About Me

My photo
This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Sexual Exploits and Invasions of Privacy

Jessica Cutler - better known as "Washingtonienne" -- achieved notoriety with a web log ("blog") about her sexual exploits, written while she was a staffer for U.S. Senator Michael DeWine of Ohio. When her identity became known, Cutler was fired - but also got what was reportedly a six-figure contract to write a novel, and an offer to pose for Playboy.

The novel, The Washingtonienne, is out now, and Cutler is doing readings. But her life isn't entirely carefree: Cutler still faces an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit, filed last month by Robert Steinbuch, a staff attorney for DeWine.

Julie Hilden, a lawyer who wrote her own somewhat racy autobiographical account, uses this lawsuit to provide an interesting discussion on invasion of privacy lawsuits and public accounts of sexual exploits. I personally am wary about making someone civilly liable for saying something that is true, especially if it is not within various compelling exceptions to free expression (copyright, national security and so forth). And, Jessica Culter is not an ordinary soul, but a governmental employee who discussed her goings on with staff members of a conservative member of Congress. Putting aside how invasion of privacy suits can be still alive in the era of exploitative talk shows, this seems to be a public matter.

Nonetheless, the article suggests by absolutist leanings do not work in real life -- in real life, there are various shades of gray and intricate questions when determining liability. For instance, Hilden probably would not be liable if she just tell fellow employees or friends. This is not "public" enough for an invasion of privacy tort, at least in the jurisdiction in question. [It is different from "publishing" lies ... telling one friend will do the trick there.] Thus, "private" conversation is protected to some important degree. In fact, such "private" (the quotes are in place because telling ten co-workers is not really private, especially with a gossip multiplier effect) exposure might protect her from later lawsuits once she put the information in the public sphere at large. It is rather amusing on some level.

Hilden also suggests Cutler's tell-all is in the public interest because of what it tells about sexual power politics today:
So Cutler - like Lewinsky before her - may simply have grabbed for the power that seemed most readily available to her: sexual power. As much as this kind of power is touted, it's not a very powerful kind of power, especially in the long run. But young women may see it differently - and if this kind of power is chosen, even unwisely, by those to whom political power is largely inaccessible, then doesn't it, in a way, have a political dimension, too? ...

If the questions of what it means to be a wife, and what it means to be a whore, are political as well as personal questions - and I think they are -- then this blog definitely (if often inadvertently) had something political to say. That, too, may provide a defense Cutler can raise in Steinbuch's suit.

I would agree. Likewise, Hilden's generally sympathetic reading of Lewinsky appeals to me as well: "Lewinsky - who displayed what seems in retrospect to have been an eerily Cutler-like mix of nerve, blitheness, bravery, indiscretion, gross immaturity, and the boldness of youth." Lewinsky is one of those individuals (often women) people love to despise, but are in my opinion, unfairly targeted. The bitchiness shown against this women -- it's not HER fault the Right (and the media lapdogs that helped) used her against Clinton -- in unseemly. I especially dislike the shots against her weight.

Are we a nation of mean teenage girls? Monica is just an average person, no one special but I doubt she claimed to be, who got caught in the heat of events. So she might not be a major prize as girlfriend material (I doubt this was quite her role anyway) ... just as I have determined by now that people in general are rather average looking, it is clear to me that many women (and wives) are no major prizes either. This is why finding a good mate is so precious. As to her immaturity, at least she is not running the freakening country now, like another person that comes to mind.

Anyway, I do think relationship and sexual matters are matters of public debate. The essay suggests, much more than the Starr Report, some of the intimate details referenced in Cutler's book has some justified role in discussing such themes, themes that are not "private concerns" alone, but matters of the public interest. Some line is crossed these days in various accounts, as suggested by the new attack book on Hillary Clinton, but the courtroom is not a great place to draw finer ones.