Why Washington Gossip Sucks

This week we get four gossip items from four publications covering Capitol Hill about one wedding. The nuptials were those of Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) to Wall Street financier Donald Sussman. None dig very far into it. Is each story supposed to convey the bare bones snippet that the couple wed and little else? Probably. But each newspaper alludes to better, more interesting story lines that none pursue with any gusto.

This is why we have the vanilla ice cream cone to your right.

Let’s begin with Roll Call‘s HOH, which arrived at midnight on the 21st many hours after Politico and The Hill ran their items. We learn the wedding was held in a private ceremony at the couple’s home in Maine, who performed the ceremony (the island minister) and who attended — the couple’s five children. Did she say she’d “obey” or did the couple belt out their vows in song? It’s a mystery. The pair announced their wedding at a “barn party” later in the evening. Turns out the wedding had been a secret. “No one had any idea,” Pingree’s spokesman Willy Ritch said — except, HOH needlessly points out, the five kids. The worst quote: The couple won’t be going on a honeymoon because, informs Willy, “They love Maine.” What would we believe otherwise, that the congresswoman from Maine hates her state? The last line says the couple got engaged in 2008, three years ago. Why such a long engagement? Who knows? Either the writer never asked or didn’t think to. Read the full item after the jump…

Next up: The Hill‘s In the Know version. (Full disclosure: I created this column and wrote it for approximately five years.) Here’s a twist. This publication spells out in the headline that the couple went through a three-year engagement, indicating that the detail might be significant: “Three-year engagement ends as Rep. Pingree weds over the weekend in a small ceremony.” The ceremony was “tiny,” this version reads, with only the kids present. Later at the “barn party” they broke the big news. They personalize this part, saying, “ITK has never been to a barn party before, but we are sure that Pingree’s was plenty festive.” This is amusing, but maybe because I know who wrote it. Were there animals there and why not just ask already? Pigs at the reception could have been a nice detail. In this version we learn that the barn party was also Sussman’s 65th birthday party. Unlike Roll Call, they question the lengthy engagement, saying that the wedding “wasn’t exactly a surprise.” They also reveal that Pingree got herself into hot water for flying on hubby’s private jet years ago, but that the House Ethics Committee ultimately approved the travel because the couple was engaged at the time. A handy thing a long “engagement” can be. And finally, unlike HOH, they provide the basic detail that the bride and groom have both been married before. What I’d have liked to see is The Hill interrogate Willy the spokesman on why such a lengthy engagement? This being Washington, the aide would have likely stonewalled. Still, the effort would have been appreciated.

Next up: Politico‘s lame CLICK item on the happy occasion, which rolled in slightly before The Hill‘s item. The one thing CLICK has going for it that two of the other items do not is that this is the only version that shows us an online picture of the couple. They pointlessly quote Willy the spokesman, saying, “‘Rev. Dave Macy, the island minister, performed the wedding ceremony, with Pingree’s and Sussman’s children looking on,’ according to spokesman Willy Ritch.” (Apparently Willy‘s not quick on his toes with a catchy quote, or else he wasn’t pushed for something better. There’s no earthly reason to quote basics like this.) This version says the couple shared the news with friends that evening, but never points out that the wedding had been kept secret from them, just that they weren’t – what – invited? This is the shortest item in the bunch. In just one remaining line we learn that Pingree “caught some heat” last year for flying on her new husband’s plane. What kind of heat? Who knows? Perhaps the plane caught on fire or she was having  a hot flash. The item fails to explain and leaves blatant, unanswered questions. And the lengthy engagement? If you read only this item you wouldn’t know it lasted three years or, for that matter, why.

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