Sex Blog Case Pits Privacy Against Free Speech

Matt O'Conner
WASHINGTON — A former senatorial staffer has filed an invasion of privacy lawsuit against a former co-worker who posted intimate details of their affair on her blog.

In addition to providing almost limitless sensational fodder for cable news shows, the case could have far-reaching First Amendment implications.

Last year, Jennifer Cutler, then employed by the office of Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, kept a running diary of her liaisons with a half dozen politicos, including one of DeWine’s staff attorneys, Robert Steinbuck, on her controversial Washingtonienne blog site.

Although Cutler masked both her own identity and those of her lovers, Steinbuck is charging that the use of his initials as well as descriptions of his job, appearance and other facts made him “clearly identifiable” within tight-knit Washington political circles.

Among other details Cutler revealed about Steinbuck, she wrote that he “has a great ass,” he “likes spanking (both giving and receiving)” and has trouble maintaining an erection when wearing a particular brand of condom.

Steinbuck said these comments subjected him to “humiliation and anguish beyond that which any reasonable person should be expected to bear in a decent, civilized society.”

The filing goes on to say, “It is one thing to be manipulated and used by a lover; it is another thing to be exposed to the world.”

Georgetown law professor Charles Abernathy said the case has little merit. “The traditional American opinion here could not be clearer,” he said. “If you know something first-person because you have done it with them, you have a tort-free right to tell it.”

But the plaintiff’s lawyer, Jonathan Rosen, maintains that the gross invasion of privacy and extreme mental anguish his client suffered outweigh Cutler’s right to free speech.

Cutler’s sex diary first gained national attention last summer after it was featured on Washington gossip blog Wonkette, a member of the Gawker Media Group, which also owns popular porn blog Fleshbot.

After the Washingtonienne controversy broke, Cutler and Wonkette editor Ana Marie Cox were seen hitting the D.C. party circuit together, and photos of the two dancing and posing suggestively made their way onto the Internet.

Rumors also flew that Cutler had previously worked as a $400-an-hour escort.

Late last year, Cutler posed nude for Playboy magazine for an undisclosed amount rumored to exceed $100,000. She also signed a book deal thought to have netted her an advance of around $300,000.

Cox, meanwhile, made a cottage industry of the scandal by making the late-night talking-head circuit. In one interview with Fox’s Tony Snow, she called Cutler “sick” and said she hoped Cutler would use whatever money she had made to seek psychiatric help.