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A clash of famous parents, infamous blogs

Sparks can fly when kids' online exuberance, or just plain bad taste, catches up with parents in high-profile careers.

August 25, 2006|Yuki Noguchi | Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Like many 21-year-olds, Jared Watts gripes in his blog. He rails against his boss, his job and the misery of dealing with customers at the Cingular Wireless store where he works.

"Enter Middle Aged Wench of Doom," Watts wrote, recounting a tense dialogue with a rude customer demanding to pay her bill. He also complains about company policies that he finds "abusive to the customer" and "inappropriate," some of which "violated my personal beliefs."

Watts' views about his employer appear to contradict those of his father, Wayne Watts, who is senior vice president and associate general counsel of AT&T Corp., Cingular's parent company. The senior Watts, whom Jared credits with landing him the job, is defending AT&T's customer-service record before regulators as the company tries to acquire BellSouth Corp.

Unlike their parents, today's youth have grown up in the age of public disclosure. Keeping an Internet diary has become de rigueur; social lives and private thoughts are laid bare. For parents in high-profile positions, however, it means their children can exploit a generational disconnect to espouse their own points of view, or expose private details perhaps their parents wish they would not.

"All the things I've typed in my blog I've argued with my father about," like whether mergers hurt customers, something Jared Watts said he thinks does inconvenience consumers. But publicly criticizing his company is not the same as a personal attack on the father who supports him "100%," he said.

His father, speaking through an AT&T spokesman, said: "I care very much for my son. And like many fathers and sons, we have differences of opinion on many subjects."

What gets aired can go beyond philosophical differences.

The gossip site wonkette. com has made a minor sport out of exposing what the offspring of newsmakers have done on the Web. For example, a Facebook page for Tennessee Republican Senate candidate Bob Corker's daughter showed her locking lips with another woman and dancing in what appeared to be her underwear.

Of the 12 million bloggers on the Internet, 54% are younger than 30, according to a July study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. That may not include dozens of other sites that allow for self-disclosure and picture posting without necessarily following a blog format, such as AIMPages.com, facebook.com and MySpace.com, which has 100 million member profiles.

Rep. Brian Bilbray's (R-Carlsbad) daughter Briana, who is younger than 21, posted her pictures on MySpace, including one where she poses with a cooler full of Miller High Life. Last fall, NBC star Tim Russert's son, Luke, posted a photo on Facebook of himself clutching a cup and posing with four bikini-clad women in a hot tub.

Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call discovered Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's (R-Tenn.) son, Jonathan, declaring membership in the "Jonathan Frist Appreciation for 'Waking Up White People' Group" on his Facebook page. The Vanderbilt University student also claimed membership in a group where there were "No Jews Allowed. Just Kidding. No seriously."

All were replaced or taken down after gaining Internet notoriety.

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