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.
Here are Richard's columns from this week including today's NAMES & FACES:
NAMES & FACES (Post, May 28)
More Like GirlsLashingOut.com (Post, May 26)
'Wedding's' Unwelcome Guests (Post, May 25)
The Hill's Sex Diarist Reveals All (Well, Some) (Post, May 23)
Richard Leiby: Before we begin, a quote from our Commander-in-Chief, which I've just received from highly placed sources at the Democratic HQ:
"Karyn is with us. A West Texas girl, just like me."
--George W. Bush in Remarks in Nashville, 5/27/04.
The "girl" the Prez referred to is Karyn Frist, wife of the esteemed Senate Majority Leader, Dr. Bill Frist.
You go, GIRLFRIENDS. Four more years! This is why we love GWB.
OK, so where are the Tom Hanks sightings this weekend likely to be?
Richard Leiby: On the Mall, naturally, because he's participating in all the hoopla for the World War II memorial. And generally celebs at this level stay at the Four Seasons or the Ritz-Carlton in D.C. (We interviewed Ben Affleck a couple of years ago at the Ritz, so we know such things. During that interview, by the way, Ben took a whizz with the bathroom door open and kept right on talking while his handlers milled around. Too much information?)
I love the local dirt you have been dredging up. I always enjoy your column, but it has been particularly good lately.
Richard Leiby: I hope those columns are posted, because I haven't done squat since Tuesday. Had to take a day off because of all the media interest in my work on Washingtonienne (and Bill Cosby.)I couldn't get the National Enquirer off the phone!
I see that you're sharing the chat stage with Elmo of Sesame Street today. What a proud moment for you! Perhaps some of his fans will discover your work for the first time.
By the way, I just looked at the picture accompanying Elmo's chat. First of all, he's completely naked! Is this acceptable Post policy? Second, comparing your picture to his, I can't help but notice a certain resemblance. He has your eyes, certainly, but there's also a certain seen-it-all world-weariness in Elmo's smile. Is he a former war correspondent, too?
Richard Leiby: I wubba Elmo. But, unlike Michael Jackson, I do not play "rubba" with Elmo. As for Elmo and war, there was a movie about this in the '80s. ... St. Elmo's Fire.
I hope we can link to the Naked Elmo. As for Post policy: We absolutely will not show Alexandra Kerry's nipples, but we do permit Jessica Culter's headlights to be on "high beam" when we run a pic of her from the New York Post.
Does that clarify our policy?
Where is Weingarten?:
Before leaving town, Gene claimed to be going on a very dangerous mission. Can you give us the scoop on where he went?
Richard Leiby: I am forbidden (by Gene Weingarten and all of his minions) to reveal that information. However, I believe the worst of the danger has passed. Gene is retracing some of my earlier work in covering terrorism, and that's all I can say. As much as I have "issues" with Gene, I'm not going to jeopardize his safety.
Elmo and Anna:
Farragut West, Washington, D.C.:
I'm amazed that any publisher would be interested in such a mundane sex "scandal" as Washingtonienne's. She's not even willing to name name's or admit she's a prostitute. What gives?
Richard Leiby: A good source phoned me just this morning with an update on the Jessica Cutler front. She's reportedly in New York today making the rounds of meetings with literary agents, including ones at the Carlisle & Company agency, which contacted me earlier in the week, hoping to get Cutler's number.
I happily complied -- and I gave another agent her number too, figuring it is my patriotic duty to support our nation's book publishing industry. And also it's my duty to continue to FILL MY OWN COLUMN, or I'll be fired, which would be a devastating blow to the Quidnunc household economy. (So, what gives is that it's good copy, true or not.)
I've also heard that she is meeting today with Playboy, but that's entirely certain. I DO know that a senior photo editor has spoken to her. Again, Playboy called me last week and I was HAPPY to put the gauzy skin-mag in touch with Jessica, because I believe in a strong American economy.
Meanwhile, one person close to the publishing community says, "I still have my suspicions it was all orchestrated...something doesn't smell right." This source also says: "The reason she's fascinating is because it's been a while since we've had Bill Clinton."
Why is Washingtonienne such a big story? Yes, she made a bad choice in posting her sexual exploits for the whole world to see, but why all the hype? It's not like she slept with Donald Rumsfeld or the president (or both at the same time) -- now THAT would be a story.
Richard Leiby: Listen, we STILL don't have any identities of the men she lists by initials in her sex blog. Including "Threesome Dude." So I'm not ruling anything out.
I know you are more of a reliable source for gossip, but I'm hoping you might have a shopping tip for me. I'm looking for some cicada souvenirs (t-shirts, mugs, etc.) to give to some friends who are coming into to town this weekend. Do you have any reliable information on stores in the area that are selling such goodies?
Richard Leiby: Let me check. Why not just gather up some of the bugs and give them out by the handful?
On which beach will you be lounging on this long weekend?
Richard Leiby: I'll be visiting Harrisburg, Pa., and Three Mile Island for my annual "Atom Tan." (Clash fans, weigh in...)
Tenleytown, Washington, D.C.:
Dear Quiddy: So has there been a dustup in the newsroom about Washingtonienne and your passing along her phone number to Playboy, et al? Marc Fisher characterized her yesterday as a prostitute; and now you are helping her in scheduling. Next step, the white Cadillac, the purple fur and an enormous pinky ring for Quidnunc.
Richard Leiby: Next step? What makes you think I'm not already all pimped out? Don't let my photo on the column fool you. I'm more bling than that.
Just for accuracy's sake, the Washingtonienne is actually 26, not 24, as she's been claiming. Not sure what difference that makes, but it's another piece of the story.
Richard Leiby: Washingtonienne told me's she's 24, but that appears to be a big fat LIE. When we talked, she said that May 18, her birthday, was a terrible day. She got suspended from her job, she lost one of her boyfriends, and Tony Randall died. I said, "So you just turned 24?" She said, "Yeah." (Or something like that.) In fact, the public records we've since been able to obtain show she was born May 18, 1978. Doing the math, which is hard, but possible, we conclude that she is 26 years old.
We also suspect that she does NOT have a degree from Syracuse University. I asked her twice to tell me what her degree was in and she said "international relations." She also said she had low grades. Our sources (which are not just all them bloggers, though they're helpful) say she did not graduate. So, two pieces of info provided by Miss Cutler are evidently not true. What does this mean for the rest of her story?
Silver Spring, Md.:
How much time do you think will pass before Washingtonienne appears in Playboy? My guess? About five months.
Richard Leiby: I can't predict, but I guarantee that Reliable Source readers will be the first to know. (Unless she continues her proclivity to leak "exclusives" to Wonkette.com.)
Richard Leiby: PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT:
"DON'T BUG ME"
The Hat That Wards Off Cicadas
Word of the invasion of 17-year Cicadas so alarmed Silver Spring designer, Claudette Warner-Milne, that she set everything aside to create a hat that would protect her from the bugs.
She came up with "Don't Bug Me," a line of pretty, practical and protective hats that use netting to keep the nearly-blind flying insects, and other bugs, off the wearer's face and neck.
"Cicadas can hardly see, and because there're so many of them, have a way of flying into you. I've seen women shooing them away from their faces and nervously brushing them off their shoulders," said Ms. Warner-Milne, who's designed and crafted leather accessories for 15 years under her "Make Mine Leather" label.
NOTE: Email me at Reliablesource@washpost.com if you want to do bidness with the hat lady. They may be pimperiffic accessories too!
Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.:
Leibs. You have got to help me. I have that song Midnight at the Oasis stuck in my head. Oh the pain, the pain!
Richard Leiby: Here's the only cure I know. Repeat after me:
We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun...
but the stars we could reach were just starfish on the beach...
Now, that's better, isn't it?
Do you consider the Wonkette competition? I consider her sight a "must read" everyday, as I do the Reliable Source.
Richard Leiby: I consider her to be competition in the sense that she can get a story out faster than I can, but we have vastly different audiences. Also, I am a reporter with 25 years of hard news experience, and she is but a foul-mouthed vixen.
Dupont, Washington, D.C.:
Have you nailed down what's going on above Maggie Moo in Adams Morgam. A rumor floated that it's the next Real World house or location of another reality show.
Richard Leiby: MTV insists that "The Real World" is NOT filming there. They've told us that, and if you can't trust the flacks at MTV, who can you trust?
She graduated. Her picture was in the yearbook. You can call the Syracuse registrar and they will confirm graduation dates and degrees (but nothing else).
Richard Leiby: We're checking. We are reporters! Anne, get on the blower...Let's nail this down!
Does it seem like the general quality of government courtesans is slipping a wee bit? Didn't they used to be worldly, well-tutored ladies clad in brocade, lace, and jewels who altered the course of nations with a whispered word in the ears of their highly placed "friends"? Now we have 20-somethings in Banana Republic monochromatics who drop by for a quick lunch?
Richard Leiby: Well, Iowa, you must not remember the escapades of Elizabeth Ray (1976--before Jessica Cutler was born.) I posted a "This Date in Gossip" last week on that scandal.
28 years ago:
Scandal erupts when a young woman on the staff of Rep. Wayne L. Hays (D-Ohio) tells The Post that her $14,000-a-year job on the Hill had only one requirement: to keep her boss, the powerful chairman of the House Administration Committee, sexually satisfied. "I can't type, I can't file, I can't even answer the phone," Elizabeth Ray declared. "Supposedly I'm on the oversight committee. But I call it the Out-of-Sight Committee." Her work schedule consisted of a few hours at the office one or two days a week, and hurried dates with Hays. "He never stops in [my] living room," she said of their after-dinner encounters. "He walks right into the bedroom and he watches the digital clock. He's home by 9:30."
Hays, who had remarried just five weeks before the story broke, denied having an affair with Ray. "Hell's fire!" he told The Post. "I'm a very happily married man." The denial didn't stand up, and Hays, after an overdose of sleeping pills, was forced to resign the following September.
Falls Church, Va.:
What is your response to Bill Cosby interview on Tavis Smiley show and his description of your article?
Richard Leiby: Bill is backpeddling. Read last Sunday's column.
Seasons in the sun:
How dare you do that to me.
Richard Leiby: Now you know the POWER of Quidnunc!
washingtonpost.com: The Hill's Sex Diarist Reveals All (Well, Some) (Post, May 23)
15th and L:
Honestly, who would lie about graduating from Syracuse? Would any reasonably prudent person make up facts that would lead someone to believe that they voluntarily spent four years in that town?
Richard Leiby: We just checked with the Syracuse U registrar. SHE DID NOT GRADUATE. She attended. End of story...or is it?
And we have the woman who died underneath Nelson Rockefeller. Or is that an urban legend?
Richard Leiby: Gosh. I vaguely remember an incident like that. Are you sure SHE died? Somebody help out here.
Now here's the Quidnunc I've missed! Talking about music and all. I will be listening to "London Calling" on repeat this weekend in honor of "The Day After Tomorrow." ("The ice age is coming ..." etc.)
Richard Leiby: "A nuclear error, but I have no fear. 'Cause London is drowning and I ... LIVE BY THE RIVER!"
Use that one as a song eraser, people. It'll work against "Seasons in the Sun." Gitmo-Guaranteed
Sorry, but I just gotta -
Washingtonienne spent a substantial part of Wednesday getting a mini-makeover at the salon on 21st NW between L and M, in Lafayette Center. (In person and close up, her hair is an infinitely darker, more deeply-colored black than shows in the cheap pictures). She was accompanied by an obvious PR-type woman, a few years older than Miss Cutler, and most chatty indeed. They were discussing the New York trip. Miss Cutler cuts quite the dramatic, catwalk figure -- maybe not a conventional Vogue/Town-and-Country beauty, but could model nonetheless!
So if she already had a PR person on Wednesday, how was this 'NOT' a set-up, fully involving the ever-cooperative Wonkette, Mrs. Cox?
Richard Leiby: Excellent dish. Please don't hesitate to use the, ahem, hack-channel contact here for us at Reliablesource@washpost.com.
We're startin' to smell Setup City.
I saw him yesterday at Eastern Market Metro.
Richard Leiby: I believe that is impossible. And I don't want Weingarten sightings, anyway. I want CUTLER sightings. More, more.
Harrisburg? You poor, poor man. Some of us worked for years to escape that hellhole, and you're vacationing there? Please say it's an assignment and not a choice!
Richard Leiby: I grew up near Harrisburg. It's not a vacation, it's an act of civic and familial duty for me to return on occasion.
"Richard Leiby: Next step? What makes you think I'm not already all pimped out? Don't let my photo on the column fool you. I'm more bling than that."
Um, don't you live in ROCKVILLE?
Richard Leiby: True 'dat.
Your point being? That I'm FRONTING?
It wasn't the woman who died under Nelson Rockefeller, it was Nelson who died while "doing research" with his assistant named Megan. Somehow that all passed quietly.
Richard Leiby: Right. Rockefeller expired. He was 70.
In 1979 Rockefeller suffered a heart attack during sexual congress with his mistress Megan Marshak. Marshak was afraid to call the police and so left him on the floor of his apartment, where he may have lingered for minutes if not hours. It is believed that had Marshak called an ambulance promptly, Rockefeller may have survived.
From an on-line encyclopedia
Richard Leiby: It's on the Internet, so I believe it even more.
The whole blog is a lie. She is a moderately attractive, aggressive individual trying to further her own career. She lied her way into a crappy Hill staffer position, solely to be able to be fired in a "sex scandal" and achieve the notoriety that she is currently getting.
Richard Leiby: There is logic to what you say, but would this really be worth all the notoriety? Frankly, she struck me, in person, as a bit naive. This is a girl who drinks Nesquik. She seemed immature. Anyway, as I have said publicly, all we know is that this is good reading. And clearly people want more.
Day After Tomorrow:
With almost "Passion"-like fervor, I know that a lot of enviros closing shop and going, en masse, to see The Day After Tomorrow this afternoon. Any thoughts?
Richard Leiby: The movie is total bunk on a scientific level. It's based on a book written by two non-scientists (Art Bell and Whitley Streiber) who are active alien and UFO theorists. Streiber says he was abducted by aliens.
I saw Paul Wolfowitz a few Sundays ago at Florida and 21st. My guess is he was leaving Bistro du Coin, your predecessor Lloyd G.'s least favorite restaurant. For his part, Wolfowitz j-walked across Florida Ave.
Richard Leiby: Just wondering: Was he with a woman friend? Quidnunc is mildly intrigued.
Does your name in German translate out
to "Happy drunk who sings songs"?
Richard Leiby: Jah, genau! Noch ein Bier, bitte!
What songs did the U.S. Army blast at Noriega when he sequestered himself in the Vatican Embassy (that's Holy See to you foreign service snobs).
Richard Leiby: Man, I used to know that. I think Metallica was involved. And, quite possibly, the song "Panama" itself. It was the Papal Nuncio where Noriega hid...if you want to get technical.
Why bother with a staffer job when you can
simply get a job delivering pizza? Didn't that work for the Big Lewinsky?
Richard Leiby: Touche, La.
Long Beach, Calif.:
If nominated, would you consider heading the New Iraqi Transitional team?
Richard Leiby: Yes, I would. I've been waiting for L. Paul "Jerry" Bremer to call me all week.
Your panning of the authors sounds like
they might be Scientologists. Are we clear
Richard Leiby: Bell and Streiber are not Scientologists, but they share a belief in aliens. Clear?
Silver Spring, Md.:
Wonkette expressed hopes that Washingtonian would get therapy -- would that be the therapy that one gets drinking all night with Wonkette at the Four Seasons?
Richard Leiby: Based on the slightly Sapphic pictures we've seen on the Web of that wild night (Wonkette wa/ Washingtonian), I don't even want to SPECULATE on the "therapy." But you can, please.
A filially to the previous Wonkette question ... Are you a bit jealous that she has been appearing on MSEC (admittedly the AWAY team of cable) and Fox (also not much higher up the cable food chain)? She was also invited to the White House Correspondents Dinner (a bulger!). How does that make you feel? Also, when will we see you on TV?
Richard Leiby: Hey, I was on TV too. But just for a couple of minutes. Here's the transcript, Quittance fans.
TRANSCRIPT: # 052500cb.468
SECTION: NEWS: INTERNATIONAL
LENGTH: 7467 words
HEADLINE: COUNTDOWN for MAY 25, 2004
BYLINE: Keith Olbermann; David Gregory; Pete Williams; Anne Thompson
GUESTS: Louis Lascar; Richard Leiby; Pat Buchanan; Carl Bernstein
OLBERMANN: But wait, now a new and unimproved Washington sex scandal, thanks to our new friend, the World Wide Web. Her name is Jessica Cutler. She sorted mail in the office of the Ohio Senator Mike Deane to the tune of $25,000 a year, interesting job, sort of mail. In between stuffing envelopes, Ms. Cutler found time to stuff a bloc, an Internet diary, filled with her sexual exploits.
Quote: "Most of my living expenses are thankfully subsidized by a few generous older gentlemen." Beginning to sound a little like Tennessee Williams here. "I'm sure I am not the only one who makes money on the side this way. I am convinced that the Congressional offices are full of dealers and hose" -- her word.
Ms. Cutler was dismissed from her job Friday, lost the bloc into one of the black holes of coverage as a result. But before the plug was pulled, she managed to list the six men she was sharing her gifts with, one she claims the head of an agency appointed by the president.
Richard Leiby writes the "Reliable Source" column for "The Washington Post" and has spoken with young Ms. Cutler a couple of times.
Rich, nice to talk to you. Good evening.
RICHARD LEIBY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Thanks for having me, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Sex scandals in Washington, well, that's hardly new. Using my personal favorite as the measuring stick, Calamitousness, by that scale, how much of a story or nonstop is this really?
LEIBY: Well, by the Lowings standard, which can't really be topped, since it led to the impeachment, I think we're talking about a scale of two on a 10. It's not even a Wayne Hayes scandal of 28 years ago. That was the congressman from Ohio 20 who had a lady on the side who worked for the -- quote -- "keep out of sight committee."
OLBERMANN: And she wound up trying to escape via the tidal basin, as I recall.
LEIBY: That was another one.
OLBERMANN: Yes. How do we know that this stuff on here is not completely made up, that this bloc is not the fantasy or the time wasting of your taxpayer dollars?
LEIBY: We don't know anything except that it's great reading. I have interviewed the lady face to face for over an hour. She will not give up any names. If she is a liar, she is a good one. I mean, and it's good erotic fiction.
On the other hand, this sort of behavior by interns and young women in Washington is [NOT} an unknown. See the Starr report. So we have -- I have a confidence that it's real. She told me she didn't think there was any reason anybody should be interested since it happens all the time in Washington. And that is sort of one threshold. Does it happen all the time? Yes. Do we read about it all the time on the Internet? No. That's why it's news.
OLBERMANN: Now, when did we expect the book deal? And given that this is just the slightest twist on the very first plot line from the very first episode of "The West Wing" from five years ago, do we think a book would sell?
LEIBY: Well, I know that Manhattan is interested in a book because I fielded a call today from a top literary agency that wanted her phone number. They cast it as, we'd like to do it as sex on the Hill, sort of like the devil wears Prado, the intern's insider view. It could be fact or fiction. I don't think they really care at this point.
They are interested in these bulgers. They are interested in young people. And then tonight, just as I was leaving to come over here, I fielded a call from "Playboy." So it seems to me that it is going out in the logical direction of any scandal.
OLBERMANN: But we're convinced that there is no connection, other than the wasting -- potentially wasting of government resources by wasting time? This is not connected to any Senator Deanne office, other than the fact that she worked there? It doesn't have anything to with him? But are there repercussions here for anybody besides her?
LEIBY: Well, there's no evidence of anything untoward in his office.
The repercussions for this agency chief of staff, as he is described, whom she will not name, who apparently had a tryst by her account with him at the lunch hour on May the 18th and paid her $400. Now, that's what it is. That's either a generous gift, as she described it, or it's prostitution. No one is calling for an investigation.
And so far no one has come forward to say, hi, I'm one of the people in Jessica's bloc. I would like to talk to you, Rich.
OLBERMANN: Well, as to the investigation, just remember, there is always another day.
Richard Leiby, the writer of the "Reliable Source" column from "The Washington Post," chronicler of the Cutler phenomenon, thanks for joining us tonight.
LEIBY: Thank you.
Thanks for the Farrah Ashline column this week, it confirmed everything I suspected about her. Until that column I hadn't heard about the ongoing "Girls Going Out" drama, but I met her at a party about a year ago and had her figured out in five minutes. I was kind amazed that she managed to sucker so many people: it seemed obvious to me that she was bad news; tacky, really tramp and unstable (she was trying to get partakers to put whipped cream on various body parts so that other partakers could lick it off. No one was gin for it). She seemed so intent on turning the party into a big group sex encounter it was laughable, and yet pathetic. I hope she gets the help she needs right after she pays back every cent she owes to her various associates.
Richard Leiby: A sex party? In Washington? Wish we'd been able to cover THAT story. Thanks for letting us know!
Music girl again:
Okay, I'm pretty sure that "Welcome to the Jungle" by GA was one of the songs blasted at Norias. Although the thought of "Panama" over and over again makes me giggle. When I was little my mom told me that DL Roth's pants were actually body paint.
Richard Leiby: We think you mean "pants," which everyone is wearing today. Sadly, we must sign off and return to the type of hard-nosed, Clash-inspired reporting the Quidnunc is famed for. Have great weekends. (Forget seasons in the sun: RUDY CAN'T FAIL, OH NO.) Love, Quid.