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The Reliable Source

Washington's Social and Political Scene

Richard Leiby
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 24, 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:


Wednesday's Sessions
World: Greece's second bailout, 11 ET
Food: Free Range on Food, 12 ET
Entertainment: Reliable Source Live, 12 ET
Style: 30 Lessons for Living, 12 ET
Weekly Schedule

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Readers Are Talking About...

The Bush Twins' (Fake) Public Figures (Post, March 24)

Shouldering Burdens, and Vice Versa (Post, March 23)

What Will the Neighbors Say? Wolfowitz Romance Stirs Gossip (Post, March 22)

Isn't It Ironic: Weichert Realtors Getting the Boot (Post, March 20)

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: Hello, loyal followers of Quidnunc. Let's get straight to bidness today. ('Cuz It's all about ME.)

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Quidnu, N.C.: So, read in this morning's "Page Six" that you are leaving the gossip beat at The Post?! What's up with that?

Richard Leiby: We'll link to the NYPost Page 6 item, but I can't understand why anyone would believe what they read in a down-market "gossip" column. A source close to the Mighty Quidnunc -- namely his Minister of Truth -- has issued the following official statement:

"Freedom is Slavery. War is Peace. 2 plus 2 equals 5. Etc.

"Media reports describing the imminent demise of the Hon. Richard N. Leiby II as the esteemed Reliable Source of The Washington Post are hereby deemed Spurious. The Columnist also known as 'Quidnunc,' while suspending his immediate duties on Page 3 of the Style Section, will not be dead, only sleeping. He will be permanently encased in a glass sarcophagus outside the Post's building on 15th St. NW, so that he may abide Forever in the hearts and minds of his Loyal Subjects.

"Quidnunc's future writings and pronouncements will be channeled via Ouija Board into the larger Style section and possibly other sovereign territories of the Post.

"The Reliable Source position will be ceded at some point in coming months to a capable loyalist yet to be determined.

"Please govern yourselves according."


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A Developing Concept: If Bo Derek was a 10, then Jessica Alba's gotta be a 15.

Richard Leiby: Agreed. We tried mightily to get the sizzling GQ cover image of Ms. Alba into the column, but repressive forces prevailed, thus denying readers the titillation they deserve and come to expect. Instead we ran a photo of Sex God Alan Greenspan.

But on this chat, Quidnunc still rules. We'll try to get you the Alba pic. Studly chatmaster Rocci is on the case.

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Jessica Alba on the cover of GQ magazine.

Jessica Alba (GQ)

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Kay's Crushes: Andy Williams, Clark Gable, William Shatner, Cary Grant? With that list of celebrity crushes, I'd check her birth certificate. 1966, my eye !

Richard Leiby: Well, I was born the year Sputnik was launched, and my crushes include Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish and, um, Jack Benny. Don't you have any sense of History?

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washingtonpost.com: GOTTA LOVE IT New York Post, March 24)

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Monterey, Calif.: Is Wonkette back doing her own blogging again or is she still outsourcing?

I can't tell if she stopped being funny all by herself or if she's getting help.

Do they still let her into parties or is that over too?

Richard Leiby: I haven't seen the Wonkette, aka Ana Marie Cox, at parties lately, but that's my fault. I refuse to go anywhere these days, figuring that any event that wants me can't be worthwhile. As for Ana, she is busy these days speaking at think tanks about the blogging phenomenon. She was at the Brookings Institution this week for a "briefing" on the Impact of the New Media.

See link:

The Impact of the New Media (The Brookings Institution)

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White Oak, Md.: Any celebrity sitings in D.C. recently??

Richard Leiby: Are you joking? Today's column reports a sighting of King Abdullah II of Jordan and former King Constantine II, who dined at Cafe Milano earlier this week (at separate tables). If that isn't celeb dish, I don't know what is!

Richard Leiby: King Constantine of Greece, by the way. Also, earlier in the week we noted a Lynn Redgrave spotting. Is that good enough?

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Instead of going to war, why can't we resolve our differences by having the Bush twins pillow fight world leaders?

Richard Leiby: Excellent suggestion. And just to mix it up a bit, let's also send Condi, clad in her knee-high boots!

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Warm me up!: Mighty One with great powers, please make the weather warm up so I can once again sleep naked. A nice 85 degrees with an ever-so-slight breeze would do it. By the way, do YOU have a living will?

Richard Leiby: I'm working on your request to change the weather. I'm bummed too: Spring has sprung; the grass is riz; I wonder where the birdies is.

But why not sleep Nekkid anyway? Washington's finest are known to do that.

I don't have a Living Will yet, but I'm going to seek an Act of Congress to support my desire to repose henceforth entombed outside the Post's offices.

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Washington, D.C.: Will you go out in a blaze of glory and give your loyal followers some juicy blind items? Please?

Richard Leiby: Blazing and juicy? Don't you realize this is The WashPost?

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Mighty Mighty ... : So, Mr. Nunc sir, are you or are you not leaving? I didn't understand your opening missive ... for all I know you're taking on the Kids Post position.

Richard Leiby: Okay, let me clarify in Plain English:

I am giving up the column, following a glorious run of some 16 months. I feel it's simply time to "move on" and return to the sort of long-form, substantive writing I did in the past. I don't have an end date yet for the column. And no replacement has been named.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: According to Page Six, you are done with The Reliable Source because "it isn't a good fit". Well, you did a great job pretending it was!

Richard Leiby: Thanks. The part about "fit" is correct. My head swelled so large as a columnist that I was able to wear my grey fedora any longer. Or my red fez.

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Richard Leiby: This just in from a loyal correspondent, which may explain more of my thinking as I retire from the column:

Today's Quote

"If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning."

-Catherine Aird

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Chevy Chase, Md.: You see Whitney Houston is back in rehab? I think her treatment should include divorce.

Richard Leiby: Are you a marriage counselor or an expert on drugs, or both?

Breaking (and awfully familiar) Whitney news for those who somehow missed it:

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Pop diva Whitney Houston has checked back into a drug rehabilitation program, a year after first entering a program for substance abuse, her publicist said on Wednesday. It was not immediately clear where Houston was seeking treatment or when the Grammy-winning singer and actress had first entered the facility.

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Serge Hanfeld, Austria: Is it true that you wear short sleeve shirts with your ties?

Any scoop on who the special guests will be at the Correspondents Dinner / Bloomberg Party?

Richard Leiby: Herr Hanfeld: Hallo!

We haven't heard about that dinner's guest list yet. Nor the headliner, though I did hear rumblings about Lewis Black possibly emceeing. That's unconfirmed.

Usually the Correspondents' Dinner celeb guests are announced closer to the date, April 30. Meanwhile the Radio-TV correspondents' dinner on April 6 will feature Cedric the Entertainer.

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Iowa: Mr. Leiby -- Are you moonlighting from your regular job? I saw your byline on a news story about Paul Wolfowitz in last Friday's Post. Despite your reports on his active love life, I am still struggling with less than appealing the image left by his cameo in Fahrenheit 9/11 last summer. How nice that he works for an organization where mistakes and miscalculations are cause for reward rather than punishment!

Richard Leiby: Well, if the World Bank job was good enough for Bob McNamara, who will forever be remembered for the Vietnam war, then why not Wolfowitz?

As for his "F 9/11" cameo, it's one of my favorites, too. For those who haven't seen it, he slicks his hair with his own spit, and an assist from an aide. Great entertainment.

My part of the story in the Financial Section last week involved his relationship with World Bank employee Shaha ali Riza. I actually have no bloomin' idea what the Bank itself does!

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Arlington, Va.: You're leaving to write Mrs. Baucus's memoirs, aren't you?

Richard Leiby: No, but I will consider writing my own memoir: "Censored Washington: The Stories I Couldn't Print."

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Curious Cat: Mighty Quid, where is Colin Powell these days? Is it generally true old cabinet members never die, they just go to think tanks and become lobbyists? Or is there a lost political island where they all quaff mai tai's and loll about in the tropical sun?

Richard Leiby: He's around, driving his Corvette. Anne's column reported that sighting last week. Last time I saw Colin (we're on a first-name basis, ya know) he indicated he was looking forward to just taking it easy for a while.

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washingtonpost.com: Wolfowitz Draws Nearer to World Bank Post (Post, March 24)

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Richard Leiby: On Wolfie's Hair: In case you missed this item for July 8, 2004 (and I do NOT forgive you if you did) here it is:

Several disturbing scenes stand out in Michael Moore's agitprop movie "Fahrenheit 9/11," but one that always prompts "ewwws" from the audience involves a comb, some saliva and the stubborn coif of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz.

Showing top officials primping before TV appearances is a tried-and-true embarrassment tactic, but the Wolfowitz scene -- captured on camera on a breezy morning outside the Pentagon -- is notable because Wolfie not only spits on his own comb but gets grooming assistance from an aide who donates saliva. The occasion was a June 2002 ceremony marking reconstruction of the Pentagon's facade and passage of three-quarters of a year since the Sept. 11 attack (though the film doesn't provide that context).

And who is the valiant aide who assists the hair-plastering? "Would that qualify me for hazardous duty pay?" wonders Kevin Kellems, who chuckled while confirming to us this week that he's the one. At the time, Kellems worked as a special adviser to Wolfowitz. Now he's communications director for Vice President Cheney -- a position that doesn't include the challenge of Boss Pompadour Maintenance.

Friends have teased Kellems (who, by the way, sports a good head of hair) about his role in Moore's anti-administration blockbuster. "But I haven't seen it," he told us, "because he's not getting a dime out of me."

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Anonymous: Has the White House mellowed a bit in terms of how it deals with less-than-flattering coverage of the twins? Whitson's line about the White House not subscribing to Maxim almost sounded like someone there gets the joke. Next thing you know, it'll be okay to mess with Texas.

Richard Leiby: Ms. Susan Whitson has taken over the thankless and impossible job of speaking for the twins as part of her duties as Laura Bush's spokeswoman. Whitson worked as a spokeswoman for Barbara and Jenna during the '04 campaign. I found her to be charming, witty and forthcoming (to the extent that any Bush flack is forthcoming).

The White House officially does not comment on the twins' private lives, so it's very hard to know exactly what they're up to. Unless bartenders call us. (Which they do.)

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Twins!: Where was the Babs going away party? What happened? How many people? Don't tell me the only dish you've got is that there WAS a party!

Richard Leiby: Sorry, that's the only detail I had: It was a going-away party. The twins travel is a very close-knit and loyal circle. (As does their father.)

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Scooper, D.C.: Here's a Blind Item:

Which elected member of Congress was seen in a Georgetown hotspot with one of his southern under-21 interns? The lass had to be helped out -- she could barely stand, but said member of Congress apparently drove her right back to his abode where she spent the night. (And the entire next day).

Richard Leiby: Sorry, Scooper, but we don't EVER traffic in blind items. We're shocked that you sent us this one. And, by the way, are you hereby applying for the Reliable Source job?

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Iowa: Seeking quotes for the day? Herewith --

Society is always taken by surprise at a new example of common sense.
---- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Richard Leiby: You people in Iowa are ALWAYS so impressed by Transcendentalists. What gives?

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Massillon, Ohio: Oh mighty Quidnunc, I understand "bon voyage" might be in order. I get the impression that this gossip column beat has made even Iraq look good. I loved the piece you wrote about almost leading the Iraq army. It's a metaphor for our country's handling of the entire war. I've enjoyed these chats -- just when you get the hang of them, you seem to be leaving. Let us know where you plan to land -- I'll continue to look for your byline.

Richard Leiby: Great: MORE ABOUT ME!

Thanks for the kind words on the Iraqi Army piece I wrote for Salon. I plan to return there as a Brevet General in the future to marshal my troops. (When it's safe, of course.)

As for the chats: Maybe I'll get a sex change and start my own Blog. The Quidnette?

Actually, come to think of it, the Bloggiing Phenomenon is certainly over when the Brookings Institution holds a seminar on it.

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San Francisco, Calif.: Near "celebrity" sighting -- on Monday, the Cheneys' motorcade went by as I walked to my office. Apparently, they were in town for a birthday party. They certainly wouldn't be here for a fundraiser!

Richard Leiby: Dick (Cheney You!) Cheney was in California earlier this week to push the Social Security "reform" package, part of the nationwide Monsters of Baby Boomer Rock tour that's currently underway. Perhaps they were attending somebody's 65th birthday? Did you see Mick Jagger anywhere nearby?

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Baltimore, Md.: So, the next Reliable Source is Weingarten, right?

Richard Leiby: That's what I heard, too, but Gene Weingarten is usually so hungover that I doubt he could handle a four-day-a-week column, plus a chat, plus all the night work. He'd be falling down drunk at most events. (A fine journalistic tradition, I must add.)

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Arlington, Va.: If Anne doesn't get you job we will all boycott the W.P. and force you and Wilbon to go a hunger strike. Then we will shut down the presses. Anne is a goddess and you Richard are just a geek!

Richard Leiby: Agreed. I hear Anne is in the running for the gig, but that's only natural because she has such great legs.

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Clifton, Va.: Bye, bye. How much longer to we have to put up with you? Anne better get your job or the W.P.'s stock price will suffer dramatically. SEC investigations will result. BOD and senior execs will face IRS tax audits. Shipments of ink and paper will mysteriously disappear or be delayed. Popular columnists will vanish. Give Anne the job so she can buy more shoes and La Perla lingerie.

Richard Leiby: Whatever you say, Clifton.

As for the duration of my tenure: Eight Ball says, "Unclear." A few more weeks, at least.

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Butch, D.C.: IS anyone ever going to report about the hidden culture of gay men in the Bush administration? It's an untold story and would be interesting considering their public stance.

Richard Leiby: Generally we avoid such stories and cede them to the bloggers. Feel free to email our Ombudsman and ask why.

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Reston, Va.: Quidnunc,

Are you going to buy one of those "I was on Page Six" shirts from the N.Y. Post?

Richard Leiby: Actually, I was thinking of applying for a job at Page Six, just to be a contrarian. Or Fox News. Haven't decided yet.

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Richard Leiby: Well, it's clear I've bored everyone long enough with my solipsism. We'll endeavor next week to supply more Actual Gossip. Until then, go dye some Easter Eggs and grill a bunny rabbit in honor of Michael Moore's first film, "Roger and Me."

Quidnunc over.

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