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The Reliable Source

Washington's Social and Political Scene

Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 31, 2005; 12:00 PM

After a 25-year career as a distinguished editor, feature writer, investigative reporter and war correspondent, Richard Leiby has never, ever won the Pulitzer Prize. Now he's found his life's calling as a gossip columnist. He'll take your tips, chew the fat, discuss the dish and babble in cliche-ridden prose right here once a week.

This Week's Columns:

A Star-Spangled Bash for the Marines (Post, March 31)

Mary Cheney Sets Record Straightl (Post, March 30)

Author Crosses Swords With Studio (Post, March 29)

Documenting the Cost of Free Speech (Post, March 27)

A transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Richard Leiby: What's the frequency, Quidnunc? Glad I asked. We're transmitting today on an utterly self-absorbed frequency.

Peeps, it's time to dispell all rumors about who will write the Reliable Source after I retire in a few weeks. I have several candidates in mind -- among them John Podesta, the respected Clintonite who heads the Center for American Progress, and who has repeatedly expressed interest in the gig. But I feel the editors also should bring Ann "the Human Uzi" Coulter in for an interview. I'd love to see the Quid Bunker commandeered by a Left-Right Odd Couple. It'll be a newsroom wrasslin' match every day! We need some excitement here, believe me. (Nominate your own matchups and I'll pass them along...)

Meanwhile, I fully expect Ann "Hot Legs" Schroeder to Hold Down the Fort in the interim period and actually do all the work.

For other world-shaking News about Me, please check out last Tuesday's New York Times, which contains a terrifically appealing photo of Me wearing a vomitous necktie. Here is arelevant excerpt from the piece:


Gossip has been a circulation-builder for the tabloids, and advertisers like to appear on Page Six. But while more traditional newspapers have an uneasy relationship with gossip, they have devised their own versions of celebrity columns. Last week, both Richard Leiby, who has written The Reliable Source at The Washington Post since January 2004, and Joyce Wadler, who has written Boldface for The New York Times since 2001, said they were leaving their columns. Mr. Leiby said he was tired of writing ephemera, even though he was widely read.

"What people hunger for is insider, salacious material," Mr. Leiby said. "At The Post, that's a high-wire act. We're beholden here to the two-source rule or direct observation or document-based material."

Ben Bradlee, the former executive editor of The Washington Post, said the mainstream press was conflicted over how to handle gossip, even though it was one of the best-read parts of the paper. "We've had more bloody trouble with gossip columns," Mr. Bradlee said. "We deep down in our little constipated souls don't believe in gossip columns."

He said that articles in the 1960's and 1970's by Maxine Cheshire, The Post's long-time society writer, required his endless attention as an editor. "I spent more time with Max than I spent with Woodward and Bernstein," he said.


For the record, I am AGAINST constipation. Now, can we move on, or is My Ego going to dominate today (per usual)?


Beyond the Heterosexual Empire: I want complete disclosure on your relationship with Anne Coulter! Why, do tell, was her speaking event whatever-it-was worthy of mention in your column?

Richard Leiby: See above. Not only is Ann a deep thinker and great entertainer, but I'm sure she has plenty of Iisider Red State Gossip and Wisdom to impart to all of you freedom-hating, death-embracing Liberals.


washingtonpost.com: In the Blog Era, Liz Smith Wonders if There's Room for the Pro (The New York Times, March 28)


New York, N.Y.: What's up with Wolfowitz's girlfriend, is she hot?

Richard Leiby: I have never met Shaha ali Riza, who works at the World Bank, but I know a few things: Though she was born in Tunis, her family is Libyan. She grew up in Saudi Arabia, and she was schooled on the Isle of Malta and at Oxford. She's described as an "Arab feminist." Despite our previous reporting, she is more likely to be in her late 40s or early 50s than mid-50s. But Shaha has never returned my emails or phone calls, so I can't be sure.

As for her actual "hotness," I think that's classified.


Richard Leiby: THIS JUST IN! (from NY DAILY NEWS gossips Rush & Molloy):

Are the Washington Post's editors brave (or crazy) enough to turn their "Reliable Source" gossip column over to the saucy blogger known as Wonkette? Ana Marie Cox has proclaimed that her strength is humor, not reporting. But we hear she's more than curious about the job that columnist Richard Leiby is vacating. The expletive-loving gadfly made it her business to be in NYC Tuesday for the party celebrating The Post's acquisition of Slate.com. But Post publisher Donald Graham appeared to slip out before she could lob a charm grenade at him.


Being a crack reporter, I just emailed Cox's site with this query:

"I cannot believe it's possible that Ana Marie is interested in my job, but if she is, please unstrap her from her straight jacket long enough to give me a call. Thanks, Rich"



Silver Spring, Md.: "Me: Is it true that Leiby has to give up his column because his parole was revoked on that Iraq smuggling rap?

Weingarten: Please contact me offline and tell me where you heard this. It's um, untrue, of course."


Richard Leiby: Weingarten, just out of rehab, doesn's know his keister from a depleted uranium burial site. OF COURSE that's why I'm leaving the beat: U.S. Customs, which busted me in 2003, has decided to reinstate its charges in the infamous Iraqi Tea Tray case. I expect to be tied up in Court fighting these allegations for the next year or so.

But feds beware: You're not getting that tray back until you remove it from my cold, dead office wall.


Federal Triangle, The District Yo: Dude -- I don't know if this is the right forum, but doesn't Paula Abdul look drugged out and botoxed out each and every night on American Idol? The evidence: she says she loves all the contestants, glazed eyes, nonsensical comments, shiney face ... have you heard anything?

Richard Leiby: I can't respond to those sordid allegations because I rarely watch television and have never actually seen "American Idol." I'm too busy at night constructing Golden Idols to Anne Schroeder.


Psssst ...: You've mentioned in the past that you like to mark the the most dramatic moments in your life with an appropriate commemoration.

Any ritual micturitions scheduled around the end of your reign as The Reliable Source?

Richard Leiby: Yes. I'm going to mark my perimeter and woe be to any unqualified aspiring Quidnuncs who hazard near. Also, I need to protect Anne, who is a naive and vulnerable Young Thing.


Clifton, Va.: Spring is here and young men's thoughts turn to the lovely Anne in the latest spring fashions. Richard we demand pictures of Anne in something sexy, now! Please!


Anybody got any gossip today? Are things THAT slow?

Did anybody see today's photo of Bill Frist with Elmo?


Arlington, Va.: Norm Clarke, a Las Vegas gossip columnist, reports that Pete Rose slapped him. Why aren't you out there getting slapped by celebrities? _______________________

washingtonpost.com: Vegas gossip writer Says Rose Slapped Him (MSN, March 30)

Richard Leiby: I have never been physically assaulted on the job, but Mike Mills of R.E.M. spilled a glass of red wine on my shoes at a party last fall. Does that count?

Hey, there's a few weeks left for me to be slapped! Anything could happen while I'm out constructing Golden Idols to Anne. The big correspondents' dinners are coming up. Just got my invite to to the Bloomberg VIP after-party today!

With any luck, I will be struck dead by a fiery bolt from Yahweh or turned into a Pillar of Salt. I prefer the latter, so I can use myself to salt the rim of a margarita.



Elmo, Rosita and Sen. Bill Frist

Richard Leiby: Chatters, please send cutlines for this. Is Dr. Frist making a visual diagnosis?


Blue...: I have noticed lately, and sadly, that your columns are including what I can only refer to as cute little Republican packaged stories about Barbara Bush, Mary Cheney, Anne Coulter -- the nicey nicey ones that sound just like their supposed to and end on just the right Prozac supported upbeat note.

Am I missing something here or have you too received consciously or unconsciously transmitted marching orders to give the Republicans their pablum the way they like it?

Richard Leiby: Absolutely. I get "talking points" every day straight from Karl Rove. I follow them mindlessly because I'm angling for a job in the Bush Administration. I hope to rake in big bucks doing PR for the Bush Twins.


Harrisburg, Pa.: Why don't we give your job to the Bush twins? That way, it will easier for them to track themselves down.

Richard Leiby: True. But that would foil my plans to handle the twins' PR.

Speaking of which: We reported earlier this week that Barbara Bush is dating a handsome Yalie named Jay Blount. Readers have since informed me that he's a local lad from Alexandria, Va., a graduate of T.C. Williams High, and a rowing champeen. For those interested in political spawn triva, I'm told that President Ford's sons also attended T.C. Williams.

Moving right along ... More about ME.


Washington, D.C.: I don't get it. You're the only decent gossip writer the Post ever had. Why you goin'?

Richard Leiby: Because I have a Higher Calling. Besides pursuing a highly paid post shilling for the GOP, I'm thinking of founding the Church of Quidnunc to compete with the Church of Scientology.


Washington, D.C.: For at least three hours now, the big headline about WMD has said, "Commission says says U.S. knows..." Does this have something to do with April Fool's Day? _______________________

washingtonpost.com: WMD Commission Releases Scathing Report (Washington Post, March 31)

Richard Leiby: Say, say, say it ain't so.

(Ha: Insipid Paul McCartney song implant achieved!)


Southeast, Washington, D.C.: Whaddya mean you can't believe Wonkette doesn't lust after your job? That's been her goal since she was hired to run her gossip blog.

But, given how she's been fired from every other job she's held, she most likely won't last long should she get hired at the Post.

Richard Leiby: True dat. Both the firing part and the hypothetical duration of her tenure here. Ana is NOT a reporter and doesn't pretend to be, and her unique voice would be utterly stifled here. She'd be constipated every day, too.


Media Bistro: FishBowl D.C.

The End of the World As We Know It
There are times in this job that we can't even begin to respond to news items. It's been nearly two hours since we first saw this and we're just now picking ourselves up off the floor. The involuntary twitching is settling down, and the puddle of drool is drying.

Rush & Molloy in the Daily News. An earth-shattering rumor. Perhaps aimed at disspelling the idea that Lloyd Grove might come back to the Reliable Source. Perhaps meant merely to send shudders through the L Street newsroom. Perhaps meant just to make Nick Denton giggle hysterically while Ben Bradlee collapses in a sobbing heap as he imagines his baby--his magnum opus of a news organization, his journalistic masterpiece--imploding in a spray of anal sex jokes and awkward innuendos. Perhaps it's meant as some sort of cruel day-before-April Fool's day prank.


Washington, D.C.: The other day This is Radio Clash came on the actual radio (I know, exciting) and I said "Don't you love The Clash" or some such. And my boyfriend said "Ehh. They're okay. What else do they sing besides Should I Stay or Should I Go?" I sputtered out Lost in the Supermarket? Rudie Can't Fail?? ... He shrugged his shoulders ... My question is, should we break up?

Richard Leiby: Yes. Immediately. That's my heartfelt "Kingston Advice."


Dr. Frist: "What Elmo's trying to tell you is that I'm your father."

Richard Leiby: But who is Rosita's poppa?


DC: Wow, it is rare to see three puppets in the same photo.

Richard Leiby: !!!!!!!!


Silver Spring, Md.: Hey dawg, will you keep up the chat when you go back to writing non-ephemera? Achenbach won't do a drivel chat, and we needs us some drivel?

Richard Leiby: There's a slight chance I'll do a Quidnuncly sort of chat in the future, but it depends of what my Next Incarnation is. If I can recruit enough acolytes for the Church of Quidnunc, anything's possible.

BTW: In my church, we'll serve margaritas, freely mark our perimeters, and play Snow Patrol when we're not playing The Clash.


Washington, D.C.: Your paper is reporting that Ted Koppel is stepping down from Nightline. Is that's what's driving your departure? Will you be taking Ted's place? And if so, will you wear a rug_______________________

washingtonpost.com: Koppel to Leave ABC News(Washington Post, March 31)

Richard Leiby: I ALREADY wear a rug. I fished one out of Sam Donaldson's trash. Haven't you noticed?


Southside, VA: "Okay, so Elmo's from a red state, I'm from a blue state...Where the hell are you from?"

Richard Leiby: Very good. But where do Kermit and the Cookie Monster fit into the political picture?


Iowa: Was Bill Frist advising Elmo on some delicate medical matters--having diagnosed him based on videotapes of Sesame Street?

Richard Leiby: Exactly!

Also, "The doctor will see you now" was a VERY inside joke that I used as my lead-in to that item. So inside, that nobody GOT it.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Grandmaster Quid, I am just finishing The Da Vinci Code-- yes, I am the only person left who hasn't read it. But if you're looking for a commemorative ritual suggest you consult it's pages-- the Vernal Equinox could be very interesting & the vomitous ties might come in handy. Whom would you choose to share the rite of spring?

Richard Leiby: You. I want YOU as a charter member of my Church. But no Knights Templar need apply. Those guys and the Masons creep me out.


Gopville, Pa,: Bill Frist hanging up with Elmo? Now, if we can get Newt Gingrich pictured with a Telly Tubby and Jeb Bush with Spongebob, we can clear the Republican field.

Richard Leiby: And don't forget Buster, buster.


Wonker!: The real question, Rich, is do you want Wonkette's job? Richard Leiby: Not really, but I think it's a far easier gig. She "aggregates" and makes jokes more than she actually gossips.

I'm thinking my next gig should be as a food and wine taster for Gene Weingarten.

Speaking of dining out: Please patronize Zpizza, a new franchise in Falls Church. I promised to plug them. Also, eat at Polly's in D.C.


New York, N.Y.: Word is Paris Hilton is attending the WHCA Dinner. True?

Richard Leiby: Boy, I hope that's true. And I really, really hope she SLAPS me.


Iowa: Duo for paired Reliable Source columns--

Christopher Buckley (a right-wing guy who can write funny stuff) and Susan Ehrlich (who is very concerned about the lack of women columnists in the MSM)

Richard Leiby: Not enough sizzle. How about Michael "Human Howitzer" Savage and Stephanie "Liberal Lady Gunslinger" Miller?


Du Pont Circle, Washington, D.C.: I had heard a juicy tidbit that Anne is currently dating Blogger of the Moment (yesterday) Garrett Graff. True?

Richard Leiby: Not true, per Anne, but I understand he is constructing Golden Idols to several women 'round town.


Inquiring Minds Everywhere: If you have not already, would you kindly lay out the timing for the remainder of your term in office here?

Especially: when is the official last online discussion?

Richard Leiby: I wish I knew. Both of my senior editors are out of the office this week, probably on some sort of Journalism Junket. I have not been given an end date. My job hasn't even been posted on the Newsroom bulletin board yet.

I'll keep 'Nuncing online as long as I possibly can. I need the attention.


Upstate NY: For shame. A doctor of Frist's calibar wouldn't diagnosis a muppet in person. He would just watch 'em on the PBS.

Richard Leiby: So true.

Oh, a pairing for the next Reliable Source: Frist and Dr. Howard Dean? Together could THEY cure constipation?


Richard Leiby: More on Zpizza in Falls Church I assure you I wasn't paid to say this:

Try the Tuscan Mushroom pizza, with cremini and shiitake mushrooms, roasted garlic, feta, truffle oil and fresh thyme. And if you're even more adventurous, the Santa Fe, which includes serrano chiles, chipotle pesto and CORN.

I'm plugging this for some friends who are new to the restaurant biz. But I ate there and can vouch for it.


Winston Salem, NC: Now HE looks constipated, don't you think?

Richard Leiby: Yes, Doc Frist needs to try some corn on his pizza!


Term of Art: You wrote:

"She "aggregates" and makes jokes more than she actually gossips."

It seems that there may be some deep wisdom in here about the finer points of what constitutes (or constipates) authentic gossip.

Care to share?

Richard Leiby: Authentic gossip is what it's always been: second-hand stuff, overheard conversations, blind quotes from anonymous sources like doormen and waiters. It's generally dead wrong. Which is why the Post won't print it. We spend hours and hours making phone calls to find out if what we hear is actually TRUE.


Monterey, Ca.: Way out here at the other end of the country, you and Wonkette have always appeared to me to be the Monsieur et Madamoiselle of Le Washington Gossippe.

It is so naturel, n'est-ce pas?, that the innuendo about your mutual admiration and envy and competiveness would follow you right to the end.

There is also something truly transcendently incestuous about you emailing her to get a comment on whether she wants your job, but if I try to figure it out I will damage my brain.

Richard Leiby: Quell surprise, or something.



washingtonpost.com: Wonkette positioning herself for Leiby's position(New York Daily News, March 31)

Richard Leiby: Glad we finally got that link in. There is nothing like incestuous linking to make your lunch hour speed by.


Washington, D.C.: Has the Post considered taking a page from American Idol, and making the Reliable Source gig a prize in a contest? Whoever delivers the best gossip wins the column. For my entry, I have a great story AND pictures of Post columnist Richard Leiby in compromising positions with Ann Coulter and Muppets.

Richard Leiby: Sweet! Like corn. Can we add a creamed corn wrasslin' match? Baby oil? Can we hold the auditions at the Booby Trap lounge? Ah, to be young again...


Fairfax, Va.: I am new to the area and was wondering if you have any suggestions for upscale but not gourmet, affordable but not fast food in our areas. Having moved from Manhattan, I am finding the eating abit disappointing. Thanks.

Richard Leiby: Zpizza in Fairfax, caterers to the Church of Quidnunc.


Crofton, Md.: How about in your last chat, you and Weingarten duke it out, mano y mano?

Richard Leiby: A fine suggestion. And with that we end today's incredibly incestuous and uninformative chat. Inshallah, we'll be back next week, with news from Iraq.

Love, Quid.


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