Bloggers on Deborah Jeane Palfrey's suicide.

The latest chatter in cyberspace.
May 2 2008 5:34 PM

The D.C. Madam's Suicide

Bloggers are discussing the D.C. Madam's suicide and wondering what will become of the Microsoft-Yahoo merger now that Microsoft is threatening a hostile takeover.

Palfrey commits suicide: Deborah Jeane Palfrey, better known as the "D.C. Madam" for her role running a call-girl ring in the Washington area, died Thursday in an apparent suicide at her mother's home in Florida. Palfrey's case ignited intense discussion in the blogosphere, especially when her records identified several high-profile clients, including Republican Sen. David Vitter. Bloggers react with sympathy and suspicion.

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There was no shortage of anger and sympathy for Palfrey from those who see her apparent suicide as a grim example of gender inequity. Tulane University Law School professor Elizabeth Nowicki's anger was apparent at Truth on the Market: "I titled this post with a 'Dammit,' something I am not inclined to do normally in this academic setting, because I am just disgusted and disheartened at how this has played out. Anyone who has paid attention to how women versus men have been treated in the context of prostitution could have seen this train coming down the tracks." No Designation, which focuses on "gender and sexual minority communities," had few kind words for the D.C. Madam's clients. "I still can't wrap my head around how all those politician Johns can give a press conference, a manufactured apology, keep their job, and never face and charges. Meanwhile, everyone goes after the women involved as if they are out for blood. And they got it." And Megan McCardle blames an "unjust law": "[I]t's pretty clear that the trigger here was the unnecessary prosecution of a woman who wasn't doing anything the government had any business interfering with. I can understand perfectly the complaint that you don't want a brothel in your neighborhood—but that's a zoning problem, and anyway, she was running a call girl ring. The finer hotels in our nation's capitol have not been noticeably degraded by the presence of the occasional young and improbably well dressed woman tapping discreetly at the doors to a few of their rooms."

Others think it really wasn't Palfrey's fault, for other reasons. "I really believe that the easy part of the case will be in determining the cause of death was not by suicide, but a probable homicide," writes John Kubicek at johnny2k Is Home. "The hard part of the case will be in determining 'who did the job.' " Scandalous Candice concurs. "She had many top D.C. officials as clients and now turns up dead. I don't believe for one second that she committed suicide. People who do this sort of work know and fully understand the risks of being caught and what they are involved with. Humiliation isn't usually the sort of thing that upsets a 'madam.' "

But Becky C., a "recovering attorney" who blogs at Just a Girl in Short Shorts Talking About Whatever, doesn't buy the conspiracy theories. "I don't think Deborah Jean Palfrey was murdered—there was no need," she writes. "Her strategy was to bluff that she would expose all kinds of powerful people in the government and on K Street—hoping they would back off on the prosecution. She was naive. The courts, prosecutors and the media quite effectively prevented that from happening."

Politico's Shenanigans caught up with another convicted madam, Jody Babydol Gibson, who had been in touch with Palfrey. "I e-mailed her and tried to keep her spirits up, as I really thought the prosecution had a weak case to show Deborah's criminal intent. I knew precisely what she was going through," Gibson told Politico's Anne Schroeder Mullins.

Microhoo redux? After months of fruitless negotiations, the Microsoft-Yahoo talks are back on the table, with reports that Microsoft has upped its bid by several dollars and is ready to launch a hostile bid if necessary.

After cataloging the various ways this enormous fusion of the two companies could go awry, Marc Andreessen concludes with the observation that Microsoft's move now may be motivated by the political calendar. "The Bush administration is known to be quite friendly to large companies, large mergers, and Microsoft. Any Democratic administration would probably be notably more hostile to this kind of merger than the current regime. And even a McCain administration might have different views from the current government—who knows?" But Michael Arrington at Tech Crunch points to another possibility: "The main reason Microsoft has changed strategies seems to be the overt willingness of Yahoo to do a search outsourcing deal with Google in the event Microsoft walks away or goes hostile. The threat is very real, and some experts say that regulatory approval of such a deal would not be as difficult as some have speculated."

Vallywag's Owen Thomas is unimpressed by the two companies' promises to remain transparent during the talks. "Microsoft, last year, declared that it was embracing 'radical transparency,' a tactic of divulging every detail of its every move to gain wide support," Thomas writes. "Yahoo has more recently pursued a strategy of 'openness.' But at this key moment, which will surely shape both companies' fates for years, neither company is practicing what it preaches." At Hitsville, Bill Wyman wonders  whether a theoretical Microsoft/Yahoo hybrid would be a nail in the coffin for Yahoo's chances of competing with Google. "As things stand now, Yahoo is a valid alternative to Google at least partially based on the company's hip origins and faintly Google-like approach to customer service," Wyman writes. "Once Yahoo is Microsoft, however, Google will have one major competitor—and an easy-to-dislike one."

Jim Goldman at CNBC's TechCheck thinks Microsoft should put off the decision until Monday so that Yahoo has less time to strategize. "Make the move on Monday, and the company will be faced with endless phone ringing from reporters—and endless hand-wringing by investors—wondering what the company will do next," Goldman argues. "Monday news would put the screws into Yahoo and give the company a harsher taste of the kind of pressure Microsoft is willing to enlist to move this deal forward." At Portfolio's Tech Observer, Kevin Maney is getting tired of waiting: "This takeover fight has become as much fun as watching cows graze."

Chris Wilson is a Slate contributor.

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