The instant message blinked on the computer at Jessica Cutler's desk in the Russell Senate Office Building. "Oh my God, you're famous."
Before she could form the thought -- "famous, cool" -- or puzzle how she, a lowly mail clerk, had escaped obscurity, a second instant message popped up on her screen. Startled, Jessica recalls, she began to curse.
"Your blog is on Wonkette," the message said.
Jessica's blog (short for "Web log") was the online diary she had been posting anonymously to amuse herself and her closest girlfriends. In it, she detailed the peccadilloes of the men she said were her six current sexual partners, including a married Bush administration official who met her in hotel rooms and gave her envelopes of cash; a senator's staff member who helped hire her, then later bedded her; and another man who liked to spank and be spanked.
Wonkette is a popular online gossip column that was read by lots of Jessica's friends and Capitol Hill co-workers, including some of the men in her blog.
The messages warning Jessica that her private little joke had just gone very public came from a girlfriend over on the House side. Reading it, Jessica says, she was too stunned to wonder how Wonkette had discovered her blog. Instead, the portion of Jessica's brain that had evolved to help humans survive marauding mastodons screamed: Kill the blog! Kill the blog!
Typing and clicking her mouse at a desperate pace, Jessica logged on to blogger.com, the electronic bulletin board where she'd posted her sexploits under the pseudonym Washingtonienne, and deleted her blog, hoping she'd blown her diary into oblivion. She says she barely breathed as she closed out blogger.com and summoned Wonkette.com onto her screen. There it was: a teasing item noting that an unnamed staffer for a certain Midwestern senator was surely going to get a book contract out of her X-rated blog. The gossip columnist offered her readers a link so they could read the sex diary for themselves.
Jessica clicked on the link. "Page not found," came the reply.
A reprieve. Maybe nobody on Capitol Hill had read or copied her blog before she'd deleted it. Maybe nobody would figure out that Jessica was the staffer who wrote it. Maybe this was no biggie.
Or maybe she needed to start looking for a new job right now.
Jessica tried opening and sorting mail. That's what she was paid to do as a staff assistant for Sen. Mike DeWine, a Republican from Ohio. She liked to joke that her job was really to throw out the mail, the stacks of letters from earnest voters who believe members of Congress actually care what they think.
Too jittery to work, Jessica dumped her stack of unopened mail on the two new interns in her office. She figured they'd still be filled with youthful enthusiasm for serving their government, seeing as how it was only their second day on the job.