How to Greet the Accused So You Won't Feel Guilty

By Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts
Sunday, October 30, 2005

So, you run into Scooter Libby, Tom DeLay or Marion Barry at a party. Awkward, huh? "When you get indicted, no one wants to talk to you," says former White House special counsel Chuck Colson . "You're looked at strange when you go to the hardware store."

"We're a mean town," says Letitia Baldrige . "There should be more empathy than criticism if we're talking about a nice, genteel society." So, what do you say? Some Indictment Etiquette:

Letitia Baldrige , author of "New Manners for New Times: A Complete Guide to Etiquette" -- If you don't know them: "Brush by and say, 'Hello, nice to see you.' Big smile, no questions." If you know them: "You touch their arm and say, 'I know you're going through a tough time; we're all wishing you well.' You don't go into details."

Judith Martin, "Miss Manners" -- "At a party, you're required to be sociable and pleasant. Therefore, you do not bring up the subject at all unless you feel moved to say, 'It's just a crime what happened to you. History will vindicate you.' " (If you don't believe that? "If people only said at parties what they believed, we'd have no social life at all.")

Diana McLellan , former journalist who covered G. Gordon Liddy and Oliver North -- "It's like going to an Irish wake. You say, 'I'm sorry for your troubles.' The institutional memory and statute of limitations for nursing loathing is two years. After that, people expect to be treated in a perfectly ordinary way."

Joe diGenova , former prosecutor -- "Short and pithy. Shake with the right hand, grab the forearm with the left, press firmly and say, 'Good luck,' in a meaningful way."

Chuck Colson , indicted in Nixon administration scandals; served seven months for obstruction of justice; founded Prison Fellowship Ministries -- "Treat them exactly like you would have before they were indicted. They're innocent until proven guilty. . . . There but for the grace of God goes you: It's no time to be self-righteous."

Consider us the special prosecutors of gossip, and tell us who to indict next!

You Be the Gossip!

You write a small item that Nicole Kidman is filming in Georgetown. The next day, you hear a story about D.C.'s wacky Metro officials and Nicole's fictional character, and you go with that, too. You decide two days in a row of Nicole is enough -- until you're flooded with tips that Nicole and "not-my-boyfriend" Keith Urban had a romantic dinner at 1789 restaurant.

But wait! There's more! Nicole is everywhere! Do you:

a) Breathlessly report that Nicole was spotted walking through Georgetown with a "short fellow"?

b) Breathlessly report Nicole cuddling the month-old son of George Washington Hospital's marketing director?

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