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Transcript

The Reliable Source

Hosted by Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 2, 2004; 12:00 PM

After a 25-year career as a distinguished editor, feature writer, investigative reporter and war correspondent, Rich 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.

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Richard Leiby: Okay, my Peeps (marshmallow and otherwise), we'll get straight to big controversy. Basically, should a gossip columnist report on people's PERSONAL LIVES? Here's a typical email flaming me for my report on Mariane Pearl (the widow of Danny Pearl of the Wall Street Journal) and her relationship with a top CNN exec (who is still married): :

"Subj: Pathetic journalism -- why cover gossip?

"I am a former CNN employee and I am disgusted with your coverage of Eason Jordan's alleged affair with Marianne Pearl. It seems to me that Washington Post Reporters have too much time in their hands and are becoming part of that zealot, puritan band wagon that permeates the American media. Why would we care about an executive's personal life? How can you go so as far as calling his poor wife? Why don't you look into your own newsroom to sniff for some dirt really worth printing? Here is a headline, Post Reporters lack depth, insight on war in Iraq and many other matters."


I say in return: We are reporters. We cover a lot of human behavior, and we even cover Michael Jackson.
Was it a good idea for CNN to put Mariane Pearl on the air this week with her attorney, seeking a piece of the 9/11 victims' compensation fund, without disclosing that she is deeply involved with Eason Jordan, who handled CNN's coverage of the Pearl case and heads CNN's editorial board? Just asking!

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Washington, D.C.: I heard that Michael Jackson was at BET owner Bob Johnson's mansion, in upper NW, for a big shindig on Wednesday night? Is that true?

Richard Leiby: My loyal assistant, Anne "Miss Sunshine" Schroeder, confirms it's true: "All I know is that MJ was at Bob Johnson's mansion on Wednesday night for a par-tay. Wish I knew more."

But there's more on MJ from our dogged reporter, Teresa Wiltz, who covered the King of Pop for three days running while he was in D. I asked her for her reaction. Here it is.

She said, "One word: Freak."
Wiltz confirmed for readers Michael's daily used of coral lipstick but remains mystified by one part of his grooming regimen: Does he have a hair weave or a wig? Or, possibly hair transplants. But she's convinced, after seeing him repeatedly, that it's NOT his real hair.
"I actually felt sorry for him," she added.

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washingtonpost.com: This week's columns:

Patty Duke, Stuck in Walter Reed's Waiting Room (Reliable Source, April 1)

The Mariane Pearl-Eason Jordan Link (Reliable Source, March 31)

Paul Sorvino's Statuary Haul (Reliable Source, March 30)

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Falls Church, Va.: I am deeply uncomfortable with the Eason Jordan-Mariane Pearl story, as I'm sure are thousands of readers. Neither person is a celebrity, they are marginal public figures at best. Neither is running for public office. You even had very little in your gossip item to really prove that a relationship exists. No witness of them being anywhere, a joint trip and a shared hotel room, nothing, just a few people who get to hide behind your promise of anonymity. If either was a public figure (U.S. Senator, judge, actor), the item might be defensible. I suppose the only reason for this 'news' is the fact that Eason at one time directed coverage of Pearl's kidnapping and murder (which happened more than two years ago). That's mighty thin relevance, even for a gossip column. I was very disappointed, and I'm a regular reader. I am interested in your response. And no, I don't know either person or even anyone who knows them, have no relationship to CNN (barely even watch) and I'm neither a journalist or a public figure.

Richard Leiby: For weeks you people have berated me for being too focused on "real" issues, like politics and war. Now I'm getting heat for writing about the JUICY stuff. I'm conflicted. I am in deep psychic pain.

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Arlington, Va.:

Senator Schumer (N.Y.) recently issued a letter supporting Hubbard's Scientology Narconon Detoxification ...

What is ironic is that Sen D'Amato, whom he defeated for his seat, was a staunch supporter of Scientology's brand of non-profit performance art for hire ... and some attribute D'Amato's demise, in part to his public support for Scientology.

Is Senator Shumer just another 'dupe'?

Richard Leiby:
Arlington: The story of Sen. Schumer's endorsement of a Scientology-linked program broke earlier this week in Jeannette Walls's column for MSNBC.com and also was covered in CultNews.com.

Basically it appears that Scientology is using its Narconon "purification" program to "detox" people who may have been exposed to pollutants at Ground Zero in NYC. As Walls wrote: "Senator Charles Schumer and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney have written letters heaping praise upon the New York Rescue Detoxification Fund, a project that has been working with firefighters and other first-responders who have health problems as a result of 9/11."

Is Chuck Schumer a dupe? Can't say. But he did make the list of "50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers" this week in the New York Press.

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washingtonpost.com: The Mariane Pearl-Eason Jordan Link (Reliable Source, March 31)

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washingtonpost.com: Jeannette Walls (MSNBC, March 31)

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Washington, D.C.: Saw the story about Deeda Blair in Style today. Capital Loses Its Couture Connoisseur (Post, April 2) About 15 years ago I was working an awards event at the Plaza in N.Y. and Deeda and Mary Lasker were seated at their tables with big furs on. It was hot in the room and, feeling sorry for them, I went up to them and asked them if they'd like me to check their wraps and the looks they shot me! If looks could kill, I would have never lived to see the Internet. Please remind everyone that fashion and style begin on the inside.

Richard Leiby: Duly noted. I am so out of the fashion loop that I looked at Robin's fine piece this morning and momentarily thought we were profiling Glenn Close playing Cruella D'Ville. (I apologize in advance for insulting Ms. Blair.)

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Federal Center SW: How come Anne's picture isn't available? If she looks as saucy as I think, whoa mama!;!;

Richard Leiby: Anne, let's get those old Maxim mag shots of you online, okay?

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Personal Lives: So, let's say the Executive Editor of the Post was dating a Style reporter and some people believed that it affected coverage and the reporter's visibility, you would write about it in your column? Or if the publisher and any number of writers and editors of the paper knew the last Democratic presidential candidate from childhood and a certain boys' school you would write about it and explain the significance? Hmm. Silence.

Richard Leiby: There is a LOT of journalistic and political behavior that we might charitably characterize as "incestuous." That's why we have wonkette.com -- she covers the gossip about gossip! And, truth be told, she's married to a Post editor!

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washingtonpost.com: Cute Rich. Real Cute.-Anne

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Re: 50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers: So did Lloyd Grove and Diane Sawyer ... I'll give Grove a slight break because he's new to the town, but Sawyer deserves the title ...

Richard Leiby: Lloyd said he didn't mind being on the list. He's only been in town six months and he ranks up there with Chuck Schumer, Lenny Kravitz, David Cross and Moby: This is an accomplishment. Here's what the NY Press said of Lloyd, who, incidentally, backed me for this job:

"HE CAME FROM the Washington Post as a sniveling insider notable for daring to report that Tim Robbins threatened him with violence for reporting a simple truth. As gossip columnist for the Daily News, Grove has been flummoxed by the city and is reduced to covering petty internet bickering long after it's old news. Check out his sterling reporting on Martha Stewart, hacking away several days after the verdict to tell us that Hillary Clinton has sympathy for a perjurer. Big scoop, Lloyd. This would usually be incompetent instead of loathsome, but the stakes were raised once you conned the Daily News into paying massive bucks for your groveling."

All I can say is: When will I get the MASSIVE bucks too?

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HELLOOOOO ...it's a GOSSIP column people!: What else do people want in a gossip column, recipes for good chicken soup? Its a GOSSIP column, I read it because there is GOSSIP in there. Gossip doesn't have to be factual statement of actual events that took place, GOSSIP IS GOSSIP. If you don't like it, don't read it.

I say, rock on with your bad self, you're doing a great job as LG's replacement.

Richard Leiby: And I say, thanks; or as my religious friends say: "Hamdiuallah," thanks be to God.
Point in fact: Gossip's been around since the Bible and the Koran and everything else was ever written.

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Kensington, Md.: Mr. Leiby, as a wife of an ex-infantryman, I have a question. I read in your column yesterday about Patty Duke wanting to visit wounded service people at Walter Reed, and how "It was strangely more healing for me than them," and reading today in Names & Faces NAMES & FACES (Post, April 2) about Melissa Etheridge visiting, what makes these "celebrities" think that our soldiers really want them dropping by? If they have to stagger visits to allow the patients to recuperate, then shouldn't it just be reserved for A or B list celebrities that would really boost morale? I mean, who in those wards would actually recognize Patty Duke or Melissa Etheridge?

Richard Leiby: Good point. The USO, I think, does a wonderful job of arranging and promoting a diverse group of entertainers. When I covered a big USO dinner a couple weeks back, the main entertainment were the WWE wrestling "superstars." They said the soldiers LOVE wrasslers. But apparently some want to see old-timers too. Here's the list of the celebs who were in town with Patty Duke for the Creative Coalition event:
? Tony Goldwyn (Ghost), Co-President of The Creative Coalition
? Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings)
? Phillip Bloch (fashion stylist, E! Channel and Entertainment Tonight)
? Gabrielle Carteris (Beverly Hills 90210)
? Catherine Dent (The Shield)
? Patty Duke (The Miracle Worker)
? Giancarlo Esposito (Homicide, Ali, Do the Right Thing)
? Michele Lee (Knots Landing)
? Ron Reagan, TV host and commentator

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New York, N.Y.: You'll probably get the massive bucks when you start groveling too.

Richard Leiby: Inshallah. If God wills...

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Gossip Gossip: Re: Eason Jordan's alleged affair with Marianne Pearl

Marianne Pearl is not "any person." She's been a fairly public figure who hasn't passed up an opportunity to promote herself, her book, and her dead husband's cause. That makes her newsworthy.

The fact that this road of self-promotion has been paved by a man she's allegedly having an affair with and a top person at CNN makes it all the more interesting and, alas, newsworthy.

Richard Leiby: Before we leave this topic, I'd also like to note that the most courageous reporting on that item was handled by Anne, who called Mr. Jordan's wife. She would not comment, but it was clear that we were NOT breaking any news to her.

"furthermore," says Anne in her note to me just now, "the r.s. doesn't just include public figures. we would have nothing to write if that were the case."

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Anonymous: Good afternoon.

I normally like the Post but I think it is beginning to show some bias toward Bush. For example, there's an article on today's front page that around 300,000 new jobs have been added in March. U.S. Firms Add 308K New Jobs in March (Post, April 2) What the article does NOT say is that 2 1/2 MILLION jobs have been lost during the Bush presidency and we probably won't break even at all for quite some time. Why does the article neglect to mention that?

(I'm praying that the Washington Post is not on its way to becoming a carbon copy of the Washington Times.)

Richard Leiby: Anonymous: This is EXHIBIT A on why there's a gossip column. Because people are too darn policy-wonkish-politically serious that they want me to be the Ombudsman. I am The Quidnunc. No more, no less.

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Quid Nunc the Eskimo: Come on without,
And tell what you thunk,
You can't read nothing like the Mighty Quid Nunc.

Richard Leiby: That's more like it.

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Fairfax, Va.: I had exactly the same disgusted reaction to your gossip about Mariane Pearl. If you're getting a lot of people telling you you're a monkey, better turn around and check in the mirror and see if you have a tail ...

Richard Leiby: I was born with a tail, a little curly-cue, for I am the devil's own spawn.

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Furtown, Md.: Would you ever let your wife wear a fur?

Richard Leiby: Many thanks for changing the topic. The First Lady of the Reliable Source has one elegant coat with an actual fur collar. She inherited it from a great-aunt. The animal that gave its fur died 70 years old. She believes it's okay to wear it, and so do I. Don't narc me out to PETA. Please...

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Denver, Colo.: Re: Pearl/Eason story. You're a moron. How can you imagine such talk is even newsworthy? I'm disappointed most especially in Post editors who allowed such a story to run. What possible significance can such an item have to people not directly involved? I say again: you're a moron.

Richard Leiby: I am NOT a moron, sir. I am THE DEVIL'S OWN SPAWN.

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Stop using Islamic terms: I don't know if you are using them in jest or to poke fun, but it's really offensive to me as a Muslim.

Richard Leiby: Okay, didn't mean to offend. I spent enough time with Muslims to have picked up a few words here and there. The Shiite Iraqis treated me as a brother. Again, I apologize for being flip with these terms.

I'll stick with calling myself the spawn of Satan. Any Christians out there bothered by that?

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Gambrills, Md.: You know what would be juicy and political? If you could find out who in the White House or the GOP initially told CNN that the Letterman video of 13-year-old Tyler Crotty yawning behind Bush was a fake. I seriously doubt CNN would have said that without some sort of tip from someone.

Richard Leiby: There might just be a job title devoted to this stuff. Maybe it was the same office that leaked Valerie Plame's name. Or the folks responsible for the whispering campaign about Richard Clarke?

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Get over it: To the sissy who's offended by your use of "Islamic" terminology. It is not "Islamic" terminology, it's Arabic. The two things are not interchangeable.

By the way, I am a Muslim and I am not offended by your use of the terms Inshallah, etc. Keep using them!

Richard Leiby: Shukran jazeelan.

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Marianne Pearl : For the record, I don't care who you write about ...

But I think most people are offended, because they still see Ms. Pearl as a sympathetic figure. You are gossiping about a woman who recently suffered a tragic loss.

Bottom line though, people are reading your column and you are getting a strong reaction from it. I'm pretty sure that's the goal of every newspaper journalist.

Richard Leiby: Let this be noted: Danny died two years ago. A horrible and deep loss, for sure. But thereafter Mrs. Pearl wrote a memoir and became a public figure.

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3rd and Constitution: No grand jury action today, as far as I can tell, but excellent clam chowder.

Richard Leiby: Grandee: Thanks. I'm still waiting for my subpoena. I'm eager to get out the Post and have lunch at the federal courthouse.

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Band name o' the week: Devil's Own Spawn. A Guar-like performance band out of Salt Lake City.

Richard Leiby: Two best real band names I ever encountered while living in Minnesota:

1. Farm Accident.
2. My Dad is Dead.

It was a double bill. And not a bad show.

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Oh great quidnu,NC: From what literary gem does the following quote come:

"What a treasure-trove to these venerable quidnuncs, could they have guessed the secret which Hepzibah and Clifford were carrying along with them!;"?

Love the column and chats!;!;!;

Richard Leiby: If only I had Google at my disposal.

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Girlsgoingsouth, dc: Hey Rich,
I'm so glad you broke the story about Farrah Ashline. I interviewed for a job with her, had no less than 6 weird "missed" appointments or misunderstandings, and had such bad vibes I stopped returning their phone calls. I've been logging onto the Web site sporadically ever since, and noticed all the staffing changes. It wasn't until your column that people really started gathering together, though. I'm glad women are supporting each other in trying to assure this doesn't happen to anyone else. Any further news? Contact from Farrah? I heard rumors she might be applying for The Apprentice 2 -- would you have believed D.C. would ever have an even more vile representative that Omarosa?!

Richard Leiby: Ashline update: I know for fact she made a tape to send to "The Apprentice." Certainly she had a lot of experience saying "YOU'RE FIRED!" But I don't think that's the kind of experience they want at the show. Trump does the firing.

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Anonymous: To whom might calling yourself "spawn of Satan" be offensive? Perhaps Satan's actual spawn, who would be offended by being compared with a mild-mannered reporter? Unless what we see here is merely your secret identify. Have you ever gotten lightheaded when you're near an extraterrestrial mineral-like substance?

Richard Leiby: I am lightheaded right now, because Anne is not wearing pants.

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Los Angeles: Pearls before Swine! Remember your audience! Stick to the Hilton sisters!
Also, Richard (the Rumor Monger), thanks for the tip on Jackson's lip stick color! It's so him! What about the chimp? Banana flavored lip gloss, you say? Yummy!

Richard Leiby: Yummy, yummy, yummy, I've got love in my tummy. Man, who else misses The Archies? On the Hilton sisters, I try to avoid them, but here's what the NY Press said in anointing them No. 26th Most Loathsome:

"IT IS SAID that in pre-revolution France, aristocrats would dress up as peasants and roam the countryside. A few years later, their heads sat atop spikes. Let this be a little cautionary tale for the Hilton girls. Just because you've gone to Arkansas and fisted a cow doesn't mean you're anything but the same dirty debutantes with bony behinds. If you're smart?and based on those empty, coke-burned stares, you're not?you'll just drug yourselves into plush oblivion and leave the world's celebrity porn sites alone, lest the wrong psycho take a fascination to you."

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Dupont, Washington, D.C.: So, what was Lloyd like on the phone? Was he cold when you Amyed him?

FYI, the one time that I wrote about him (in a publication that shall remain nameless), he pestered me with calls and e-mails and insults for hours. I'm amazed that he ever got ANYTHING done ... or was it all those incredible assistants?

Richard Leiby: I'm not going to discuss my personal relationship with Lloyd, even though we share the same "incredible assistant." Some things are just off-limits, people.

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Washington, D.C.: Back when I worked for the National Archives a few years ago, I heard that there was an office scandal of sorts dealing with the archivist becoming involved with another coworker's significant other. According to my former coworkers, the story was covered in the Post but occurred around the same time as the Lewinsky scandal, and thus was obviously not a huge gossip story. Do you know anything about it?

Richard Leiby: We don't have time to delve into that today, but check back next week. We'll do our darndest to probe the Lewinsky Eclipse.

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Stop using English!: It offends me, as a American, that you continue to use English. Can't you find another language?

More seriously, so what if you drop some Arabic into your chat? I don't think Muslims own the language. Wouldn't a Christian or Jew living in an Arabic-speaking land, use Arabic to reflect their religious beliefs? Language and religion are not inextricably linked.

Be free, Richard, to be more than just a cardboard cutout. Don't let the PC police get you down!

Richard Leiby: Man, I've gotta learn Aramaic. It's the only respectable way to respond to your question.

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No, *I* Am The Devil's Own Spawn: It seems to me the outrage over the Eason/Pearl "story" hinges on the idea that neither of them is famous enough. It's one thing to talk about Michael Jackson and what he may or may not have done, because he's a BIG STAR, but it's not okay, apparently for B- or C-list "celebrities."

This will come, I am sure, as a profound disappointment to those who agree with Wilde that the only thing worse than being talked about is 'not' being talked about.

Richard Leiby: Dear Brother Spawn: I actually want to talk about Big Star, the band Alex Chilton formed after the Box Tops. Maybe next week we can get back to the REAL issues.

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Leesburg, Va.: Can you or Anne find out where Tim Russert is hanging out these days? I mean, it must be somewhere at least marginally trendy given his use of the word "dissed" in a question to Richard Clarke last Sunday. That interview was phat!

Richard Leiby: We're checkin' his crib. I think Tim's frontin' and best step off. That goes for me, too.

Until next week, my peeps. Salaam. Peace out. Wiedersehen. Bye-bye!

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