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Surveying the arena of inane internships in Washington, D.C., is about as challenging as critiquing daytime Fox TV. Nevertheless, a few vignettes from the trenches, while they’ll surely not deter future applicants (“It will be different for me”), may offer some solace to the veterans in the crowd (“At least other people’s internships sucked more than mine”).
The following is not a comprehensive list:
1. The Don and Mike Show
WJFK (106.7 FM) Don and Mike harass people for a living. That’s what they do. Their interns are the fairest game of all. “We had to do a lot of degrading stuff on the air, like dress up in women’s clothing, hold hands, and go out and wave to listeners in front of the building,” says one, who asked to be identified as L.M. Sometimes the pair of interns, known on air as the Menendez Brothers, were pelted with shaving cream by their adoring public. But they drew the line at shaving their heads as part of another on-air gimmick. After the show, L.M. says, they were savagely rebuked for their impertinence.
Your day begins at 5 a.m. with a stack of newspapers that must be read and the significant articles clipped, photocopied, and arrayed on various staffers’ desks by 9. “For the most part everybody just looks down on you,” says former intern Michael Arcati. But occasionally his superiors would toss him a bone: “They’d send me to Staples to buy stuff.”
3. National Organization for Women (NOW)
Like other nonprofit but big-name organizations, NOW attracts a veritable army of interns. With 15 to 20 of them understudying the staff, real work is hard to come by. One former intern spent the entire summer in the intern lounge chatting with her comradeswhom she found to be a far cry from the radical literati she’d expected. “Most of them would talk about their boyfriends and sororities,” she says. And complaining about her idleness was not an attractive option, since she says her boss was dating the intern coordinator. Along with bored interns everywhere, however, she did salvage the summer by taking full advantage of the organization’s long distance tab.
4. American Federation of Teachers
A former flack reportedly spent his internship at this esteemed labor union doing no work whatsoever. “He mastered Minesweeper,” says a friend. But when approached on the record, this boy runs scared. “You will never, never get me to say that wasn’t a valuable internship,” he says. “I was a servant of the American public. My salary came from the blood and sweat of the American people.” He kept the faith even when assured he would never be traced: “That’s what they told Jimmy Hoffa before they buried him,” he says, hanging up the phone.
5.The White House
As much as we hate to state the obvious, in the interest of accuracy the White House simply cannot be left off this list. “It’s not the actual workit’s the exposure,” declares one White House intern. She’s under strict orders not to discuss her duties. An official spokesperson refused to comment even on the number of intern applications received per year. But one former intern dared break the silence, describing the exposure to data entry and 10 compulsory hours a week spent answering phones. “It’s awe-inspiring for the first few weeks,” says Dan Kidd, who interned in the Office of Public Liaison. “Then it’s like working at a post office.”
Spend your days trying to hawk municipal bonds to strangers. “They just give you a list of people who don’t want to talk to you,” testified an intern who quit after five weeks of cold-calling. Most of the cold-called would respond to the pitch with a terse, “Take me off your list,” the intern says, but every so often someone would reply with an even more cogent, “Fuck off.”
7. Brookings Institution
In this clearinghouse for geniuses, there’s not much room for the lowly interns. Expecting to work side by side with one of the nation’s most venerable scholars, one former intern spent her semester across town in the Library of Congress. She would photocopy tables of contents from journals, have her venerable scholar circle the relevant works, and then go back and photocopy until sunset. There was one challenge, though: All the books were in Japanese. “I’d have to match up the characters to figure out which articles he wanted copied,” she says. And when she was done with that, she claims the scholar’s wise-ass research assistant would take credit for her drudgery. “He looked like Dilbert,” she says, remembering her alleged plagiarizer, “except he had a mouth. But it was small.”
8. Merrill Lynch
Expecting a heady internship probing the depths of software analysis, a Washington-area MBA student recently signed on for a summer stint with the firm’s private client group. Instead he found himself knee-deep in mailing labels and other administrative chores. “Today was the day I was supposed to go to work, and I didn’t,” he says. “So…I guess I quit.”
9. National Republican Senatorial Committee
“I never knew exactly what they did, other than get money for the Republican Party,” admits a former intern, who worked in the finance and direct-mail department for three months. Each day, this deskless employee would scout out an empty seat in some unobtrusive corner of the office and mindlessly sort mail into bins for hours on end. “I didn’t see how it would ever make a difference in anything.”
10. Council on
This Latin American and Canadian policy think tank is staffed entirely by unpaid interns, who essentially exist to publicize the council and help put out its biweekly Washington Report on the Hemispheres. Any experiential benefits, however, may be offset by the behavior of the director, who, according to one former intern, “had a real penchant for berating people in a public forum.” Another former intern says the director referred to his female interns as his “stable of beauties.” Director Larry Birns acknowledged that he can be “generous” with criticism and praise alike, but he denied the “stable of beauties” remark. One intern says he quit after asking Birns his opinion of a political situation and being told, “Listen, I save my pearls of wisdom for people who are going to quote me. This isn’t a college classroom.” Birns first denied making this comment, but then added that if he did say it, it was “totally an act of humor.”CP