I feel as though I should provide full disclosure here: I follow Anthony Weiner on Twitter. As a representative from my general area (Queens/LI), I like to hear what he has to say – plus, his hashtags were always witty and hilarious, just like his speeches to Congress. Up until last week, this was simply a weird factoid about my twitter following list. Now, I feel like I’m somehow part of some major scandal (also, I’m a little bummed that I wasn’t on twitter the exact moment he tweeted that infamous picture… I would feel like I’m part of some elite club of the hyper-politically-aware).
First and foremost, Weiner handled this in literally the worst possible way:
1) He lied about it and thought it would just go away. Weiner claimed that someone must have hacked his twitter account and that he definitely did not send it. And then when he realized that people weren’t going to ignore a picture of his penis sent out to his 68,000+ followers (well, those who saw it, anyway) he had to schedule a press conference to tell everyone he was a big fat liar. If you’re going to lie about your penis pictures, don’t talk about starting up a criminal investigation which, in 15 minutes, would show us you did it. 2) He answered questions in the most confusing possible way. The he-said-she-said-I’m-not-sure-if-that’s-my-penis-persay made everyone way more suspicious of him than they might have been normally. In the words of Jon Stewart: “I’m no big city detective, but why don’t you just check inside your pants?” 3) He sent it from a very public twitter account. Apparently, he accidentally sent it out because he intended to send it to a college-age girl he had been flirting with and having an online relationship with. FROM HIS PUBLIC TWITTER ACCOUNT. WITH 68,000+ FOLLOWERS. Dude. 4) Worst scheduling ever. Why would you break your scandal with a news conference on a MONDAY? Now we have a whole week of talking about this. Next time: try Friday night. At the very least, it’ll only be an afterthought of a headline when the big radio/TV shows go back to regular scheduling on Monday mornings.
Second of all, someone I follow on twitter was discussing this in a feminist context, saying that we should judge our politicians partially on how they conduct themselves in their personal lives. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this. Of course, if a man is a convicted rapist or felon, he’s not fit to run for public office. However, if Rep. Weiner was truly in a consensual online relationship and these were wanted sexual tweeting/e-mail advances (Sweexting?), the fact that he had issues in his marriage and problems staying faithful is, personally, none of my business. As long as he isn’t mistreating/abusing (physically or mentally)/using government resources to send these messages to (his wife or his mistresses!) any woman that he is with, it is not my problem. None of my business. The same goes for female politicians. If Kristen Gillibrand had an affair with someone over the internet, as long as she wasn’t mistreating, abusing, or using taxpayer money to carry out these affairs/personal relationships, it is none of my beeswax. Plain and simple.
Thirdly, the way that our media institution has covered this has been INSANE. Days and hours of coverage of a picture of a penis, hours of obsessing over it – I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, at this point. People love scandal and sex, and a combination of both? Bingo. Ratings gold. I just wish that our 24/7 Cable News environment could have the sense to do the investigative journalism some of the blogs out there did trying to figure out whose picture it was before the truth was revealed. Couldn’t have hurt.
Now, Andrew Breitbart. Oh, Andrew, Andrew, Andrew. I must admit that when you look at the meat (no pun intended) of the story - whether or not these were Weiner’s pictures, if he tweeted them – Breitbart’s claims were pretty much correct. I will give him that. But there is a way to handle these things – as we have seen throughout political history. The private life of those involved should be respected, and there is an extraordinarily thin line in these situations about what is public and what is private. Nobody can handle them perfectly.
But Breitbart went a few steps too far.
1) He made allegations that Weiner was harassing underage girls and that he was a pedophile. This was just inexcusably inappropriate. Before Weiner even admitted that the photographs were his, Breitbart was on CNN spewing some hateful words about how Weiner was following underage girls and how he must have wanted them to see it and he wanted to harass them. I don’t care what your political standing was, until you have proof (which he didn’t – the girl receiving the pictures was over the age of 18), you simply don’t say things like that. You just don’t. 2) He pushed the girl into the spotlight and spoke on her behalf. In a sex scandal, as a feminist, I feel very strongly that the woman/girl in question should always be given the power to speak about her sexual partners and the situation at hand, since it directly involves her vagina. She should be given the power to talk about her sexuality – Breitbart shouldn’t have done that for her, posting pictures without any interview with the woman whose pictures they are – or, if she didn’t want to be interviewed, he should have made that clear. 3) He hijacked Weiner’s press conference. This part was just bizarre. Breitbart showed up before Weiner came on stage in midtown Manhattan to hold his own press conference – at Weiner’s press conference. He demanded an apology from Weiner and took questions. This was so weird, I don’t even know how to explain why this is insane. But I’m going to try anyway. He waltzed into a public waiting to hear a Congressman speak, and decided that whatever he had to say was more worthwhile and important than the person whose press conference it was who the journalists were there to see. For a while, I was debating whether that was just plain ol’ ballsy or rude, but I’m leaning towards rude.
In conclusion? This whole thing is a mess. The end.
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