FishbowlDC published a weekly feature called "Wendy Wednesday" in late 2011
Washington, D.C.-based publicist Wendy Gordon has sued FishbowlDC, a media gossip site, for allegedly libeling her in weekly posts that suggested she was a "self-promoting, attention-seeking, loose party girl/cougar," according to court documents obtained by TheWrap.
Gordon said the "unprovoked, online smear campaign" damaged her reputation and warded off big-name clients. Editor Betsy Rothstein, contributor Peter Ogburn, Mediabistro.com and parent-company WebMediaBrands Inc. are named as defendants.
"This matter arises from an unprovoked, online smear campaign by defendants, in which they — week after week for more than a year — knowingly published false, defamatory, malicious, nasty, and tasteless statements," the suit said. "Defendants also repeatedly claimed that Ms. Gordon had posted outrageous photographs of herself on the Internet because she craved public attention and was some type of insatiable narcissist." (The picture above is from her LinkedIn page.)
Mitchell Eisenberg, WebMediaBrands general counsel, said the company planned to fight the charges.
"We do not believe that there is any merit to the claims and plan to defend against them vigorously," he told TheWrap.
Rothstein did not immediately respond to requests from TheWrap for comment.
Gordon is suing for more than $1 million in damages, claiming she deserves to "recover compensation and punitive damages" because of FishbowlDC's "outrageous conduct."
The public relations executive, who runs the firm Flash Public Relations, said she is not a public figure. The contention is important because the 1964 case New York Times v. Sullivan says that a public figure must provide "actual malice" to win a libel suit, while private figures don't need to clear so high a bar.
In November, FishbowlDC published a Facebook post by Gordon in which she wondered why the site was interested in her.
"I’m a little perplexed as to why you seem to find me so interesting to the point of constantly cannibalizing photos (old ones that you would have to dig for) from my personal Facebook page?" she wrote. "Just for clarification, the term ‘cougar’ neither fits nor describes me at all. I happen to prefer those my own age or above in my personal life, just so you know – since apparently you don’t know me at all and are hell bent on presenting a false representation."
But she thanked the FishbowlDC team for "giving her a day," perhaps a sign that she enjoyed the publicity.
"Thanks for giving me a day, though," she wrote of the "Wendy Wednesday" series. "Love the alliteration, and thanks for the salute to my Photoshop skills."
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.