Updated at 1:38 p.m.
FishbowlDC, a website that covers D.C. media news and gossip, was hit yesterday with a libel lawsuit (PDF) in District of Columbia Superior Court.
Wendy Gordon, a local publicist, claimed that FishbowlDC launched an "unprovoked, online smear campaign" against her and published false information that hurt her reputation and her business. The lawsuit names FishbowlDC's parent company, WebMediaBrands Inc., FishbowlDC editor Betsy Rothstein, and contributor Peter Ogburn as defendants.
According to the complaint, Gordon became the subject of a weekly feature called "Wendy Wednesday" beginning in late 2011. FishbowlDC would post a picture of Gordon, often pulled from Gordon's Facebook page, and "provide a false and humiliating description," Gordon alleged.
The posts – the complaint includes a few examples – would often insinuate that Gordon was sexually promiscuous and actively seeking public attention. Those descriptions were false, Gordon said.
Gordon claimed that the posts had hurt her ability to attract higher-end clients and damaged her personal reputation. "Defendants' false attacks have caused people to consider Ms. Gordon to be of a lesser moral character than she is," she claimed, noting that she's not a public figure.
According to the complaint, Gordon's lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter to FishbowlDC in October asking that they stop publishing articles about her, retract previous articles, publish an apology, and reimburse her legal fees. Some articles were taken down, according to the complaint, but FishbowlDC didn't offer an apology or a full retraction.
Gordon is seeking $1 million in punitive damages and $1 million in compensatory damages. Gordon's attorney, David Wachen of Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Ecker in Potomac, Md., said Gordon respects the First Amendment but that what FishbowlDC did was "outrageous."
"Journalists, when they write things for publication, normally are supposed to check their facts and have a basis in fact for writing something," Wachen said. "What these people did, they didn’t check their facts, they just made stuff up, and it's really beyond the pale."
In a statement, WebMediaBrands executive vice president and general counsel Mitchell Eisenberg said: “While we cannot comment on the specifics of pending litigation, we do not believe that there is any merit to the claims and plan to defend against them vigorously.”
Rothstein and Ogburn could not immediately be reached for comment this morning.
The case is before Judge Thomas Motley. An initial scheduling conference is set for April 19.