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Blog Interrupted

Jessica left her unpaid internship in Lieberman's office in late February for a paid, entry-level post in DeWine's office. The résumé she used to land the job stated incorrectly that she had earned a BA from Syracuse and listed the wrong birth date, shaving two years off her age.

Right after leaving Lieberman's office, she ran into the staffer she believed had hired her for her internship. Jessica, who by then was working for DeWine, says the man asked her out for drinks a few times, and they had sex.

Jessica Cutler says she is trying to look on the bright side of her notoriety. (Photograph by Kyoko Hamada)

The Lieberman staffer in question declined to be interviewed for this story. After Jessica's blog surfaced, Lieberman asked his chief of staff to review the matter, according to Matt Gobush, the senator's director of communications. Gobush acknowledges that the Lieberman staffer was listed as the contact on the internship posting Jessica responded to and that he had sat in on her interview. But ultimately that staffer did not make the decision to hire her, Gobush says. Although Gobush says the matter is still under review, any alleged sexual contact between a staffer and a former intern would not violate the office policy prohibiting sexual harassment.

But Jessica had definitely violated the policies of her live-in boyfriend. After he discovered that she'd cheated on him, she moved out and got her own apartment. By the first week of May, she was having flings with so many guys that reporting them all to her girlfriends was starting to feel like way too much work.

"So I sent a mass e-mail out: 'You guys, should I have my own blog or what?' I was kidding," Jessica says. "But they were all, like, 'Yes, if anyone should have a blog it's you, because you have the most interesting life.' "

The electronic bulletin board where Jessica began posting her online diary offered her the option of creating a password so no one could read it without her consent.

"But I thought that was, like, too much trouble for my friends to have to type in a password," Jessica says. "I thought there are so many people with their own blogs, mine is not even going to come up on the radar."

UNTIL RECENTLY, MANY AMERICANS HAD NEVER HEARD THE TERM BLOG. Web logs were the almost exclusive purview of techies. Now an estimated 3 million Americans maintain blogs, which range from tame online diaries to comic fantasies, from workplace chronicles to political screeds. Many are posted anonymously, and there is no way to judge their veracity.

Bloggers circumvent traditional information gatekeepers, such as newspapers, magazines and book publishers, by telling their story their way. In Louisiana, for example, a former state trooper battling leukemia is blogging his experiences in an experimental drug trial -- months before the doctors publish their results.

The gatekeepers are scrambling to respond. Advertisers now pay for space on popular blogs. Book agents and publishers routinely scan blogs looking for new talent like the blogger-turned-author who posted a fictional account of life as Paris Hilton's pet Chihuahua. Bloggers have been credentialed to cover this summer's political conventions.

Heather Armstrong, a Web site designer, lost her job after her bosses were alerted to her blog. (Photograph by Kyoko Hamada)
Yet there can be serious consequences for tell-all blogging. Heather Armstrong, 29, learned that the hard way.

"I tell people, whoever you think is not going to read your Web site will find your Web site," Armstrong says. "They specifically will find it and read it, and all hell will break loose."

She started her blog three years ago. She was living in Los Angeles, working as a Web-site designer and trying to reinvent herself.

"I talked about having sex. I talked about drinking. I talked about having lesbian fantasies," says Armstrong, who grew up in a strict Mormon family where caffeine was verboten and premarital sex unthinkable.

Armstrong didn't worry about her family reading her blog. Nobody in her family even had Internet access. But then her brother got a home computer. "He was appalled," Armstrong says. "My mother called me at work. She was bawling for an hour. She couldn't understand what she had done wrong. My father told me I was a vile human being and I had succumbed to the dark side. He didn't talk to me for months.

"I should have learned my lesson then." But she didn't. Four months later, Armstrong was sitting at her desk at work when she called up an e-mail. Someone had sent every vice president in her company an e-mail directing them to her blog. A few days later, she was fired.

Armstrong believes that her blog did help her decide who she wanted to be. And she's never stopped chronicling her life. But she's much more careful what she posts now that she is married and has a new baby. She knows that once she's posted something it will always exist somewhere in the blogosphere. Nevertheless, she still has to remind herself to be her own censor.

"The scary thing is that here I am on my computer," she says. "I don't see anyone reading it. I don't see their faces."

A FREELANCE WRITER JESSICA HAD MET ON A VISIT to New York was proving an annoying house guest. Having sex with him was one thing, but staying under the same roof with him was unbearable. When he finally headed home May 5, Jessica heralded his departure in her brand-new blog.

"Just got off the phone with [the writer]," she typed. "Making sure he is out of my apartment and on his way back to NY. I have a date with [my former live-in boyfriend] tonight and do not need [the writer] to blow up my spot."

Jessica says her blog had an initial target audience of three: DeLuca near San Diego, Rachel Robertson in New York City and a friend on the Hill. Jessica had a few ground rules for her blog. Everything she posted was true, she told her friends, and nobody would be identified by their full names, just initials.

"So, like, 15 minutes after I wrote yesterday's last post," she wrote on Day Two, "[The Lieberman staffer] calls me and asks me out for a drink, knowing that I have plans at 8 p.m. I met him in Hart and . . . he followed me home around 7:30."

Jessica lamented that she didn't have time for a "quickie." She had to throw the Lieberman staffer out before her former live-in boyfriend arrived at 8 p.m. Despite the former live-in's anger at Jessica's infidelity, the two were still seeing each other -- having sex, watching TV and fighting. There was no way Jessica wanted him to catch her again with another man. "In summary, Wednesday was a revolving door of men, with me pushing one out after another," she wrote.

Late in the morning on that same day, May 6, Jessica posted an entry noting her favorite things about Washington. "Love how hard-up the men are. Love these easy gov jobs." To Jessica, being on the Hill was a lot like high school: hordes of hormonally charged people trapped together all day, flirting in the halls and cafeteria.

"Item!" Jessica posted at 5:54 p.m. on May 6. "A new contender for my fair hand. He works in one of the Committee offices . . . [He] had my boss ask me out for him! She actually came in here and said, 'He thinks you're hot.' How junior high! So all three of us are getting a drink at Union Station after work. Looking forward to an evening full of awkward moments."

Jessica says she found it odd that one senior colleague in her office would arrange a night out for her with another senior colleague. Jessica called her friend Rachel Robertson to consult. "My first reaction was, 'You should sue for sexual harassment,' " Robertson says. "Obviously this isn't supposed to happen. It's using your authority to further someone's sexual life. It's harder to say no when your boss is trying to fix you up with someone. I thought it was pretty messed up at the time, and Jessica did, too."

Since the watershed sexual harassment scandals of the 1990s -- a decade in which Anita Hill faced down Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings, a series of women accused former senators Brock Adams and Bob Packwood of predatory sexual advances, and President Bill Clinton faced impeachment for having sexual contact with a White House intern and then lying about it -- almost every Washington workplace, including Senate offices, has a written policy prohibiting or discouraging sexual contact between colleagues, especially those of unequal power.

While Jessica referred to the woman as her "boss," DeWine's communications director, Mike Dawson, says that's not true. Neither the woman nor the committee staffer directly supervised Jessica or had the power to promote or fire her, Dawson says. Thus, their alleged behavior wouldn't be prohibited by the office's sexual harassment policy, he says.

Jessica's blog postings at 9:35 the next morning made it clear she wasn't thinking about suing anyone. "[He] looks just like George Clooney when he takes off his glasses," she wrote. "I am serious . . . I put the moves on HIM . . . So I'm seeing ANOTHER person on the Hill. At least this one is counsel, and not an aide."

"Going to lunch with coworkers today," she noted. "Have a feeling I was invited as the new star of Hot Office Gossip, like a press conference." After lunch, the news about her evening spread.

"The boss who pimped me out to [the committee staffer] just stopped by," Jessica wrote in her blog at 2:02 p.m. on May 7. "She mentioned that [he] is very discreet, so I am taking that as a hint to keep quiet. Finally, she asked me if I would say yes if he asked me out again. I told her that I would. So it looks like I might have another boyfriend. I hope this does not end badly."

Before her workday ended, Jessica made a date with a man she said was a rich, older Georgetown lawyer. At 6:38 p.m. Jessica posted a new blog entry, announcing "This is the plan:" Take a cab over to the rich lawyer's place in Georgetown. Have sex. Get dinner someplace expensive. Get the lawyer to drive her home to Capitol Hill. Go to a keg party at the house of a co-worker from DeWine's office. Maybe have sex with somebody new there. "Get 8 hours sleep," she concluded.

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