How Forgiving an Intern Launched an Exciting PR Career

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By now, we've all heard about the HBO intern who sent a blank email to subscribers, and how folks on social media rallied around her in support.

While attending Clarion University of Pennsylvania in the winter of 1985, I applied for an internship to the office of Pittsburgh Congressman Doug Walgren. It was my dream to work on Capitol Hill. My family was not wealthy, nor connected, so I knew my chances were slim to none.

Congressman Walgren’s office wrote back, told me I was not a constituent, and said that I needed to apply to my congressional representative Austin J. Murphy. I had no idea who this man was; however, I wrote to his office, and they sent me back a packet of intern candidate forms that needed to be filled out. I secured recommendation letters, and promoted myself the best I could, despite having no connections.

Imagine my shock when I received a letter saying that I was accepted and would be spending the month of July in his Washington office. (That would be the Washington, PA office, not Washington, D.C.)

I reported for duty and met my would-be boss, a retired local official from the United Mine Workers. He spent the first hour explaining to me how to say his name correctly. Then, he gave me a small office behind his, and…well, that was it.

Leo was quite a character. He and the lovely assistant office manager would often lock horns, so there was quite a bit of noise during working hours. Furthermore, there were several times I answered phone calls for him, and I had to go wake him up.

What I thought was going to be a glamorous internship was anything but. On my last day, Congressman Murphy called me – from Washington, D.C. – and thanked me for my service, and told me that the team thought highly of me. He invited me to “stop by” an all-day picnic for the entire staff at his home in August.

I ended up spending the whole day around his pool drinking with everyone, and then made the unwise choice of going on a boat that he chartered for the evening. While I vaguely remember winding down the river, I don’t remember zigzagging our way back up.

 The congressman’s chief of staff and district manager carried me off the boat and brought me back to the congressman’s house. When I woke up the next morning, I knew I had made a big, humiliating mistake. My dream of working on Capitol Hill sunk, drowned by countless bottles of Stoney’s Beer.

I wrote apology notes to everyone I could think of, and fully expected to never hear from anyone in Congressman Murphy’s office again. I thought my life, and any hopes for a career, were over.

One day in September during my fall semester, I opened my mailbox at Clarion, and there was a letter from Congressman Murphy’s office. My hands shook. I was certain he was going to reprimand me for my loutish behavior. Instead, he said that it happens to the best of us, and to call the office when I graduated.

I did, and was hired to take Leo’s place. During one of his visits back to the district, I told Congressman Murphy that one day I wanted to be his press secretary. And not long after, while watching television with my parents on a dull Thursday evening, he called, told me the press secretary was fired, and to get to D.C. by 8am the next morning.

It would be a start of a wild ride as his press secretary, as he was caught up in a personal imbroglio in the following election, and then in another bid for re-election was under a federal grand jury investigation that eventually sent the powerful Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski to prison. Murphy was acquitted.

After six years on the Hill, I left for New York and a career in PR that included two international agencies, stints as media relations director at Toys “R” Us, Sears/Kmart, Macy’s, leading a global PR team on behalf of the Nobel Prize winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and for UN Envoy Mike Bloomberg. After the climate work, I did digital with advertising holding company Publicis, and with Nielsen, the media measurement company.

After being laid off earlier this year, I switched careers, going full-time as a Senior Editor at The Advocate, the oldest and largest LGBTQ+ news outlet in the U.S. I write a twice weekly column that includes political commentary with a host of noteworthies, including Speaker Pelosi, Dr. Tony Fauci, Sens John Fetterman, Sherrod Brown and Tammy Baldwin, Leon Panetta, Miles Taylor, Ellen DeGeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, Bill Porter, Jennifer Coolidge and many more.

When I started my career, firmly in the closet, and wrestled with my sexuality for most of my life, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I'd end up being a leading voice in the LGBTQ+ community.

My eclectic career would have never happened if I didn’t get that internship, but more importantly, I would have not achieved so much success if I had not been forgiven for my mistake.

That act of forgiveness was a miracle in a way, and as a gay writer, and proud gay man, I'll always be grateful.


John Casey is the Senior Editor at The Advocate, the oldest and largest LGBTQ+ news outlet in the United States.