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.

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This elusiveness only serves to reenforce Rothstein’s “agenda vacuum,” the unexplained motivations behind her posts that rankle her critics the most. “At some point she decides Weigel is like, the most fascinating person in the universe,” HuffPo’s Linkins remembers. Not a week and a half later, Weigel was out of a job.

The way Rothstein explains it, Weigel officially became what she calls a “character in the play” in the middle of June, when two small fates that probably wouldn’t have seemed consequential on their own happened to befall the 29-year-old journalist, then a political blogger for The Washington Post. First, he dashed off a Monday morning blog post about a YouTube video that looked primed to become the “conservative meme of the week.” In the video, Democratic Rep. Bob Etheridge of North Carolina manhandles an unidentified conservative activist attempting to ambush-videotape him. Weigel described Etheridge as having “grabbed” the young man “in a hug,” instantly prompting a jeering Drudge link—“WASH POST: NOT AN ASSAULT, A ‘HUG’”—and attendant hate mail. Venting his frustration on Twitter, Weigel scoffed that some hate-mailers misspelled his name. Rothstein detailed the brief saga in a straight post, adding no commentary other than a photo of a polar bear hugging a wolf.

And that might have been that, but for a lengthy Examiner gossip item the next day about Weigel’s “wild and crazy dancing style” at Atlantic blogger Megan McArdle’s recent wedding. It was mostly the quotes: Weigel justified dancing alone by referring to the wedding as a “safe space,” claiming that “a few friends of the XX persuasion” had “eventually” danced with him. “I just thought the whole thing was so funny,” Rothstein says. Weigel was less amused, encouraging his Twitter followers to “block” the Examiner gossip. Rothstein wrote this up, too, reminding readers of Weigel’s strange earlier usage of “hug.” She soon received an e-mail from Weigel with a list of dictionary definitions for the word hug. “He was playing along,” Rothstein says. Weigel had reached official “Fishbowl celebrity” status.

The following Monday Rothstein got a tip from a reader who linked to an online news show that featured Weigel holding forth with two journalists of the XX persuasion. According to the tipster, the clip demonstrated that Weigel was checking out one of their chests. Rothstein wasn’t so sure. “I basically thought it was just Weigel being Weigel,” she says. But she posted the video anyway, directing readers to his hand gestures instead of his eyes. It was after this last (semi-gratuitous) post that a new tipster e-mailed Rothstein to gauge Fishbowl’s interest in a some uncensored Weigel e-mails he/she claimed to have. By Wednesday, Fishbowl had its biggest scoop of the year. And Rothstein had more enemies than she’d made in her whole career.

Before the tip, Rothstein had been vaguely aware of Weigel’s membership in what she terms the league of “boy band” bloggers, a clique of born-in-the-eighties wonks including Spencer Ackerman, Ezra Klein, and Matthew Yglesias. Weigel’s membership dates back to late 2008, when he defected from the libertarian magazine Reason and took a job at The Washington Independent, a left-leaning online journal specializing in the sort of thoroughly reported policy journalism that has died with the newspapers that once nurtured it amidst the so-called Politico-ization of everything else. (Nine months later, the Independent is also dead.) Along with the job leap, Weigel started posting to the liberal networking Google group Journolist, maintained by the boy band’s frontman, Post blogger Ezra Klein.

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As with most things boy band, Rothstein was aware of Journolist but not enough of a wonk to care. She did not know it was the obsession of some on the right, namely Tucker Carlson, whose new Daily Caller website had been preparing a series on the “left-wing conspiracy.” She just knew the e-mails her source shared with her seemed newsworthy: In them, Weigel responds to items like Hug-gate and the wedding dance in typically over-the-top fashion. And Rothstein definitely knew Weigel’s most incendiary comment—”This would be a vastly better world to live in if Matt Drudge decided to handle his emotional problems more responsibly, and set himself on fire”—was highly unlikely to escape Drudge’s attention, which, in turn, would bring Fishbowl traffic.

After corroborating the e-mails’ authenticity with Weigel in a brief phone conversation, she posted some excerpts on Fishbowl. And within minutes, the Drudge hits started barreling in. The next 36 hours were a bit of a blur. “I had no idea that I had just opened this can of worms,” she says.

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,
Kristofferson
"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!
Tiys
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......

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