Washingtonienne's hard-earned rise to the middle


If Wonkette and the Washingtonienne have taught us anything, it's that you can get pretty far in this great nation by writing about butt sex. Also, a little lesbianism never hurts your cause.

Jessica Cutler has an innate skill at trading in the latest surefire route to infamy—strategic self-humiliation. Last summer, she rocketed to something like fame when her short-lived sex blog was discovered by Ana Marie Cox (a.k.a. Wonkette), editor of a D.C.-based gossip website. A young Capitol Hill staffer writing under the pseudonym of "The Washingtonienne," Cutler chronicled her paid and unpaid sexcapades with several men—one of whom was allegedly a married Bush appointee. Her blog was taken down quickly thereafter. Soon her anonymity was destroyed, and she found her job in a Congressional mailroom terminated as well. Her notoriety, however, lasted the summer.

A fluttering of posts on Wonkette and other D.C. sites and publications—including a blog that I was editing at the time—worked on outing the people vaguely identified on the site and discovering the senator Cutler had worked for—Ohio Republican Mike DeWine, as it turned out. After a good deal of publicity and some semi-Sapphic photos of Cutler and Cox published on Wonkette, Cutler had scored a six-figure book deal. In November she appeared in Playboy. And now, a mere nine months after her Monika Lewinsky reveal, the fruit of that deal is being released.

Cutler's trajectory proves that in a society with no taste for shame, there is little to lose and much to gain from a sex scandal. Especially when the only thing at stake is a job in the mailroom—and something insignificant like pride. There was a time when a public sex tape would ruin an actress's career. One recently launched Paris Hilton's. It's not too different in politics these days. Last year alone, Arnold Swarzenegger's Teflon exterior rolled him into the governor's mansions with nary a sex abuse accusation scratch, and New Jersey's married governor McGreevey managed to evade sure political disgrace by coming out as a "gay American."

At a time when publicized sex scandals no longer end political careers, the Washingtonienne scandal barely ranks at all. Most of her notoriety was earned by her willingness to spread the details of her copulations and her partners' sexual preferences. No such new additions are in the novel, and she is mostly unknown outside D.C. A former sex partner has launched a well timed lawsuit for invasion of privacy (a suit that appears as futureless as Cutler's writing career), which may be contributing to the novel's fairly respectable Amazon sales rank. Or maybe that's due to her writing skill.

The novel does have its moments, but it never reaches the entertainment value of her brief blog—the archive of which is still available online and has the added advantage of being free of charge. As an addition to the post-Bridget Jones chick-lit genre, The Washingtonienne is short on the crucial ingredient of grrl power: It's unlikely historians of feminism will ever look back at Cutler's justification for engaging in degrading sex—"If a woman did it herself, she was in control"—as a high point in empowerment.

But you read a book like this for the hilarious rationalizations, and there are some good ones here. As she "innocently" posts her sexploits online, Cutler's stand-in "Jacqueline Turner" has no inkling of what's ahead: "What interest would strangers have in our lives anyway?" Cutler treads the fine line between world-weary vixen and complete imbecile well. She also captures the weird mix of power and impotency that accompany working for the federal government. But like her character, Cutler seems too distracted to accomplish the task at hand—this one being book writing. Half the novel is spent trying desperately to invent stinging one-liners—she describes her internship as "Another day, another no dollar"— but the remainder is padded with lazy prose and many painful double entendres: "I had a buttload of stuff to do before taking off for Miami that weekend."

She manages to throw in a good bit of girl on girl action, but for a blogger who produced such promising gems as "A man who tries to fuck you in the ass when you are sober does not love you," the novel is surprisingly lacking in new witticisms about sex or sodomy. Instead, she spends an awful lot of time on the subject of abortion for such a short book. Of all the pride-reducing experiences she underwent last year, the most bothersome seems to have been working for a Senator who was against legalized abortion: "What can I say? I needed one. Twice. A woman's right to choose is a right I hold as dearly as a woman's prerogative to change her mind."

In fact, the strongest aspect of Cutler's character appears to be her determination not to learn from her mistakes: "It may have been pretty basic (lying + cheating = bad), but life experience had taught me otherwise. The lesson I learned was: You can get whatever you want for free by lying and cheating, and there are never any consequences." Never mind that her character spends the better part of the book running away from ruined relationships, dealing with her depression, and admitting that she's just looking for someone who really loves her. Cutler may be forced out of town biannually, but at least she got a book deal out of it this time.

Cutler ends her book with a note of gratitude: "Last but not least, thanks to all the bloggers who gave me so much attention and free publicity, and to all of my colleagues in Washington who sent in tips. I knew that all I had to do was wait, and you would make all of this possible." She has certainly shown some skill at harnessing the current media zeitgeist, but it remains unclear where she can go from here. Her career as a semi-prostitute turned out quite lucrative—but that's the kind of trick that only works once, and (discretion being the better part of value in that line of work) she doesn't seem suited to a long career in that field. She'll have to put some serious effort into unearthing a new publicity stunt.