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The Reliable Source

Washington's Social and Political Scene

Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 17, 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:

Helping the Wallflowers Bloom (Reliable Source, Feb. 17)

The Roots of Dictatorship in Iraq (Reliable Source, Feb. 16)

When Covering Party People, Is Three a Crowd? (Reliable Source, Feb. 15)

Punditry, After the Shouting (Reliable Source, Feb. 13)

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: Welcome: I'm doing this chat today like a REAL blogger, sitting at home in my jammies and fuzzy slippers. I've come down with "flu-like symptoms," but, just like our friend Michael Jackson, I am reported to be in stable condition.

Today I'm happy to discuss the difference between actual journalism, blogging, and gossip-mongering with one caveat: My editors have already warned me not to get into the "Jeff Gannon" case, beyond what Howard Kurtz, our media critic, has already published. So there's one difference that sets me apart from the vast Blogosphere: I HAVE AN EDITOR. Another: I HAVE A LEGAL DEPARTMENT. (Yes, even sitting here in my Bugs Bunny slippers I can summon expert legal advice if need be -- from a Post attorney who looks exactly like Yosemite Sam.)

Now perhaps some of you think our cautious approach to reporting amounts to suppression or censorship. Well, our adherence to "journalistic standards" does make us slower off the mark when it comes to lurid breaking studmuffin news. I'd heard all about those sizzling hot "Gannon" Web sites last week, tipped by a very reputable blogging source, but I couldn't report about the matter without further independent confirmation. Ultimately the story was handled by the very able Mr. Kurtz, because he'd written before about the "Gannon" case and had far more space to explain things. We'll link to that piece.

Tragically, I had very little to titillate and agitate my readers in my columns this week. But fear not: We could always post more hot pix of my assistant, Anne!


Arlington, Va.: Any sightings of James ("Jeff Gannon") Guckert around town?

Richard Leiby: I think this one is safe to answer: I personally haven't seen "Gannon." I've only been to the Bush White House twice, so clearly I never had the access he enjoyed.

I did call his number earlier in the week and was told by the "assistant" who answered that Mr. Gannon would not be speaking to reporters anymore. The "assistant" would not give me his name. I left a message, then went back to my usual office preoccupation: surfing strictly hetero Internet porn sites.



"LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Michael Jackson has been discharged from a hospital after treatment for flu-like symptoms that delayed jury selection in the singer's child molestation trial, according to his Web site Thursday."

Thank God he's okay.


Frederick, Md.: Mighty One, your chat last week sucked. Come back down out of the clouds with the rest of us peons. We want more sex! And more scuzzy Capitol Hill gossip!

Richard Leiby: Sigh. You're right, Frederick. I was operating on low oxygen last week in Aspen, Colo., and I was more tired, bitter and cranky than usual. I was like Jon Stewart on Crossfire: NOT FUNNY.

But covering the US Comedy Arts Festival (see my column last Sunday)intimidated me. One evening I went out to dinner with Laura Ingraham, the conservative talk radio gal, and staffers from the Center for American Progress, including former Clinton honcho John Podesta, and its media strategy director, Debbie Berger, who's the daughter of ex-NSC dude Sandy Berger. Anyway...I told what I thought was a GREAT desert-island necrophilia joke. It has to do with two guys and a woman, and possibly some Ru-Ru, but I can't be explicit here.

I totally bombed. People thought I was SICK. Except for Podesta. He laughed.

Is that "scuzzy" enough for you?


washingtonpost.com: Online Nude Photos Are Latest Chapter In Jeff Gannon Saga (Post, Feb. 16)


Long Beach, Calif.: As someone who relies on "reliable" sources, how do you view the White House's right to trash Joe Wilson via leaks to the press? Is it really a 1st amendment right to criminally expose a CIA agent? Is that anything like the "fire in a movie house" defense of free speech? Thanks

Richard Leiby: I'm pretty familiar with this case because I've met Valerie Plame Wilson and wrote about Amb. Joe Wilson's Niger trip in the Post on July 6, 2003. Shortly thereafter, Bob Novak's column appeared, outing Mrs. Wilson as CIA operative. Frankly that stunned me, but it took weeks if not months for the White House to agree to a leak investigation.

Now we've learned that the right-wing "Jeff Gannon," working for some no-name Web site, Talon News, also is embroiled in the Plame leak case.

I don't know what to make of all this but I'm eager to return to real reporting someday. Although that means I will have to give up wearing Bugs Bunny slippers when I work.


Bethesda, Md.: So what's the deal with Karl Rove sending flowers to Mo Dowd? Why not just send her a check? Isn't that the White House way?

And can you set me up with her? I'm a young 50, 6'1", 190, fit, and financially secure.

Richard Leiby: Karl Rove sent Ms. Dowd flowers (as I report today) with a card saying "not everyone hates you." Now, Mr. Studly, if you want to one-up the wily Rove and send a dozen roses, I suggest you track down the Times' Washington bureau address. Or you can hire one of the "DC Angels" we write about today to ease your hook-up.

PS: Does "financially secure" mean you run some hot web sites?


Alexandria, Va.: I know this is a stupid question but here it goes. I just moved here and want to find the best place for "people watching". Where can I go to see some people that I read about in the newspaper?

Richard Leiby: I suggest you head to Capitol Hill this morning to catch a glimpse of The Governator. Arnold's in town to visit with the California congressional delegation. (If you get up early and read my column, you might know about such things...)

Also, you can go to dinner any Thursday night at Cafe Milano in Georgetown. Usually big politicos hang out there. Then mosy over the Smith Point, where the Bush girls often party.

And that's about it, I'm afraid. As I wrote earlier this week, I can't believe THREE new mags are coming to town to cover "hot" nightlife and celebrities.


Dowd: Roses with a card that says, "Not everyone hates you"? Gee, and I thought my Valentine's Day was bad ...

Richard Leiby: Oh, sorry, I took it out of context. The full quote on the card to Maureen Dowd was: "Just remember, your family does love you and not everyone hates you." Better?


Silver Spring, Md.: Well, while you were off on your boondoggle in Aspen, your new competition at the D.C. Examiner (The Buzz) was getting all the hot scoops. Like this gem from earlier this week: tiny singer Paul Williams tied the knot again!

Gosh, there's a water-cooler talker ... that Paul Williams is still alive, I mean.

Richard Leiby: Also, he's STILL sober after 15 years! I just caught up on the Examiner's coverage last night. I surrender: I'm ready to cede my turf to Karen Feld and "the Buzz."


Silver Spring, Md.: Dawg,

I don't wanna hear about what the rich are doing
I don't wanna go to where the rich are going
They think they're so clever, they think they're so right
But the truth is only known by guttersnipes.

So my question is, dawg, why am I here?

I guess it must be the prospect of more Anne pics, or maybe the almost lost hope that you are gonna hook me up with Nicole Kidman.

Richard Leiby: Dawg: Don't be glum. There's a flip side to all of this, a tune sung by an obscure Police spinoff group named Klark Kent: "I wanna be rich/ I don't want to work in a ditch."

And, I'm sorry, but we're not going to "expose" Anne any further. We have standards. We're not "wonkette."


Washington, D.C.: What's the scoop on the untimely, sudden and controversial departure of Channel 4's sports babe, Nicole Zaloumis? (She was only there about seven months) Everyone at Channel 4 sports is being very tight-lipped about this one!

Richard Leiby: Our TV desk tells us, "The official line is that she resigned for 'personal reasons' and we haven't heard much else." She came to DC from a very small station in Medford, Oregon. That's a tough jump to make.

Hey, maybe I should move to the station in Medford!


Arlington, Va.: Why is it that when celebrities get the flu they go to the hospital, but when I get the flu, I'm expected to go to work and infect the rest of the office.

Some sort of celebrity conspiracy?

Richard Leiby: Yeah, I hear you. I infected the office just yesterday, hacking a spewing in several conference rooms. (Ahh, sweet revenge...)

And those big celebs are also always citing "personal reasons" for this or that. Are reasons ever OTHER than personal?

"I'm retiring from whore-mongering crack smoking for Impersonal Reasons. Thank you."


Washington, D.C.: Wow, three new mags is a bit much. I guess they plan on running a lot of ad space.

So now that your home -- what are you listening to as you chat with us? (I'm assuming there's some music in the background.)

Richard Leiby: I'm listening to the FOX NEWS CHANNEL. Cueing up an important story on religious schools, the guy just said, "We have a fair and balanced look..."

I dig the Irony, man.


Dulles, Va.: I recently saw you on the documentary "Bush's Brain", and thought your comments were pretty cool. Any new Karl Rove rumors? Guy is a dirty player, no?

Richard Leiby: Thanks, but no Rove rumors from me. I WANT TO LIVE!

I did see Mr. Rove at the White House in December and he told me he'd never seen the movie and had no intention of ever seeing it.

Some people just aren't into the Celebrity thing.


Germantown, Md.: Why isn't Bob Novak being put in jail like other two journalists?

Richard Leiby: I've been asked that question many, many times. I don't have the answer. Novak has steadfastly refused to talk to any journalists about whether he's been subpoenaed or cooperated in the Plame leak case. Columnists like Novak don't seem to like to talk to The Post, even though we publish their screeds. Last night at an awards ceremony one of our reporters asked George Will what he would do with his $250,000 gift from a conservative foundation. That's none of your business, Will said. (He also refused to return MY calls. Must have something to do with the fact that I don't wear a bow-tie.)


Washington Times headline tomorrow:: Post Reporter Says Anyone Who Talks Bad About Rove Gets Killed!

Richard Leiby: That's exactly what I was aiming for! I live to brawl in the publick arena, and see my name splattered in conservative opposition news organs.

Wait: I was joking. Please, Rev. Moon. Just a ... bit of idle, harmless wit.


Arlington, Va.: O Mighty Quid:

They said that there isn't going to be any hockey this year. What's a dork, wonk or hopeless loser like myself going to do?

Richard Leiby: Keep reading my column because you are One of Us.



Michael Jackson has NOT yet puked today...

Also: "Older doctors can be hazardous to your health."

So this is what I miss when I'm not home watching cable TV? So glad I pay $100 a month.


washingtonpost.com: Judges Order 2 Reporters to Testify on Leak (Post, Feb. 16)


People Watching --: There's always the Old Ebbitt Grill fallback, and I've seen a number of bigwigs at the Capitol Grill on PA. (Ed Gillespie meeting up with Tony Blankley outside: "'Ello, Ant'ny" in a faux-Brit accent.)

Richard Leiby: Thanks for those tips. And now I'm getting mighty hungry. The mere mention of Tony Blankley (of The Washington Times editorial page) makes me salivate!

(Yo, Tony: It's another joke. I WANT TO LIVE!)


Arlington, Va.: I thought the article on the "liberal" use of the Riggs Bank private jet was going to be lots of fun. But it wasn't just liberals ... Mostly former presidents and some power news gals like Diane Sawyer, Andrea Mitchell, Barbara Walters.
Shouldn't you have been on top of this -- celebrity private jet abuse?

Richard Leiby: I should be, but I'm too busy attending to pressing matters of how to properly pack when flying on an airline, or a private jet. See below.


Silver Spring, Md.: I need serious travel advice -- I have to pack a suit, dress shirt, shoes, undies, and toiletries in one of those rolling "carry-on" bags that everybody always overstuffs.

I will have access to an iron on the other side, but what's your secret? Should I roll the jacket and trousers or fold? Inside out? Is there a Web site with pics somewhere?

Help me!

Richard Leiby: Readers, I've got readers. And they care passionately about how to pack for business travel.

I think it's time to "bag" this chat.


Rockville, Md.: Any more, uh, "hot dish" on the outing of the White House chef? Please say it was because they wanted him to do something vulgar like, I don't know, put ketchup on mashed potatoes or something.

Richard Leiby: The story, basically, is that Mrs. Bush's new social secretary wanted a change -- as, evidently, did the First Lady. Chef Walter Scheib had been there since the early Clinton era -- brought in by Hillary -- and there have been a lot of other transitions in and out of the White House, far more significant that who wears the Big Toque.

We reported this week that the White House called famed chef Patrick O'Connell to guage his interest in the gig. He said he's consider part-time work. Evidently the White House list includes 10 names.

Is that enough "news" for you, or you want to talk about Deep Toquer?


Tina Brown: You're dating her, aren't you?

(or you want to)

That's why you won't run my question about her, right?

Richard Leiby: Ok, you got me. Actually it's my policy only to date (and then trash) editorial page columnists, NOT Style page columnists.


Washington, D.C.: Just curious -- what's your relationship with the person that does "Out & About" (Roxanne?)? Are you in the same office? Do you work together? Don't hear much about her outside of the column. (Thanks and get well soon :)

Richard Leiby: I'll answer this one for the sake of the Curious Masses. I work in the same office with Roxanne (although not today, obviously--I'm in my bedroom on a laptop, getting a psychic lap dance from the Fox News Robo-Babes...)

Uh. Hm. Strike that.

Anyway, Roxanne's column runs Monday and she tends to cover the more high-end charity events and galas. I don't care for putting on a tuxedo -- or pants, for that matter.

Maybe Rox (as we affectionately call her) will take over my chat once my editors read this one and fire me.


Washington, D.C.: Bloggong today, heh? Well, where are YOUR nude photos, you stud muffin you?

Richard Leiby: Watch this space next week. Muffins will be served, along with flu-like symptoms. Thanks for the support, my dearest chatters, and please get well soon.

Quidnunc over.


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