Betsy Rothstein's Fishbowl D.C. is the Gossip Column the Beltway Media Deserves Sure, some people hate her. But there's a good chance they hate themselves, too.

Page 2 of 5

“You would have thought she was the agent of the Tea Party or something,” says her part time co-editor Matt Dornic. “And it’s the all the class clowns, the ironic blogger types who aren’t supposed to take anything seriously, who really can’t stand her.” Part of this, he thinks, is that “she’s just like so everything that’s not D.C., and yet she’s nestled in the middle of it. They’re like, ‘Why can’t you just leave Ed Henry’s blazer alone?’ And they don’t realize that there’s nothing malicious about it, because they don’t know Betsy, and they don’t know Betsy because she is the least self-promotional person in D.C.”

But the criticisms are telling: Maybe Rothstein’s prose can be so doltish because the world she covers is so doltish. Dig into a year’s worth of Fishbowl content and the city’s ambient Betsy-bashing may well start to come off as case of projected self-loathing. It turns out the only thing more absurd than the media’s recursive fascination with itself is the media’s reaction to what that fascination looks like when chronicled on a blog.

Viewed through the lens of Fishbowl, 2010 was an indisputably entertaining year. Michelle and Barack Obama appeared on the cover of the year’s inaugural issue of People magazine, but only in a box in the right-hand column; the main cover story was about Heidi Montag. An abortive Christmas terror attack occasioned Charles Krauthammer’s repeated use of the word “underpants” on Fox News. A former Cosmo model was elected senator from Massachusetts. Former Ilinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, fresh off Dancing with the Stars, entered Celebrity Apprentice, which he promoted via an Esquire interview that included a since-retracted comment about his being “blacker than Obama.” Meghan McCain tweeted prodigiously about her grievances with D.C. men. John McCain tweeted @ the Jersey Shore character Sn00ki promising her he’d “never tax your tanning bed!”

Fishbowl’s first big “blogtroversy” of the year came when Kim Kardashian—who had been a regular on the site since Rothstein noticed Andrea Mitchell getting testy whenever Chuck Todd brought her up during Super Bowl coverage—was invited to the White House Correspondents Dinner as the guest of Fox anchor Greta Van Susteren. Rothstein wrote a brief, anonymously-sourced dispatch from the dinner titled “Journos like Big Butts.” Van Susteren responded with a furious post on her Greta Wire blog lamenting Fishbowl’s having been “demeaning to women.” Rothstein cooly followed up via a post, illustrated with Kardashian’s Playboy cover, that chronicled Kardashian’s history of ass-capitalization endeavors. “Rothstein won this round,” the next Greta Wire post conceded.

And that was 2010: a year in which statesmanship became so fully integrated into the rest of reality stardom that Michaele Salahi appears in hindsight almost like a Rosa Parks figure. But there wasn’t much of a movement to preempt the dubious cross-breeding, possibly because the media elite were all too busy on Twitter. If future historians will look to reality television as the conclusive chronicle and embodiment of the empire’s cultural elevation of the mundane, the tweet was the medium through which this Church of the Quotidian conquered the nation’s capital. And Fishbowl was there to chronicle the tweets.


For Rothstein, this was all something of a mixed blessing. For years, her reportorial eye for the banal represented a competitive advantage. “Not a lot of reporters can show up in a room where a senator is being grilled about some nuance of… Medicare reimbursement, and ask him how he got that bump on his head,” says Bob Cusack, her old editor at The Hill, where she worked from 1998 to 2009. “But that’s Betsy.” She was known for standing in the hallway of the Rayburn House Office Building and asking passing legislators a “question of the week.” Example: “Which ‘Sex & the City’ character most appeals to you?” (Rothstein asked 20 separate representatives this question in 2008, but only Tom Tancredo answered “Samantha.”)

Twitter unleashed a torrent of this sort of banal personal revelations about just about everyone. And the media figures comprising Rothstein’s new Fishbowl DC beat were the most relentless tweeters of all. Merely reading the prodigious feeds of the 685 producers, reporters, editors and nebulously media-related self-promoters Fishbowl DC “follows” could almost be a full-time job. In fact for Rothstein, who had never been entrenched in any local media clique, Twitter practically did become a full-time job; on any given day, Twitter content and Facebook updates provide a good chunk of Fishbowl’s posts. For a relative outsider, there was no more objective way of gleaning what media types cared about and who their celebrities were. If these items are sometimes a little weird, well, so are Twitter and Facebook updates, especially the ones written by people you don’t really know. There’s no real context in all those random noisy tweets—which, in the aggregate, is the actual context of our time.

Illustration by Brooke Hatfield

Our Readers Say

She's cute and smart. A few years older than I but I'd still love to get a drink with her.
Sadly, the Fishtank site has nosedived horribly during 2009 and 2010--horribly enough that many, many, many (yes, an unsicentific term) journalists have simply stopped reading the site. And many who read it do so out of a train-wreck manner--and they hate the site. In fact, the site is continually unprofessional, juvenile, childish, amateurish, abominably bad, terrible, dumb, and even moronic. The site, oddly, is also often lacking in the understanding of basic journalism. How can Gawker continue to have a site about journalism overseen by someone who doesn't even understand basic journalism? The site is past its importance, and exists now simply as a curiousity. Gawker needs to get someone in there who knows what real journalism, and who can report real journalism news. Until that time, the site is small potatoes.
Just more naval-gazing by self-important douchebags who think they are more important than they really are. The dorks finally trying to get over on everyone who was a perceived bully to them in high school.

Twitter is crack for attention whores.
thefrontpage --

Gawker doesn't own Fishbowl, MediaBistro does.
Nice work, Moe. I don't miss the self-referential sycophancy inherent in the DC media market. But it's a guilty pleasure to check in on it once in a great while.
Thankfully for Rothstein and the bloggers, tweeters, and their friends, misogynism will never go out of style!

ttys mi amigos,
"It’s that she is isn’t particularly snarky or dismissive about any of the shallow information she aggregates."

Since this is the kicker it might be worth correcting the typo to whatever it is you mean!
Huh? Was this article about anything at all?
I'm surprised to see that she's 40. I always figured her for about 13.
There wasn't one subject covered in this piece that isn't either detestable or talentless. And headed straight to the top of the new establishment of course.
Maybe that's the point. (I think I remember remarking to a friend several months ago that DC was overrun by people like this.)

Kudos for turning the labors of these cyborgs into a readable comedy of manners though.
Who is she?
Amazing DC is a majority Black city does Besty know this? What drives this BLACKOUT theme??????
Betsy Rothstein, her website, and this article itself all make me want to pack my bags and leave Washington forever to settle in the foothills of West Va. The multiple layers of navel-gazing here (this article is nazel-gazing at a site that navel-gazes on an inherently navel-gazing profession) are blowing my mind. When will media types stop being obsessed with themselves? People accuse Hollywood celebs for their self importance and habit of congratulating themselves but journalists rival them in their egomania.
What an ugly cunt, who cares about this nobody woman?
Another stupid Jew with a big mouth...
Isn't she the one they call "Stinky Pussy" Rothstein?
Self absorbed. Self centered. Selfish. Boring. Insignificant. Uninteresting. Do any of these people ever grow up? They all seem to be trapped in adolescence. Have a drink with her? Why?
Writers writing about writers writing the written word about writers writing the written word.

I wish I had known about fishbowl before today, but now that' betsy's gone, it just won't be the same......

Leave a Comment

Note: HTML tags are not allowed in comments.
Comments Shown. Turn Comments Off.