Thursday, December 28, 2006

"Washingtonienne" and free speech

You may recall from a couple of years ago the racy "Washingtonienne" blog that was written by a republican senatorial aide named named Jessica Cutler, describing the gory details of her sexploits with 6 guys in DC. Cutler had written it to keep her friends informed about her sex life -- I can't recall ever wanting to read about my friends' sex lives, but these are republicans we're talking about.

The Washingtonienne was discovered and immediately published by Wonkette, which ranks #41 on Technorati's list of over 50 million blogs with 4,684 blogs linking to it. The Washingtonienne's readership exploded and all hell broke loose. Cutler was fired and one of the main subjects of her purple prose, fellow republican senate staffer Robert Steinbuch, launched a lawsuit against her, seeking $20million in damages for "public humiliation". Then the scandal retreated into history and the dusty torts of the legal domain.

And now it's back. Since there's been no discussion of a settlement, the lawsuit is headed for what promises to be an embarassing, lurid and publicly humiliating, and possibly precedent- setting, trial:

"Lurid testimony about spanking, handcuffs and prostitution aside, the Washingtonienne case could help establish whether people who keep online diaries are obligated to protect the privacy of the people they interact with offline."

That's what's really interesting about this case, that it may establish a standard as to how much protection bloggers owe their offline subjects. Nicole at Crooks & Liars weighs in:

"The prurient details of this particular case are less interesting to me than the larger issues of blogger etiquette and the expectations of privacy in an Internet age. As the article rightfully points out, calling it a "diary" does not necessarily make it so, especially when it's available to millions to view. What rights do bloggers have in relating personal stories? Can anyone truly expect privacy any more? I know that for many, the first and last argument is "free speech." But imagine yourself this man. Would you want details about your sexual proclivities being broadcast for all to see?"

I fall squarely on the "free speech" side of the argument. It's pretty straightforward to me: if your career depends on your sex life not being published on the web, then don't mess around with bimbos who might do that kind of thing. Otherwise, buck up and laugh with everyone else.