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Say hello, before he deteriorates

Today, we introduce the humorist who replaces Dave Barry on Sundays during Barry's year-or-so leave of absence. He is Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post.

You're probably already familiar with Weingarten's work, which has appeared in Floridian for several years. Do you remember the Ralph Nader interview, when Weingarten asked, "What kind of a sick, evil, perverse, smug, egomaniacal, pip-squeak twit are you, exactly?" Or his question to liberal-baiting author Anne Coulter: "In your own words, would you say that you are most like the Wicked Witch of the West, Medusa or Erzsebet Bathory, the 17th century Transylvanian countess who butchered 500 maidservants and bathed in their blood?"

That's our man.

You may not be aware, though, that Weingarten is a college dropout who led the Miami Herald's erstwhile Sunday magazine, Tropic, to two Pulitzers while its editor. (Times features editor Mike Wilson and I worked with Weingarten in Miami.) One of the Pulitzers was won by Barry, whom Weingarten hired. He also has written two humor books: I'm With Stupid (Simon & Schuster, 2004, $21), in collaboration with feminist scholar Gina Barreca, and The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death (Simon & Schuster, 1998, $11).

After Weingarten left Miami to be an editor at the Washington Post, he showed up at a writing conference in Fort Lauderdale to talk about editor-reporter relationships. He made his reporter, Richard Leiby, come onstage in a bra _ the point being that reporters should never question the wisdom of their editors.

Weingarten soon was relieved of his editing duties and began writing his humor column.

Leiby, now the Post's "Reliable Source" gossip columnist, says of his former mentor, "I do not even acknowledge the fellow columnist to whom you refer: He who shan't be named. I believe I once said he is filth, he is scum. He is . . . simply the worst thing in the world."

We hope you like him at least as much as Leiby does.

_ JOHN BARRY, deputy Floridian editor