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

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! reliablesource@washpost.com

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?

c) Breathlessly report Nicole buying Hanky Panky underwear in Georgetown's Urban Chic?

d) Breathlessly report Nicole changing clothes in the bathroom of Mie N Yu restaurant?

e) Take a deep breath, toss them all in the trash and move on to more important matters, such as Janet Jackson's secret love child?

. . . And Remember, You're Under Oath

D.C. litigator Paul Sprenger may have hundreds of friends and thousands of acquaintances. But thanks to the new Charlize Theron movie, "North Country," which dramatizes the landmark sexual harassment lawsuit he filed on behalf of a group of female miners, millions will think they know him!

Thing is, the filmmakers took a couple of tiny liberties with the story, in which Sprenger is renamed "Bill White" (played by Woody Harrelson), and the other lawyers on his team -- including his now partner-wife, Jane Lang -- don't even appear. See if you can guess which parts are True Life and which are Hollywood:

1. The attorney is a former champion hockey player.

2. The attorney mingles with his future clients in a small-town bar.

3. The attorney makes an obscene gesture toward a woman who ends up becoming a plaintiff.

4. Romantic tensions spark between the attorney and his client.

5. The stupendously melodramatic final courtroom scene.

ANSWERS:

1. Hollywood. "I set some records in high school, but I was a track person. Now my friends will think of me as a hockey player for the rest of my life."

2. True Life. "I was single at the time, so I could very well have been in a bar. But Charlize wasn't there."

3. Hollywood. "That didn't happen."

4. Hollywood. "Absolutely not. If you knew my client, you wouldn't ask that."

5. Ah, what does it matter? "It didn't happen that way, but they got the essence of it across. It made me choke up."

Quoted

Big week for administration officials. We were flipping through November's Glamour magazine when we stumbled upon this in "The Sex Fantasy I'd Never Tell Anyone":

"I'll see Karl Rove on the news, and the same fantasy always pops in my head: I'm in Virginia Beach, one of my favorite places, waiting in line to get some food, and he's standing right behind me. He says he noticed me when I volunteered for Howard Dean and I impressed him with my energy and passion, even if it was misguided. Despite that I hate what he stands for, I find him very sexy. He invites me back to his cabana, and we have sex."

-- Kat, a 33-year-old webmaster

A cabana? That's so . . . daddy-O-retro, it's hip. You go, Karl.