LETTER FROM WASHINGTON | DANA WILKIE
Bilbray's kids toast MySpace

June 26, 2006

Brian Bilbray remembers that years ago, when he first ran for Congress, a political attack ad would sting all the more when his five children saw it. If the TV was saying that Daddy was a crook, Bilbray had to find a way to soften the blow for his then-young children.

His now-grown offspring may have learned last week – the hard way – that it pays to be circumspect about their own lives now that Daddy is back in office.

As Bilbray was busy conducting his first full week as the congressman elected to finish the term of imprisoned former lawmaker Randy “Duke” Cunningham, a popular political blog was busy posting pictures of the Carlsbad Republican's two youngest children – one of them 19 – in various poses holding beer and liquor bottles. The photos initially were posted elsewhere online by the Bilbray kids themselves.

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There's his 21-year-old son, Patrick, holding a beer, eyes half closed, giving a thumbs-up and wearing a cap that reads, “Town Drunk.”

And there's his 19-year-old daughter, Briana, holding a Corona in one photo while a girlfriend stands next to her with a bottle of Jack Daniel's. In a third picture, Briana sits beside a cooler with several beer bottles lined up before her.

The blog remarks are brutal: “Don't congressmen have, like, people in charge of . . . password-protecting their . . . daughter's photo albums of underage partying?” one comment reads.

Another adds: “I thought we were a nation of laws! I guess as long as his underage kids aren't drinking with illegal aliens, that's okey-dokey.”

And a third: “May I recommend a congressional 'spawn-gone-wild' contest?”

 

Everybody's watching

Now, to be fair, the kids have no one to blame but themselves. Briana and Patrick had posted the photos themselves on that controversial cyber-place known as MySpace, an online social-networking site popular with the young crowd. The photos were easily accessible in Briana's public Photobucket account – which, incidentally, was speedily password-protected after a political gossip blog called Wonkette got hold of them.

A reader who forwarded a link of the photos to The San Diego Union-Tribune  said in an e-mail that he only was interested in sending an interesting item to a local media outlet. No vast right-wing conspiracy to slam Bilbray. Not even a vast left-wing conspiracy.

“Really, there was no motive in doing what I did,” he wrote to a reporter. “Just impulse.”

Launched in January 2004, the Wonkette gossip blog is owned by Gawker Media LLC, and was responsible for the widespread distribution of the photos, along with the commentary. Wonkette gained notoriety some time ago when its founding editor revealed that a young GOP staffer was blogging about her many sexual escapades, including one with a married Bush administration official who paid for her favors.

 

Those crazy kids

As for Wonkette, now a well-read Web site in Washington and political circles, its posting of the Bilbray photos was sure to get national attention.

Who knows if Wonkette had a political agenda, posting the photos just days after Bilbray was sworn into office. Wonkette editors say only that “all the information we have is contained in the post itself” by the Bilbray children.

Which brings us to Dad, the guy who really had more pressing matters – like immigration reform – to attend to last week.

“Their mother is not real happy,” said Bilbray, who during his six-year hiatus from Congress hasn't lost his knack for plain-spokenness. “I think Briana is outraged by it. It doesn't seem to bother Patrick at all.”

So we suppose this winds up a cautionary tale: MySpace is the Web site recently targeted by parents, schools and law enforcers worried that youngsters visiting the site might fall victim to sexual predators. While we clearly don't have such seriousness going on with the Bilbray kids' posting, the Web site does have 87 million users who go to it to access message boards, games and Web journals.

“The fact is, you've got college kids who do crazy things,” Bilbray said.

Dana Wilkie is a Washington-based correspondent for Copley News Service and a longtime observer of California politics and social issues.