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The Reliable Source


Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2004; 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.

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: So, not that you asked, but your Quidnunc divines three Truths from the '04 election:

1) Never trust journalists. We're always wrong--but what do you expect from a bunch of dope-addled pinkos?

2) The people have spoken -- and they prefer sentence fragments and mangled grammar.

3) We always get the President we deserve.

Now, let's party.


Gossip columnist murdered!: There was a Law and Order rerun last night in which a newspaper gossip columnist, pursuing a woman for a quote for a nasty story that he was writing about her, chased her into the street, where she was run over by a cab and killed. The columnist got off with a slap on the wrist, so the victim's husband hunted him down and shot him to death in front of a trendy restaurant that the columnist had staked out to look for celebrities. When the cops announced who the dead man was, the celebrities standing around the restaurant entrance applauded.

Do you ever worry about this sort of thing happening to you? (When dealing with Mrs. Baucus, for instance?) Is this a burden that anyone in your profession must bear? Possibly winding up with an obit that reads, "Gossip Columnist Shot; Killing Hailed As Good Start." We know you've had your differences with Tim Robbins, but more generally, are you hated and feared? Do your loving fans need to worry about you as you go about your job?

Richard Leiby: Thanks for giving me a reason to go on doing this thankless job: There's always a chance I can end up dead on the pavement outside Cafe Milano in Georgetown, earning a tawdry headline and inspiring, perhaps, another episode on "Law and Order." So long as Richard Belzer is in the cast, I don't mind...

Anyway, I don't fear retribution because I really don't publish anything scandalous or aim to destroy careers. I'm no J.J. Hunsecker, and if you don't know who J.J. is, rent "Sweet Smell of Success," the 1957 classic starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis.

Also, you got one thing wrong: I have no quarrel with Tim Robbins. That was my predecessor, Lloyd Grove, who now toils at the New York Daily News. He's been gone for over a year. But clearly, some people still think he's here, writing my column. Thanks again for your solicitous and supportive note!


washingtonpost.com: Lowdown (New York Daily News, Nov. 4) _______________________

Bethesda, Md.: I'm a Democrat, and I ride the Red Line. I had a lousy day yesterday.

Richard Leiby: Sorry about that, Bethesda, but you're part of the 48 percent "fringe" in this country, and you'd just better get used to it. You and the other 55.6 million Kerry voters just have to accept your status as a marginalized minority.You don't belong. You might also take solace in Grover Norquist's comment in my column today about how Democrats need to behave:

"Once the minority of House and Senate are comfortable in their minority status, they will have no problem socializing with the Republicans. Any farmer will tell you that certain animals run around and are unpleasant, but when they've been fixed, then they are happy and sedate. They are contented and cheerful. They don't go around peeing on the furniture and such." Norquist assured us that he meant neutered "psychologically" and his metaphor was "facetious." Of course: Let the healing begin.


Farragetaboutit, Va.: Any truth to the story that one of the Bush twins was asked if the twins are old enough to drink legally, and one responded "I know I am, but I'm not certain about my sister?"

Richard Leiby: Okay, people, that's the LAST Bush daughters joke we're going to do today. (Until the next one...)

Actually, I do see two wonderful things about this election, and they are named Jenna and Barbara. Please don't move from D.C. and take real jobs, please! I'm beggin' ya.



Dear Mr. Leiby and Washington Post Editor -

I am outraged by the comments of Grover Norquist in this morning's Reliable Source column and disappointed that you would choose to publicize such vitriol.

What confounds me about conservatives like him is how they can play to a base of evangelical Christians who ride around with WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bumper stickers on their cars, and then behave in ways unimaginable to most sincere Christians.

I don't know what his religion is, if any, but the God I worship (as well as most other Muslims, Jews, Christians) is one who demands compassion and respect even for our enemies. His comment comparing Democrats in Congress to neutered animals who will stop "peeing on the furniture" once they adjust to the new Congressional makeup is outrageous and makes it clear that the Republicans will continue to do everything possible to polarize American citizens. Any statements about reconciliation on their part are complete hogwash.

I hope Mr. Norquist isn't trying to get into the heaven of his evangelical Christian conservative base. If he is, he'd better get to work - God is watching, and he is definitely not on the list of those who will be listening to harp music in the great beyond.

Marlana Valdez
Takoma Park, MD

***end outrage***

Well, true-blue Takoma Park, as I advised the Bethesda chatter, better get used to it. The alleged bonhomie expressed yesterday is already over.


Washington, D.C.: Mr. Leiby,

Out: Teresa's gin-soaked raisins.
In: Gin-soaked Bush twins.

Out: Mary Cheney.
Far Out: Ronald Prescott Reagan.

Out: Georgetown.
In: Whitehaven Street.

Out: Metro.
In: Long walks.

Out: Dan, Peter and Tom.
In: The Pajamahadeen.

Out: Michael Moore.
In: Swiftee John O'Neill.

Out: Gov. Jim McGreevy.
Really out: Gay marriage.

Out: P. Diddy.
In: Marion Barry.

Out: Tom Daschle.
In: Tom Delay.

Out: Bruce Springsteen.
In: Ron Silver.

Out: MoveOn.org.
In: FreeRepublic.com.

Out: The Jersey Girls.
In: Ashley's Story.

Still out there: Osama bin Laden.
Sitting in jail: Saddam Hussein.

Out: The curse of the Bambino.
In: The curse of Bob Shrum.

Out: The magic of Bill Clinton.
In: The wizardry of Karl Rove.

Out: Hanging chads.
Never in: Provisional ballots.

Out: Kitty Kelly.
In: Richard Leiby.

Richard Leiby: Thank you. I love it when readers fill the yawning void that is my column in cyberspace.

The official Style in-out list will come on Jan. 1. Hank "Mr. In-Out" Stuever is already busy writing it.


Necropolis, Md. : Give me one good reason not to move to New Zealand. I'll take one good reason to come out of the bedroom in the next four years, if it comes to that.

Richard Leiby: You clearly need to join a 12-step program for Neutered Democrats. You must accept what you Cannot Change. You must give yourself over to a Higher Power.

And, as far as New Zealand goes, it's a swell country, but overrun with annoying Hobbits, ain't it?


Washington, D.C.: There are conspiracy theories abound as to the authenticity of the Diebold e-voting machines in relation to first the Republican ties of its CEO and now the stunning inaccuracy of the exit polls, which showed decisive electoral victory for Kerry.

Yesterday, Post editors Kaiser and Coll hosted online chats, but neither would concede (ha!) any funny business with the e-votes.

As a gossip columnist, I'd love to hear your take. I mean isn't it at least possible (even remotely) that the machines could have been hacked into or pre-programmed for Bush victory?

Richard Leiby: I'm happy to promote any and all conspiracy theories. Is it possible, for example, that the Buldge in Bush's back was also sending signals to the Diebold machines in advance of the vote, programming the chips to register Republican votes? I'm not sayin', I'm just askin'.

Reality check: The Dems had this election very well-lawyered. If there was real e-fraud, I think they'd already have a whiff of it. But unless some hacker surfaces, or a whistleblower, there's no traction for your theory. (Yet.)


Arlington, Va.: About these exit polls, I was neither polled nor saw anyone being polled. Actually, I don't recall ever seeing pollsters. Why didn't anyone ask me?

Richard Leiby: Because you smell bad and carry around a bottle of wine in a bag.

Okay, that was unfair. I love all my readers. (Except those in Arlington.)

On exit polls generally: Let's get over our fixation with them. They're flawed. Note what Jon Stewart says in my column today:

"We come from the world of comedy and we're so unaware of what these polls are about...We thought they were scientific. Turns out they just ask a few guys who are hanging around after they vote."

(Who knew? Another lesson: Never trust fake journalists either.)


Washington, D.C.: I understand, from watching cable news networks, that Ron Silver is a Republican political activist. But the stations also identify him as an actor. What has he acted in? School plays? Who is this guy?

I only ask because I assume he's going to be running one of our newly acquired overseas colonies soon.

Richard Leiby: He'd kind of a B-lister in the acting department. Last big part seems to have been "Angelo Dundee" in the 2001 movie "Ali." But he's one of the few Hollywood conservatives, so the cable shows trot him out for balance. (And he's not a bad fellow: I've been on two MSNBC shows with him myself! We barely even yelled at each other...)

Some other Ron Silver credits: "Skin" (2003) TV Series; "Master Spy: The Robert Hanssen Story (2002) (TV) "The West Wing," (1999)...

Go to IMDB.com for more info.


Washington, D.C.: Richard Belzer is in the sex-crime edition of Law & Order. I don't think that's where you want to wind up.

Richard Leiby: Au contraire!


Kensington, Md.: Mr. Leiby, any news on why Rush Limbaugh's divorce is taking so long? And this will be wife number five when he is free, correct?

Richard Leiby: CNN's Daryn Kagan would be Wife Number 4 for El Rusbo, by our official count.

There's chatter they are talking marriage, but that's all it is right now. Sort of like the chatter that Condi and Rummy are leaving the Cabinet. Nobody knows what lurks in the Hearts and Minds of men and women.


Washington, D.C. : Just don't let Anne move the New Zealand!

Richard Leiby: I have bad news for you. Anne is going on vacation pretty soon, winging her way to lovely Australia, which is pretty close to New Zealand. So it COULD happen.


Tenleytown, Washington, D.C.: Our dog was fixed, but it didn't stop him from peeing on the carpet, nosirree. Our cat is fixed, but it seemed to make him even more aggressive, as my shredded ankles will testify. Maybe I should invite Grover over to my place.

Richard Leiby: Without revealing too much personal information, I can't comment on my personal view of fixed males. But I think you should have dinner with Grover.


Windsor, Conn.: Mr. Leiby -- thanks for the levity, much needed. I'm glad to see at least a few commentators aren't shying away from the election day truth that the red staters are more afraid of gay people than terrorists. Whoever coined the phrase "moral issues" and can attribute it to Bush is a genius -- the state with the lowest divorce rate (and, in turn, highest marital "success" rate) is Massachusetts. It's half of the divorce rate in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and a third of Tennessee's. A quarter of the electorate in red states vote on their "moral values" and we shouldn't shy away from calling them the homophobes they are.

Richard Leiby: Forsooth: Massachusetts is peopled by the descendants of Puritans and witch-burners. Let's keep that in mind.

As for levity: Today I heard about a quickie GOP documentary titled "My Pet Gloat." (Kidding!)

As for Bush and genius: The other lesson here is: "Karl Rove is VERY smart and Robert Shum is not so smart." The GOP is playing a long-term game. They've been moving around the conservative strategy chess pieces (gays, God, guns) for nigh on 20 years.


Iowa : Re Mr. Norquist's interest in farm animals. I grew up on an Iowa farm--the non-neutered "farm animals" were NEVER in the house soiling furniture; they live in barns or pens or chicken coops. Maybe this is true in whatever benighted state he hails from? Also, even large, neutered farm animals are capable of considerable destructive activity. Perhaps he should check this out by sharing a pasture with a Angus bull or a Duroc boar?

Richard Leiby: The pasturelands of Washington are full of bull, I assure you.


Beautiful Silver Spring, Md.: I'll enjoy having the Bush twins around for another four years (they seem like live-at-home-after-college girls to me), but I will miss seeing smokin'-hot Alexandra Kerry occasionally. Gol-darnit, she's fine. Do you know if she has any plans to remain in the public eye of us politico-spawn oglers?

Richard Leiby: Alex Kerry is an aspiring filmmaker. Like everybody else, she wants to direct. So I project that her next locale will be Hollywood, USA, an azure blue isle of Dem acceptance if ever there was one.


Poignant message from the "hard core" 80's: Maybe it was no one's fault
I know it wasn't mine
But now that you've moved along
I guess I'm next in line
I thought we had the same ideas
But you, you proved me wrong
I've been played the fool before
But never for quite so long


-Ian MacKaye, lead singer for Minor Threat

Richard Leiby: Hey, this isn't Carolyn Hax's chat. Take your personal relationship "issues" elsewhere, punk!


Election Night Guzzling: What were you drinking on election night and at what point did you up your intake?

Richard Leiby:

True facts: Just before 1 a.m. I had my customary Rum & Diet Coke, while attending the Democratic National Committee's victory party -- er, wake. I was with Jose "Julio" Vargas, a young Post staffer, who seemed fearful of drinking on the paper's tab, so I bought him a stiff drink and told him: "Buck up, it's gonna be a long night, kid, watch how a pro works."

Jim Carville popped up on CNN and conceded the election right about then. I went back to the office and found a bottle of Jim Beam.

The rest, I can't remember.


80s punk as politico-salve: I think Bad Brains' "Big Takeover" would be a little more appropriate than that sappy Minor Threat whimper-a-thon

Richard Leiby: Noted. Now, bringing things to the present musically for a moment: I listened to Steve Earle's new song, "The Revolution Starts Now," this morning and felt all wet and dreary, just like the weather here.


Silver Spring, Md.: Is Arafat Dead or Alive. Was the election results too much for him?

Richard Leiby: The latest:

"The health of Mr. Arafat required his transfer to a specialized hospital service," read Christian Estripeau, spokesman for the Percy military hospital just outside Paris. "Mr. Arafat is not dead."


Help Me, Obi Wan: Mighty Quid Nunc, I desperately need your advice. I'm devastated by the election outcome, to the point where I blame his supporters. I have no desire to spend time with siblings, who were rabid Dubya supporters, and I'm on the verge of cutting ties with friends who supported that loathsome Nazi SOB. Vodka seems to make things worse. What do I do? Just the sight of these people sparks rage. How does pandering to evangelicals make him any different than Mullah Omar, excepting that we educate our girls and (I think) we don't harbor terrorists.

Richard Leiby: Michael Moore has just checked in! Cool.

I hesitate to offer medical advice to anyone who rants on about lithesome Nazis, but Paxil might help, unless you also exhibit paranoid symptomolgy.

Look: You've got to reach out and start touching Republicans. I mean, shake hands with one; give the sign of peace. Find a way to Put a Little Love in Your Heart.

We can't live in Two Americas.

Quid Hath Spokeneth.


Arlington, Va.: Rum and Diet Coke?!? Get a man's drink!

Richard Leiby: I'm still on the Adkins Diet, Arlington; I'm cutting sugar carbs. But once in a while I'll have a tequila, too.


Arlington, Va.: Since the next four years appear to offer no humor (neocons have no sense of humor), where should a humor-deprived person turn for amusement?

Richard Leiby: Right here. Every Thursday. We'll be whistling in the graveyard and laughing in the face of impending Doom every chance we get.


Washington, D.C.: I need to feed my paranoia today. It's true that all reporters/columnists/editorial boards/major media outlet media sources except for Fox, have a liberal bias, right? C'mon, admit it! Please!

Richard Leiby: As I said at the very top of this chat: All major media members are drug-addled PINKOS. (Except the Fox/NY Post/Weekly Standard axis, which goes in more for booze and lurid sex).


Sugar carbs?: Rum is made of sugar! Please just don't tell me you sullied good rum, tell me it was the house rum.


Sorry. Maybe my blood-sugar is low. I'd better get a drink right now.


Iowa: I saw an email yesterday where the writer feared this election meant the end of the age of enlightenment and reason in the US and the dawn of the dark ages of mean-spiritedness, intolerance, and greed. What attire is appropriate for the dark ages? Burkha? Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ dress? Strait jacket?

Richard Leiby: I'm strapping on my straight jacket and heading to the rubber room. The rest of you are on your own.

See ya next week! Love, Quidnunc.


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