. 5, No. 39 • By TUCKER CARLSON
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And then there is Bay. Bay Buchanan is Pat Buchanan's sister. She runs her brother's campaigns. She is not shy or flaccid. She is, according to Neil Bernstein (and others), a monster -- a paranoid, emotionally unstable incompetent who flies into rages for no apparent reason and frequently fires people. Like Neil Bernstein. After he was canned, Bernstein says he called Buchanan for an explanation. Buchanan didn't have one, though according to Bernstein he was very apologetic: "I told him that Bay fired me, and he said, 'Yeah, she told me she was going to do that. I don't understand.'" Bernstein says Buchanan sounded sad.

Bay, by contrast, was rarely sad, Bernstein says. Just enraged. And suspicious. Bernstein says that Bay had an unusually hostile attitude toward reporters, most of whom she viewed as "enemies." Journalists were not invited to the office. Staff members were actively discouraged from talking to them if they did come. (Not that many could find the place; there is no sign in the lobby of the building to indicate that Buchanan 2000 maintains an office there.) Though he was officially the press secretary, Bernstein says he was all but forbidden by Bay to be quoted by reporters, or to give them any but the most useless information.

It sounds like a thankless job, and it was probably inevitable that Bernstein's tenure at the Buchanan campaign would not end on a perky note. Bernstein says he was fired for trying to bring innovation and fresh thinking to the campaign. For instance, he wanted Buchanan to appear, preferably with his elderly cat, the Gipper, on The Late Show with David Letterman. He also had a plan -- a far-fetched one, he admits -- for winning the White House: "In 2004 you get Reform party congressmen elected in the states that have only one, two, or three electoral votes. You get control of the House, and in theory the Reform party candidate could win."

The rest of the senior staff at Buchanan 2000 weren't impressed by Bernstein's theories. "I've offered up all of these ideas, thinking outside the box," Bernstein says, sounding frustrated. Every time, they were "shot down by all these people who have no creativity, no imagination." Buchanan himself, Bernstein says, was receptive to creative, imaginative thinking. And that, he explains, was part of the problem. "I was becoming too influential. Pat was listening to me too much."

Bernstein's former employers, not surprisingly, have a different explanation for his departure. The campaign's official position seems to be that Bernstein didn't return press calls quickly enough. Off the record, a senior Buchanan staffer accuses Bernstein of a pattern of unacceptable behavior toward female reporters, including calling them at home after work. Several reporters and their superiors complained to the campaign about Bernstein, the staffer says. Ultimately it was journalists who "basically demanded" that he be fired.

Reached at the hotel in suburban Virginia where he is still living, Bernstein sounds genuinely surprised by the claims the campaign has made about him. "This is the first I've heard of this," he sputters. Yes, he says, there was one female journalist who became irritated when he called her at home. But for the most part, reporters, male and female, welcomed his efforts to get back to them, even at night. Maybe, Bernstein says, his coworkers on the campaign misunderstood what he was doing. "I don't mind telling you there are a lot of uptight people around the office."

Bernstein calls back a short while later. He's angry. Now that I think about it, he says, there's a certain irony in being accused of sexual harassment by the Buchanan campaign. In fact, he claims, it was other male members of the staff who had trouble relating professionally to women. According to Bernstein, almost every man in the office made sexually derogatory remarks about one attractive female journalist who was covering the campaign. "At least 9 guys have made gratuitously rude comments about her," he says. "Actually, I could name 11 names. They crossed the line."

Come to think of it, Bernstein says, calling back again, Pat Buchanan didn't frown on his staff dating journalists. Once he tried to facilitate it: "There was a point about two months ago when Pat wanted to set me up with a former producer of his. He encouraged me to call her. I did and we talked on the phone."