Jessica Cutler never had grand designs on conquering Washington, DC. She didn’t have a career plan devised that would lead her up the ladder of power on Capital Hill, her new home after three years in New York writing about shoes. She figured if she met the right people, it wouldn’t matter. As she puts is, “You know what they say, fake it til you make it.”
If she got lucky her stint on the Hill might even lead to a glamorous K Street job, which in the eyes of a Hill intern was like making the big leagues. Recently we met for lunch, in the heart of that same K Street corridor, to discuss The Washingtonienne story one year later.
For Jessica, Washington was a stopover – she was a New York girl through and through – on a journey that had yet to be fully charted. Of her choice to move to DC she notes, “If you’re too dumb for NY and too ugly for LA, you can always make it in DC.”
Capital Hill in the summertime is host to an annual cattle drive of fresh-faced ideologues who trudge into mind-numbingly dull work in Hill offices for what amounts to trinkets and baubles. Success is measured by proximity to power, or at least the stories you can tell about proximity to power. Jessica Cutler didn’t quite fit that mold as she had burned through more jobs in a few short years out of school than most people go through in a career. As a Staff Assistant in Ohio Senator Mike DeWine’s office Jessica Cutler’s proximity to power was nebulous; but her stories would become legendary.
Washington didn’t know it yet, but Jessica Cutler was a master storyteller. On May 5, 2004 Jessica anonymously started a weblog, and wrote of her new adventure in the halls of power,
- I have a “glamour job” on the Hill. That is, I could not care less about gov or politics, but working for a Senator looks good on my resume. And these marble hallways are such great places for meeting boys and showing off my outfits.
posted by The Washingtonienne at 5:32 PM And thus Washingtonienne, the blog, was born. Jessica, as The Washingtonienne, would tell her stories of meeting boys (or more precisely men acting like boys), and showing off a lot more than her outfits, for an audience of a couple old friends and a few new Hill confidants.
What eventually would come to be the most scandalous aspect of The Washingtonienne’s story is detailed in this post on her desperate financial circumstances:
Most of my living expenses are thankfully subsidized by a few generous older gentlemen. I’m sure I am not the only one who makes money on the side this way: how can anybody live on $25K/year??
If you investigated every Staff Ass on the Hill, I am sure you would find out some freaky shit. No way can anybody live on such a low salary. I am convinced that the Congressional offices are full of dealers and hos.
posted by The Washingtonienne at 4:34 PM Jessica’s tales of life, sex, and love were totally entertaining to her friends, but on May 18, 2004 staid Washington (a town where wearing white after Labor Day is a fashion sin) would learn of Jessica’s journal and all hell would break loose for the real life Washingtonienne.
The Washingtonienne And Wonkette
The story of how Cutler’s blog became tabloid fodder begins with Ana Marie Cox, the editor of Wonkette. Cox was alerted to Jessica’s blog, which she had been writing for a few short weeks in total anonymity – her identity known only to a few close friends who were the intended audience. Within a day of being featured on the DC based gossip blog Cutlers chaotic personal life was barred to a world-wide audience, including members of the Hill community who fingered her as the author in no time at all. The rash of publicity and revelations resulted in a Dynasty-style confrontation that lead to Cutler’s ouster from DeWine’s office.
As her world collapsed around her Cutler acted like she didn’t give a damn to anyone who would listen. Friends knew otherwise, noticing that stress-induced lack of appetite was causing weight to melt off her already svelte frame and that she appeared to be on a fast track toward a nervous breakdown.
During the period after the story exploded Cutler and Cox became friends of necessity, as Jessica was still a mystery woman to most of the world. Cutler, out of work, short on cash, and hoping to capitalize on her 15 minutes of fame, needed Cox – if nothing else for what she figured was her maturity and ability to understand Jessica’s plight. Since her story was first told at Wonkette requests for Cutler’s story initially flowed directly to Cox.
Cox, desperate to make a media name for herself, rode The Washingtonienne story and Jessica’s new found infamy hard. Somewhere along the way the media savvy mentor/ingenue relationship soured, though Cutler doesn’t say exactly where or why. Perhaps it was fait accompli once Cutler (on her own) secured a book deal with a large advance, something Cox also desperately wanted.
Ask Cutler about the glare of the spotlight in the weeks after the ribald Washingtonienne stories circled the globe and she’ll tell you, “I don’t really mean half the stuff I say in interviews, especially those I gave last year. I was making it up as I went along. I mean, what was I supposed to do about it? Cry?”
One year later she looks back on her relationship with Cox with more the jaded eye of someone who is already making a living as an author.
- “She makes a lot of snide and condescending remarks, that I’m desperate for attention, that I need therapy – which is really the pot calling the kettle black. She wants to make sure everyone knows that she’s better than I am, but her blog is pretty boring when she’s not talking about me.”
“For some reason she thinks it’s important for her to disassociate herself from the Washingtonienne thing. She’s got to do what she’s got to do. But girlfriend does talk some shit.“Jessica Cutler also has something that Cox can only dream of — positive reviews for her first book, The Washingtonienne: A Novel. Jonathan Yeardly, the Washington Post’s book reviewer calls it, “Lively, funny and agreeably in-your-face . . . [Cutler] sticks pins in a lot of deserving targets,” and this weekend it gets a positive review in The New York Times Book Review.
More on that in part two of our interview – Monday.