By Betsy Rothstein - 02/28/06 12:00 AM EST
The most disarming characteristic of the new Wonkettes, David Lat and Alex Pareene, is that they look and sometimes act like 12-year-olds.
You half-expect them to suggest an outing digging for worms in Rock Creek Park or skateboarding on the National Mall.
Their goofy promo photograph is of the duo holding a pink umbrella, and it doesn't make them look like the new "it" bloggers in town. Nevertheless, the ad campaign introduces the pair of political gossip columnists as the successors to the redhead who started it all: Ana Marie Cox, who now goes by Wonkette Emerita.
I caught up with Lat and Pareene at Lat's lovely new one-bedroom apartment at the Post apartment building on the corner of 15th and Massachusetts Avenue. The place was in absolute disarray - cardboard boxes everywhere, empty Snapple bottles. But it will be nice once they unpack and employ some Feng Shui.
The chaos is understandable. They moved here from Manhattan at the end of January, which is why they're still learning the ropes about the hot spots and the town's A list.
"I am learning the landscape and familiarizing myself with the players," Lat admits, adding with a laugh, "We don't get out much."
That may sound like a line, but oddly enough it's true. As bloggers, Lat and Pareene spend the bulk of their time holed up in the apartment in geek mode, eyes peeled and focused on their computer screens collecting tips from readers.
The new Wonkettes are at home in their mess. Pareene, drinking water from a wine glass, sits on a sofa bed he has been crashing on until he finds his own place. Five minutes into the interview, he pulls on a dark trench coat and escapes to the balcony for a smoke.
He's evidently the "cool" one, an unapologetic smoker and drinker who can be found at bars several nights a week even though he's only 20 and uses a fake ID. ("Don't tell my mother," he begs). Lat, meanwhile, at 30 admits he's a lightweight and drinks only occasionally.
Pareene is a New York University dropout. His parents are young enough to know what a blog is and are proud of him. With a bed head of reddish curls and glasses, he's a Woody Allen look-alike, without the scriptwriting talent. He studied playwriting at NYU until he realized he wasn't good at it, which is when Gawker snatched him up because of the Paris Hilton jokes he kept sending to the site. Gawker Media owns a host of topical blogs, including the New York-centric Gawker and the D.C.-based Wonkette.
Lat, by far the nerdier, wonkier of the two, comes to Wonkette far more credentialed, with an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a law degree from Yale. He went on to become a New Jersey federal prosecutor who helped put away hardened criminals. You wouldn't guess this from his appearance - short, boyish and padding around his apartment in white socks.
His contagious laugh instantly puts a guest at ease, making an interview feel more like a slumber party - but again, they seem like a couple of seventh-grade boys, so what's to fear?
"In the blogging world, educational pedigree doesn't count for much," he says, downplaying his fancy degrees.
Reaction has been mixed.
One GOP legislative aide said the blog has changed, and not for the better. "It's just not the same with out Ana Marie Cox," he said. "Bringing in the 'Ask a Hill Staffer' thing was a good idea, but it's turning into a poor man's Gawker."
"Ask a Hill Staffer" invites readers to pose questions to an anonymous Hill staffer about "life, love and interns."
Another GOP staffer, who didn't want to be identified for fear of receiving a nasty phone call, said the site still seems popular and is passed around via e-mail. But, he said, it "seems like there's a difference in tone. I miss [Ana's] sense of humor. I guess the sequel is never as good as the original."
Lat comes to the blogging world fairly honestly. During his stint as a fed, he began a secret blog called Under the Robe, which figuratively disrobed federal judges.
It wasn't until Lat came out of the blogging closet to Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker that Gawker took notice and hired him to replace Wonkette.
"It was weird," he says of his old blog. "I think I knew intellectually it could have some repercussions, but I convinced myself it wouldn't be as big a deal as it turned out to be." His bosses at the prosecutor's office ordered him to shut down the blog, which he did, and he stayed for another month and a half.
Just the other day, Lat was sitting at his computer when he fell into a fit of laughter while typing in an item on an aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Stormie Janzen, who posted sexy pictures of herself on a blog.
Lat reasons that his epiphany (or midafternoon delirium) stemmed from his disbelief that this is now his life. "I used to work analyzing constitutional issues," he says. "Now I'm slapping thong pictures up."
There are also physical tolls to being a blogger. By the end of a workday, Lat has a headache and must use eye drops to relieve his dry eyes.
Ethics aren't a huge issue for Lat and Pareene, even though they don't do much real reporting. "We can go with things that are maybe not as thoroughly sourced," Pareene said. Lat added semiauthoritatively, "We are the editors."
They insist they aren't worried about getting sued, reasoning that if a politician or aide got angry "they'd probably hope it would go away" and not pursue any legal action.
At the moment, the new Wonkettes put up 15 to 20 posts a day. The plan is to have 24 posts - 12 from each Wonkette.
In the meantime, they think of Cox as their "den mother," Lat said, and eat up her advice and guidance as though their working lives depended on it.
Actually, they do. The blog's popularity has waned since Cox's departure, and the hate e-mails keep pouring in. "You get 100 e-mails a day, and a dozen say, 'I'm never reading Wonkette again. It sucks,'" Pareene said.
As for posing under a pink umbrella, the new Wonkettes blamed the idea on the photographer and said the point was to depict two men taking over a female-identified blog.
"I don't care," Lat said.
"It's a campy picture," Pareene said. "We're both very secure in our masculinity, if you can tell. …" And like the married couple they are quickly becoming, Lat chimed in and completed his other half's sentence, "And we're also comfortable with our feminine sides."