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The Reliable Source

Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 7, 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.

This week's columns:

NAMES & FACES (Post, May 7)

Lefty's Last Hunt: Dog Felled in 'Tragic Accident' (Reliable Source, May 6)

Aide Doubts Powell Will Reenlist (Reliable Source, May 5)

An Oily Thriller in The Making Reliable Source, May 4)

Rangers Lead The Way in Exposing Author As a Fraud (Reliable Source, May 2)

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: Excellent ingredients to whip into our noontime high-protein gossip omelette today. We've got party-crashing Hollywood stars like Owen Wilson, lesbian behavior, and a dead dog. And no doubt, by the end of the chat, some people may not be wearing pants. Rocci "The Rock" webmaster is at the main grill and Anne "The Loyal Assistant" is the sous chef.

And this just in from a major political news source (ABC's The Note): Another HUGE John Kerry blunder, certain to cost him the election.

... Recognizing Sean Astin of "Lord of the Rings" fame, Kerry announced, "You all know him as Frodo from "Lord of the Wings," his real name is Sean Astin."

After locating "Wings" star Astin mouthing "Sam" from his seat, the rarely flustered Kerry corrected, "Sam! What am I saying? I'm sorry. Sam, Sam.

Not Sam, John. SAMWISE! As in Samwise Gamgee.


Dupont, Washington, D.C.: Any idea what movie was filming on Wednesday at the Presbyterian Church at 22nd & P? Big wedding scene!

Richard Leiby: We're going to tell you all about that in a minute. But I've just received a late-breaking show-biz correction. Rocci "The Rock" is not at the controls of this chat. It's Miss Eleanor Hong, whom I've never met, but I'm sure is wearing pants.


Washington, D.C.: We've heard there's a new movie with Owen Wilson, Christopher Walken, and Vince Vaughn filming in town. Any idea where we might catch a glimpse?

Richard Leiby: We report various Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn sightings today in the very reliable "Names & Faces" column. The film is called "The Wedding Crashers." The people at Madame's Organ in Adams Morgan were keen yesterday to let me know about Owen's and Vince's visit, and I'm sure we'll have other reports from restaurant and club owners, but these generally occur after the fact. But we CAN'T say where the crazy duo will turn up next.

Why? Here's some important background for star-gawkers.

The thing about film shoots is that the people in charge of publicizing the film on location -- called "unit publicists" -- generally HATE giving info about the movie or the stars while shooting is underway. They don't like interference from pesky journalists or fans, and basically only want to promote the film just prior to its release. This makes the media a willing accomplice to the film marketing and promotion departments.

I know a bit about this because I was personally kicked off the set of the great John Travolta movie, "Battlefield Earth," when it filmed in Montreal a few years ago. The unit publicists barred all access to Travolta and the other beknighted souls (like the director) who thought it would be a good idea to film a movie based on L. Ron Hubbard's sci-fi novel. And the secrecy had nothing to do with the film's Scientology subtext.

That's just how Hollywood works: Do ALL press in an organized, controlled junket just prior to the film's release. And the willing sheep usually do their bidding. Baa-baaaa.


Ballston, Va.: So, my girlfriend is out of town this weekend, and the Olsen twins movie is opening. Should I ... ahem ... indulge myself?

Richard Leiby: Dear ["heh-heh he said"] Balls-ton: You live in America. Please indulge yourself accordingly. Just no Pee Wee behavior in the seats, okay?

And, go ahead, make a Beavis-like joke about "unit publicists."


washingtonpost.com: NAMES & FACES (Post, May 7)


Arlington, Va.: $9500 for a dog!? Did this dog talk?

Seriously, is that how much a hunting dog costs? What's the deal; are they highly valued for their stud potential? You know, like you are?

Richard Leiby: Sadly, I have no stud potential at my advanced age. I don't even command any stalking potential anymore. But, yes, Lefty the English Springer Spaniel (who was tragically shot by Kennedy cousin Mark Shriver during a hunting trip) had a higher value than your ordinary hunting dog, based on his stud potential. He was a champion! And let's look beyond the pure monetary value of the deceased canine. How do you measure the loss of a good, loyal and noble friend?

(Something President Bush surely is considering in the case of Donald Rumsfeld, but I digress.)

For many people, losing a dog -- or any other pet -- is just like losing a family member. The grief can be crushing. In our home, we've all been mentally preparing for the death of my beloved cat Pete, who's now 18, for years ... but he never seems to die. He just gets louder and more demanding. Somewhat like his master.


Cuckoo's Nest, Arkansas: Who cares about Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn -- they couldn't act their way out of a paper sack! WHERE WAS CHRISTOPHER WALKEN?

washingtonpost.com: NAMES & FACES (Post, May 7)

Richard Leiby: Nobody's seen Mr. Walken and called us yet. Or, nobody's seen Walken and SURVIVED. But he definitely has a part in this movie.


washingtonpost.com: John Travolta, Out on the 'Battlefield' (Post, Nov. 28, 1999)


Washington, D.C.: Sounds to me like Hollywood press operations and White House press operations are very similar in their approaches.

Richard Leiby: There is a striking resemblance between Karl Rove and ... well, I'd better not say.


Washington, D.C.: Hello Quidnunc -- Let's revisit Lynne Cheney's lesbian bodice-ripper for a moment. I believe you reported the publisher's plans to re-issue the novel were stopped by the White House or Cheney lawyers or somebody. But if the publisher owns the rights, can't they just publish it anyway? We need to find out about this and this novel needs to be published. It sounds perfect for beach reading. Help us O Mighty Quidnunc!

Richard Leiby:
Some background for newbies: Yes, on April 1, we reported:

"Sisters," Lynne Cheney's 1981 novel about feminism in the Old West -- complete with condoms, prostitution and lesbian love -- is being republished for those who missed it the first time around. Next week, Penguin Group USA will reissue the bodice-ripper, which went out of print 10 years ago and also disappeared from the r?sum? of its staunch Republican author, who happens to be the wife of VP Dick Cheney.

Breaking the news earlier this week, Publishers Weekly said "Sisters" contains "a mix of standard and unusual pulp romance fare: lots of turgid prose, heaving bosoms, female characters who are proto-feminists and practice safe sex with multiple partners -- and a juicy lesbian subplot." Among those ordering copies is Left Bank Books in St. Louis, which told PW it would donate 10 percent of proceeds to the scholarship fund of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's annual Creating Change Conference. "What better way to foster educational opportunities for the younger generation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people than to raise money through the sale of Lynne's lost-life chapter?" said Kris Kleindienst, co-owner of Left Bank.
[end reprint of April 1 column]

Then -- da-da-da-dum --POWERFUL LAWYERS stepped in. Cheney had been saying she was glad to have the book reprinted, but a spokeswoman expressed surprise to me that the author hadn't been consulted. Best as we can determine, Cheney pulled no punches in getting this blocked within a few days of its planned re-release, but we don't know whether the contract required her to be consulted. Nobody would tell us. We just know that SECRECY is a HALLMARK of CERTAIN ADMINISTRATIONS, except when leaks are required.
We also know that -- da-da-da-dum -- CALLS WERE MADE to the publisher. Draw your own conclusions.

As we later reported:
Just as Lynne Cheney's novel "Sisters" is getting more play than we imagine it received upon its debut in 1981, the book's publisher has decided to pull the plug on the planned reissue of the racy tome, at the urging of Cheney's lawyer.

Why? Well, apparently the tale, complete with a lesbian love affair, attempted rapes and prostitution, just doesn't represent her "best work," her attorney, Robert Barnett, told the publisher.

An interesting turn of events, considering that when The Post asked the vice president's wife about "Sisters" last week, her response was a repeat of a quote she gave in 2000: "The reports of my novel are greatly exaggerated. Nevertheless, I hope they improve sales."


Washington, DC: How stupid do you have to be to shoot the dog instead of the bird?!;? Why is Mark Shriver shooting at birds anyway? I want to live in his district just to vote him out of office.

Richard Leiby: Mark Shriver told me he's been a lifelong hunter. But he wouldn't comment on his skill level. I hunted a few times as a kid, with shotgun and rifle, and never hit any animal, so far as I know. Then again, I was 12 or 13.

And FYI, Shriver is no longer in the Maryland legislature. And he lost a congressional primary race in 2002 for the Democratic seat.


Washington, D.C.: Re:Christopher Walken. Christopher Walken?! Give me a break -- he's one of the only actors that gets worse with each movie and also gets a smaller part with each movie. He should stick to dancing in music videos.

Richard Leiby: Okay, fine, if you don't like Chris, here's another star to look for in town: Rachel McAdams of "Mean Girls" is in "The Wedding Crashers." For those who missed this important dispatch in the St. Thomas, Ontario, Times-Journal on Tuesday, here's the scoop



Even mean girls just wanna have fun.

"I'm at Six Flags," Rachel McAdams says on a cell phone from Los Angeles.

"It's a day off and I thought I would go to Six Flags. I miss Canada and it's sort of like Canada's Wonderland."

Days off are precious these days for the St. Thomas-raised actress, daughter of Lance and Sharon McAdams, whose new motion picture, Mean Girls, has been pronounced a hit by critics -- and after topping the weekend box office following its release Friday, now has the figures to prove it.

McAdams was to move Monday to Washington, D.C., to continue filming The Wedding Crashers, a comedy in which she plays the girl who comes between two womanizing men. Then, on to Maryland for a month to wrap shooting. Then, back to L.A.


Washington, D.C.: So why can't the president and first lady attend their own daughters' college graduations? It's too disruptive? The Clintons managed it, didn't they?

Do you think this directive came from Jenna and Barbara themselves?

Richard Leiby: The AP indicates it was Mom and Dad who made the call on that. But we weren't tapping the phone when this important family decision was made. (Our CIA source failed us AGAIN.)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP)- President Bush and first lady Laura Bush will skip their twin daughters' college graduations later this month to avoid creating a distraction at the respective schools, the White House said Thursday.
"There are no plans at this time to attend these ceremonies," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for Laura Bush. "The Bushes felt the focus should be on the students, and not how long the lines are to go through the metal detectors."


Eastern Market, Washington, D.C.: Richard -- So, last Sunday morning, during Chris Matthew's yak-fest, he posed this question to the group, "In his forthcoming book, will Bill Clinton say that the whole Monica Lewinsky thing was overblown?" Sam Donaldson had a lot of trouble not sniggering during his response. Whaddya think -- an honest Freudian slip by Matthews, or a deliberate play on words?

Richard Leiby: Matthews talks and thinks so fast that it was probably neither, just a handy descriptive word. I mean, what would be a good substitute? Over-hyped? Over-covered. Or: "The whole Monica Lewinsky thing was over-fellated"?


Washington, D.C.: I'm afraid to leave my house for fear of accidentally encountering the lovely Mrs. Baucus. Yelling at moving vans, fighting over mulch, what's next? Shooting puppies? Oh wait, that's the esteemed Mr. Shriver ... I think all our country's leaders could use a good spanking.

Richard Leiby: I don't know Eleanor Hong, today's Web mistress, but she assures me she is wearing pants and does NOT do spankings. So you'll have to look elsewhere to satisfy your perverse desires, buddy.


Greenbelt, Md.: As wonderful as you are, O Mighty Quidnunc, you are no Hax. Any word on when she will return?

Richard Leiby: Her regular schedule resumes in September. Until then, I can dispense advice on shootings, spankings, lesbianism and other concerns you youngsters out there might have. I too was once under 30.


Meriden, Conn.: As long as ABC is breathlessly announcing Kerry's Sam/Frodo gaffe, maybe someone should inform ABC the the name of the movie is Lord of the RINGS, not Wings.

Richard Leiby: Thanks. Very observant! We think that was a typo, but then, we could never spell Meridien, either.


Adams Morgan: We looked for you on Saturday night. Did you have fun? I did not realize that Serena Williams is that big. Scary.

Richard Leiby: You mean looked for at the notorious Bloomberg after-party? I was there, hanging out in the vicinity of Ben Affleck and a supermodel named Carolina.


Morrisville, N.C.: The Micah Wright exposure was fascinating. Any insight on what caused an obviously talented individual (I disagree with his politics, but his remixed posters were a clever idea) to lie so blatantly and so aggressively for so long? And do you have any knowledge whether the left-wing Center for Constitutional Rights, which I believe was associated with Wright's "You Back the Attack" book, has acted to disassociate itself in any way from Wright?

Richard Leiby: I didn't check with the Center for Constitutional Rights on this, but the publisher of the book told me Wright's book, as written, WILL continue in future printings. Except all the lies about him being an Army Ranger will be cut out. The publisher, Seven Stories, still believes it's a good book.


Washington, D.C.: Technically, today no one should be wearing pants.


Richard Leiby: An amazing coincidence? I think not.

Off with your pants, my peeps! Thus spake Quidnunc the Magnificent!


Kensington, Md.: True story. I know this because the game officer involved is my brother-in-law. A hunter from Massachusetts pulled into a Maine station to have his deer weighed and turn in his deer tag. The animal tied to his roof was a goat. Just because you're a lifelong hunter doesn't mean you know what you're doing. There are lifelong drivers that can't drive a wheel barrel.

Richard Leiby: Hmmm. I used to visit Maine regularly in the summer. Next time, I'm going to take my 12-guage. You never know when you'll get a hankering for some good goat curry.


Washington, D.C.: Isn't it true that the Washington Post's reporters were so busy trying to win Pulitzers by covering the National Zoo that they missed the whole initial military investigation of the prisoner abuse scandal? Do you think the Post has anything to apologize for here?

Richard Leiby: I apologize regularly on behalf of my entire profession, so let ME be the first to apologize.

Actually, I think our coverage on Abu Graib, now that we've caught up to Sy Hersh, has been very solid. The Post's Christian Davenport broke an amazing story yesterday with those new pictures. New Prison Images Emerge (Post, May 6)


Bowie, Md.: I think the Bushes are sending a great message about the value of education. They care so much about their daughters' educations that they won't be there for the celebration of four years of hard work (or four years of drinking, as the case may be). Presidents speak at colleges and schools while on the campaign trail, it couldn't possibly be so much more disruptive to simply watch a graduation.

Richard Leiby: True. And even Jon Stewart will be speaking at a graduation (William and Mary) next week. In itself that's a disruptive act. But no worse than giving Stewart an honorary doctorate.


Minneapolis, Minn.: On a scale of 1 to 10, how screwed up is Micah Wright? And have you heard anything from people defending him?

Richard Leiby: As liars go, he's an 11. Even after he apologized for his lies, he put out claims on the Web that he outed HIMSELF. The only reason he came clean is because I filed the FOIA requests with the military. We forced his publisher to demand evidence of his service after we received no verifying records of his alleged Army service. The only person I know who's defending Micah Wright is Micah Wright.


Over Here: "The Wedding Crashers" had a cattle, I ean, casting call over here in lovely Easton a couple of weeks ago, and people were falling all over themselves to show up. According to the local paper, they'll be filming scenes at the gracious estates of lovely Talbot County. Local eateries have been asked to keep their businesses open late for cast and crew. Since I'm connected, my chances of meeting Christoper Walken are better than Quid's.

Richard Leiby: Bragging rights all yours. I believe I've already said that I'm AFRAID to meet Christopher Walken.


Wrongo, Bucko ...: Whomever (it that correct use?) wrote that C. Walken is a horrible actor must be a man. He's hot! Dancing or no. I'd pay to see him watch paint dry.

Richard Leiby: It's whoever. Subjective case, right? Imagine if you were beginning the sentence with "The person who wrote ... "
And, okay, Walken's hot, especially in Vietnam war pictures or when dancing.


Gambrills, Md.: Just curious, has Bush ever given a commencement address?

Richard Leiby: We'll have to check. But I do know his dad, George H.W. Bush, received an honorary law degree at William and Mary, Jon Stewart's college.


Fairfax, Va.: Silly me -- I thought "Lord of the Wings" WAS Kerry's gaffe, not his inability to distinguish one secondary character from any of the other five or six lilliputian actors with awkward Tolkien-esque names.

Just goes to show you how long I'd last on the campaign trail ...

Richard Leiby: True fact: I have never even been on the campaign trail. Unless you count seeing Walter Mondale talk to a bunch of senior citizens in 1984.

BUSH 43 commencement speech update: The prez has spoken at West Point and Yale.


New York, N.Y.: I can't believe Jon Stewart is giving the commencement address at W&M, and all I (Class of 95) got was George H.W. Bush. If I ever donated any money, I would demand it all back!

Richard Leiby: I think you ought to throw your diploma over a chain link fence at the William and Mary commencement.


Silver Spring, Md.: What is a squib? And why do you need them?

Richard Leiby: A squib is a small news item of glancing interest, and quite possibly a space filler. We need squibs because we write four columns a week.


Washington, D.C.: So, have you been invited to speak at the Olsen twins' graduation?

Richard Leiby: Not yet! A man can dream. And with that, I'll sign off. Peace out. Enjoy the weekend. Crash a bunch of parties and eat some cicadas. They're high-protein. Good in omelettes.


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