How I became the ‘femme fatale’ of New York gossip

Victoria Floethe, whose affair with the married Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wolff was a scandal in America, says that New York has fallen prey to a new, scourge-like puritanism

1 April 2009

12:00 AM

1 April 2009

12:00 AM

Several weeks ago I was awakened by a phone call from a man who, speaking in a loud and excited voice, demanded to know the fine details of my personal life. Was I in a relationship with the Vanity Fair columnist Michael Wolff — and under what circumstances? Who had introduced us? Who had I seen in the past? Where did I work? How much was I paid? He was, I gathered before I hung up, a man with a website.

More puzzled than rattled by his aggressiveness and seeming rancour, I googled his site and, as I sat there, saw my name appear and myself go from a girl with no reputation in the city to a girl who, as my mother in Atlanta would soon point out, had lost her reputation.

From this unknown man’s unknown website, my terrible scandal quickly moved to Gawker, the gossip site of record in New York, which published every saucy picture it could find of me, and then, shortly after, to tabloid headlines in the New York Post. I was, in the initial report, a hapless naïf, prey to a ruthless older man. In the Gawker view I was a shameless hussy furthering my career. In Page Six (the New York Post’s gossip column), I was merely a comic-book blonde.

Three gossip items later — and one horrid though amusing cartoon (by the guy who equated President Obama with a chimpanzee) portraying me as a 13-year-old girl in bed with an 80-year-old — I asked the question any normally insecure person would in such a situation: ‘Am I a sleaze?’

And, if so — since I was not involved with Alex Rodriguez (the baseball player and ex-squeeze of Madonna), nor a public official, billionaire or financial schemer — when had the public sleaze bar been so dramatically lowered?

The circumstances of my disgrace? I had a low-level job at Vanity Fair — so in scandal parlance I was an ‘intern’, although, actually, I was a freelance researcher on an hourly wage; my romance with Michael, a married man, was, in the telling, a torrid office affair (although in my short tenure he never came into the office, as he worked at home); and to boot, I’d had another beau before him, uncovered by the gossips, with a problematic marriage. (This in a city of men with problematic marriages.)

Much to my surprise, a rather ordinarily complicated New York romantic life turned out to be newsworthy. I was a ‘femme fatale’; I was sleeping my way to the top (Michael is one of the founders of Newser.com, a web aggregator, which paid me $12 an hour to do some writing); I was, well …a girl who had sex.


I would have said, before becoming the subject of scandal, that one of the reasons I had moved to New York from romantically regulated Atlanta — my mother and early-to-marry friends being vigilant dating sentinels — was to be able to be involved with whomever I pleased without having to explain or (although this possibility had never occurred to me) face public censure. Now I think that I’d have been better off in Atlanta.

There’s a new scourge-like atmosphere in New York. In Atlanta they continue to believe New York is as accepting in romantic matters as it is depicted in Sex in the City (surprisingly, even haute Atlanta, attuned to popular culture, has adopted a certain Sex in the City nonchalance in the last few years). But something’s changed in New York. I’ve noticed this among my many friends who have moved to Park Slope in family-oriented Brooklyn — they’ve come to regard Manhattan as the borough of dubious characters. If you can afford to live in Manhattan you must be up to no good. Possibly it’s the long descent into recession that has created a new culture of opprobrium — nobody these days should be having much fun.

The new sanctimony is, too, the result of internet journalism. Gossip mongering on the internet could be as competitive now as when New York was a city full of aggressive and prying newspapers (cf. Sweet Smell of Success with the evil columnist J.J. Hunsecker — it’s always been a favourite of mine). But the internet is probably worse. Its cliquishness makes it more high-school-like than journalism-like. And high school is more hurtful than journalism. The cruelties of the internet are due, surely, to its fishbowl properties — everybody who is writing gossip on the internet knows everybody whom they are writing about; indeed, everybody seems to be writing about each other. Or going out with someone who is doing the writing. In its article about me, Gawker referred to a former boyfriend of mine who went out with a former Gawker editor.

And I became Rupert Murdoch’s incidental sideshow, too. The internet may have revealed my romance, but it was my bad luck to be involved with someone who’d written a biography of Murdoch perceived by him to be unfavourable. Murdoch’s paper the New York Post, in an act of obviously gleeful revenge towards Michael, could — by merely reporting the internet rumours — make me the harlot in the middle of a banner headline scandal.

New York, once a big and anonymous place, is — on the internet, and in the Murdoch press — reduced to a horrifyingly captious and moralising small town.

You’d think such a parochial view would be of limited interest to the rest of the world. But I was shortly notified by my Atlanta girlfriends that my scandal had spread to the South in an email chain, prompting the image of my devastated mother having to face the Buckhead ladies at bible study. And my father informed me that I was guilty of besmirching the family name (made all the more vulnerable by its uniqueness and, hence, googleability).

As I cooled my heels, receiving each new gossip shock (desperately trying to account for and recall all my other possible gossip-worthy actions — ech, yes, hmmm… I hoped the gossips wouldn’t get on to that), and holding the door against the pair of meter readers who looked suspiciously like tabloid reporters (we don’t actually have meters in my East Village tenement building), I started to feel something like a surge of gossip rapture. It turns out to be easy to believe what’s been written about you. I had gone astray. My morals were loose. I was that girl in New York caught with a married man, that foolish blonde in front of the popping flash bulbs. A Weegee grotesque. I was suddenly seeing myself as the gossips professed to see me, deeply chastened.

I knew what I needed to do: swear off interesting (e.g. older) men, buy a ticket back to Atlanta, and have two tow-headed children with a tow-headed southern boy (emphasis on boy) asap.

So I thought I’d better beat a tactical retreat. New York, let’s face it, is going through a very tough time. Everybody, it seems, feels guilty about being part of the long New York bacchanal, so everybody must be guilty — all the more so if you’re not acting guilty. It was Sex and the City that connected sex to everything else in the city: careers, real estate, Wall Street, media. The less inhibited you were, the more successful you could be, was part of the impudent message received by financiers as well as adventurous girls. That New York, the boom town, is now a suspect place. We now believe that spirit of excess and devil-may-care is responsible for the present apocalyptic mess. Hence my undisciplined romantic life can be discussed pretty much in the same breath as Bernie Madoff — at least in adjacent newspaper pages.

So surely I should get out of Dodge before it’s too late?

Except, it’s hard to quell the itch that got me here in the first place. Nor does it seem likely that everybody else in the re-regulated, closely monitored city will agree to behave — so maybe we get to look forward (at least
I look forward) to a new licentious underbelly of New York (where the gossips, always bribable, are paid to stay away). Sex and the City actually made New York a rather more boring place, helping to take the sin out of sin city.

I think I’ll stay and thumb my nose at the finger-wagging metropolis — hat pulled low.

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Show comments
  • floethe you

    I’m sorry, in what society was it that homewreckers got a pass? Having fun with “interesting” older men is fine–just make sure they’re divorced already. good grief.

  • Lizzie

    I hope Ms. Floethe has many more affairs with married men and is not put off by gossip-a-go-go. If women start behaving, the terrorists win.

  • Mr Strong

    don’t floethe away on your own fumes, miss vicki. you may be from the south but you have the morals of a moron and the manners of a seductress. your friends in park slope may simply be reacting with decency to someone who behaves like a wild cat. worst of all, you seem not only to have poor morals but bad taste in men. With all the good available men downtown and especially in the east village, there is no shortage of Viagratude of which to take advantage–but you chose Michael Wolff? Ohhh Miss Vicki, you could have done so much better than that. What you need is not a good old fashioned romp with a 54 year old (going on 60) but some good old fashioned psychotherapy to help you straighten out why men of power are so much more important to you than building your own self esteem. Sadly this will take years to get over–by which time Mr Wolff will already have a foot in the grave.

  • Emily

    What I think is interesting is your lamentation of internet gossip and how hurtful it is. If you are so opposed to and offended by the media attention and ridicule you are now the subject of, why did you display your opinion at length via an INTERNET publication? It seems you’re doing everything you can to make your 15 minutes of fame last a little longer.
    And stop trying to fool yourself into thinking you’re just the victim of all this. You entered into a relationship with a married man (not for the first time). You had to know this would blow up in your face at some point. So grow up honey, and stop trying to blame everyone else for what happened. And think about how this is affecting someone other than yourself (like your family) when you are baiting the media with your ridiculous, self-righteous opinions.

  • reader

    Did I miss the part where she took responsibility for sleeping with a man who has a wife and kids? Also, the TV show’s title is “Sex AND the City.” Good research!

  • Sebastian Gunn

    She who lives by the pen will die by the pen. She who lives by the slippery chemise will die by the slippery chemise… Miss Vickie knows that all publicity is good publicity. It’s the way we live now.

  • Sebastian Gunn

    “Undisciplined romantic life.” Is an ambitious journalist-courtesan advised to lead a “disciplined romantic life”?

  • Gail Bowen

    Definitely stay put & wait for it to pass!

  • Christopher D. Scott

    Victoria Floethe did a bad thing when she had an affair with her boss and now she is writing about the fall out. I just googled her and I found an article discussing how unhappy she is with her parents’ conservative political views. She strikes me as an immature young woman who is rebeling against her parents and is making bad life choices in the process.

    All of this stuff is too personal. Except fro prurient interest, nobody other than the people in Ms. Floethe’s office, her family, and her boss’ family cares about their affair. Her paramour should be ashamed of himself for taking advantage of this gullible girl. This whole thing has the odor of Geraldo Rivera about it.

  • MindyHC

    You slept with a pretty well-known man who is married and has children, then stoked the fires of gossip by writing about it in the very medium you criticize. So yes, you are a bit of a sleaze. Fast forward 20 years and hope you don’t end up in his wife’s situation — and that if you do, the girl in question will have the sense to fade away quietly.

  • FLTom

    Pompous, oleaginous, precious, self-absorbed, phony, grammatically challenged, unjustifiably self-absolving, shallow drivel.

  • McGehee

    Scandal? Don’t people have to know about something before it’s a scandal? I think rather than call it a scandal “in America,” The Spectator ought to have called it a scandal *among the handful of pissants and dilletantes who’ve heard of either of these people.*

  • teledu

    Shouldn’t this have been in “Hello”, not “The Spectator”?

  • sarah

    This is the worst thing I have ever read. On several different levels.

  • Lydia P Troyer

    As an aspiring NYC journo you should already be aware that the Internet clique of gossipists is a poor sort of Algonquin Round Table, although I’m sure even those stalwarts of wicked wit would have luxuriated in the glow of a laptop screen as well, but then they wouldn’t have met at the hotel or become a “group” Do you think Dorothy Parker would be as chastened as you initially? this from the woman who uttered “You can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her think.”; NYK has always been sharp-edged, sharpen up or go home, luvvy. And, Yes, they were axxxxles to out your private life but that’s what sells to the mungs today.

  • Fleurdamour

    There is no “new, scourge-like puritanism” and no “new sanctimony” about the social disapproval you are receiving. You slept with your long-married boss, a man who has children and who is a public figure, at least in NYC media circles. And you slept with him to further your career. There is nothing whatsoever defensible about your behavior. You made your bed, now lie in it.

  • Liz Foss

    I wouldn’t worry toomuch about any Murdoch related gossip pages. You should hear what goes around here in Australia re Rupert and his past.

  • Abigail

    Unfortunately, I couldn’t help but read to the end – the feminist in me wanted to give Ms. Floethe the benefit of the doubt. Her poor writing, worse ethics and absolutely slovenly behaviors made it a waste of my energy. Here’s to all the women out there who are succeeding without writing tell-all scandal stories and building careers out of their own merit. And to you, Ms. Floethe, I hope that someday soon you will come into your own and not need you sex life to get ahead (truly pathetic).

  • Jack

    Candace Bushnell has already done this character, see Lola in “One-Fifth”.

    Right down to the Atlanta background and the East Village apartment.

    Truth following fiction or vice versa

  • Mary Jackson

    Oh yes, the publicity is so awful, isn’t it? And how wicked of the Spectator to publish your piece so that even more people know about the affair you so wanted to keep secret.

  • Pedro

    Murdoch has been publishing private scandals since he started here in Adelaide, Australia in 1953 with The News, a now defunct tabloid. Screwing married men was sleazy then and it’s sleazy now. Murdoch hasn’t changed and neither has what’s sleazy.

    • Guest

      Didn’t the best-selling author, Jeffrey Archer, base one of his heroes on Rupert Murdoch?

  • A. MacAulay

    I’m waiting for the headline, “Unknown couple have sex in private”. It has become a “man bites dog” novelty!

  • David Short

    A comment I made the other day was not published, so presumably any comment overly critical of the new ownership and vulgarising management is not guaranteed to be seen.

    How cowardly.

  • Phil

    So marvelous that the author is going to take a “principled” stand against the new-puritanism and stay in New York, and I guess keep sleeping with married men instead of going back to Atlanta and getting a man of her own and starting a family. The courage it takes to remain a serial mistress in the face of public criticism! Well sweetie, if you ever do get around to getting married, I hope that you will have the “principle” of objective judgment needed to applaud similar “courageous” behavior in the unfortunate event that your future husband takes a mistress.

  • A. MacAulay

    Yes, David Short, I too have have made comments that were not published and did assume that this was because they cut too close to the bone. Obviously, mad or obscene comments should be deleted to spare us all the head shaking and boredom. But I suspect the perusal of comments is left to a wannabe T. Lightwater, strong on PC but new to joined up writing who is too afraid to ask a grown up when confronted with sharp comments.

  • Farfromgruntled

    Is it just me or has The Spectator gone shit?

  • David Short

    It seems that the Comments box has disappeared in the latest version of the magazine. Possibly just a c++k up.

  • Nicholas Storey

    First – David Short – there is nothing remotely taboo in the term “cock up” to justify asterisks in place of letters – even though the subject matter of the article is full of the repercussions of a sexual liaison – “cock up”, meaning a blunder, just derives from trying to discharge a flintlock gun with the cock up instead of down. Accordingly, the chap involved in the story may also very politely be described as a participant in a cock up. As for the author – to you I say that you may consider yourself fortunate that your unusual name is now known widely enough to assure you at least one spot in this [ital]organ[ital], which has allowed you to [ital] grind out[ital] an old and rather commonplace tune. But, hey! it’s all good PR for a gal who was formerly a harmless research drudge and is now a Fleet Street scribe.

  • ManWithAComment

    That’s funny how you decry Internet gossip by writing gossip on the Internet. Also, you are a horrible person.