Gene Weingarten: Fishbowl D.C.’s right to free screech

Gene Weingarten
Columnist February 14, 2013

To: The District of Columbia Superior Court

Gene Weingarten is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and writes "Below the Beltway," a weekly humor column that is nationally syndicated. View Archive

Re: The matter of Wendy Gordon v. MediaBistro.com et al

Please accept this column as my friend-of-the-court brief in the above captioned matter, which involves allegations of libel by a Washington, D.C., publicist against a vicious, sleazy, snide, disreputable, unscrupulous, vacuous, wildly immature, gratuitously cruel, malicious and mean-spirited media-gossip Web site that specializes in innuendo, reckless character assassination and unconscionable, wanton defamation. I am writing in support of the Web site.


(Eric Shansby)

It’s not that I dislike libel suits, though they do make me uncomfortable as a journalist. It’s more that as a perpetual target of this very same Web site, which attacks me savagely on a weekly basis, I have grown fond of the noxious little dirtballs.

The plaintiff in the abovementioned action, Wendy Gordon, complains that FishbowlDC has defamed her by suggesting that she is sexually licentious. I have to admit her case seems strong: Without citing any evidence, the Web site has insinuated that Ms. Gordon is a romantically insatiable “cougar,” a dipsomaniac who wants to have indiscriminate sex, including with the wax dummies of Marion Barry and Tiger Woods. It implies that she has a venereal disease and states with apparent certainty that her crotch emits some sort of searing heat ray. I do not know Ms. Gordon, but I’m willing to stipulate here that none of this is true.

FishbowlDC did all this in a weekly feature called “Wendy Wednesday,” written every midweek by Peter Ogburn and edited by Betsy Rothstein.

Coincidentally, I am also the subject of a regular weekly feature by Ogburn in FishbowlDC. Mine runs most every Monday. It is titled “What’s Weingarten Writing?” and it judges every word I print to be the work of a doddering old hack. Nothing I do escapes its contempt. When it calls me a humorist, it puts the word in quotes. For a while, it illustrated these columns with the least flattering photo of me ever taken. But it stopped doing that. Now, it uses a photo of a dog’s rear end.

The thing is, I have come to enjoy the abrasive work of the team of Rothstein-Ogburn, an abrasion I call “rogburn.” It hurts so good.

Here’s my plea to the court: As a writer — and particularly as a satirist — I am sometimes accused of being unfair or hostile. Such charges are often tricky to refute; by their nature, qualities like fairness and hostility are relative. They are subjective terms that can only be judged against some baseline, weighed against the background noise. After all, one person’s affectionate hectoring can be another person’s base calumny. But against the rasping cacophony of indiscriminate vileness thrown out there every day by FishbowlDC, anything I write — say, stating that Dick Cheney is Lucifer, which I have done and do now repeat — seems positively gracious, an accolade.

I need those guys, man. I’m worried that if successful, this lawsuit will put them out of business, or equally damaging, scare them into being polite. It has already begun. While denying that they’ve written anything improper about Ms. Gordon, they’ve already taken down most of it, for some reason.

Finally, Ms. Gordon claims to be clueless as to why FishbowlDC hates her, but I know why it hates me. It started savaging me right after I castigated FishbowlDC online for attacking a Washington Post intern, just 22 years old, for something naive she wrote but had not even tried to publish, except in a company newsletter. I urged it to pick on someone its own size, and pointed out that this was not even its cheapest shot: It once made fun of the grade-school-age son of a journalist because he played poorly in Little League. I swear, it actually did that. You can’t make this stuff up!

Oh, wait. Apparently you can. (See lawsuit.)

E-mail Gene at weingarten@washpost.com. Find chats and updates at washingtonpost.com/magazine.

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