Some Fundamental Misunderstandings of the Anthony Weiner Story

In reading Twitter and blogs the last few week, I’ve realized that there are what I believe to be several misunderstandings about the politics and media coverage of the Anthony Weiner story, and how media drove the politics, and not the other way around.

It Didn’t Happen Because Anthony Weiner is a Democrat The best comparisons aren’t Weiner and any number of Republicans caught up in sex scandals, like David Vitter or John Ensign. The better comparisons are what happened with Charlie Rangel, Democrat William Jefferson and Republican Bob Ney.

Rangel, Jefferson and Ney were all accused of abuse of office with financial improprieties. At the height of their scandals, Jefferson and Ney weren’t the big media stories that Rangel was, for two simple and connected reasons: Rangel was a regular on cable news while Jefferson and Ney weren’t, and Rangel is from New York City, while the others weren’t.

The national media is based in New York City, and the national media is narcissistic; they think whatever happens in New York is bigger national news than things that happen elsewhere. Think about mayoral coverage; there’s always more national reporting about Michael Bloomberg, or before him Rudy Guiliani or David Dinkins or Ed Koch, than any other mayor in America. Heck, most Americans have probably never even heard of, say, Antonio Villaraigosa, Annise Parker or Michael Nutter.

Anthony Weiner is from New York City. That was the biggest factor in making this a big story.

Democrats, By Calling on Weiner to Resign, Did Not Drive This Story To think that this became a bigger story because Democrats told Weiner to resign is to avoid reality. Democrats could talk about jobs all they wanted, but as long as Weiner’s story was still alive, the media would respond as they did today, when Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t talk about Weiner because she wanted to talk about jobs: the TV networks turned off the cameras and went back to talking about Weiner.

This Wasn’t Simple Prudish Moralizing Weiner was stupid and reckless for sending the photos, I think everyone can agree on that. And no, it’s not like hiring a prostitute and prancing around in a diaper, like Vitter did. But sending unsolicited photos of your groin to women you don’t know isn’t a case of two adults engaging in a consensual activity. The issue wasn’t that he was married, and the substantive problem wasn’t that he did it on Twitter (although that novelty fed in to the coverage). The problem was that a guy who has a decent degree of prominence by being a member of Congress was sending around photos of his crotch to women who hadn’t asked to see it.

This Got Worse With Support From Anthony Weiner He may not have sent anything problematic to a 17 year old woman. But when you’re explaining that you didn’t send anything salacious to a 17 year old, and that you didn’t even realize she was 17, you’re in a PR disaster. And not having a press staff leads to debacles like the press conference where Breitbart took over.

Weiner Is Not Without Significant Political Blame Weiner may be a bit of a victim here—it’s still murky how to me how Breitbart got the photos, and I’m definitely unhappy that sex scandals arouse the press so much when there are much bigger issues to report—but he also inflicted some serious damage on Democrats. There were opportunities costs such as him being the story on the day that special-election winner Kathy Hochul was swore in to office. He has also dominated press coverage at a time when Democratic hits on the Ryan Medicare plan started to draw Republican blood. But there’s also the serious price to be paid for validating Andrew Breitbart. Instead of being only a fabricator, the press will now say Breitbart can at least sometimes be credible; after all, he was right about Anthony Weiner.

Weiner Resigning Isn’t a Big Loss for Progressives  As Juan Cole lays out, regarding the Middle East Weiner has been a borderline neocon. He isn’t a player in crafting legislation or shaping an agenda.  And while such ratings have methodological shortcomings, I’m sure many of Weiner’s liberal champions would be surprised to learn that in 2008 the National Journal ranked him only the 123rd most liberal member of Congress, only one spot more liberal than then-majority leader Steny Hoyer. None of this means it’s OK for the press to obsess about a guy’s groin, but it would be nice if people stopped playing the victim and saying Weiner got bounced from Congress because he’s too progressive, because that’s not what happened, and because he’s not particularly progressive compared to other Democrats.

[Update: let's not forget he was also the only Democrat actively trying to end funding for the U.S Institute of Peace.]

The Problem With Lying to Nancy Pelosi Wasn’t That He Disrespected Her Pelosi didn’t call on him to resign because her feeling were hurt when he lied to her by saying, after the story initially broke, that his accounts had been hacked and that he hadn’t done anything problematic. She dumped him because when it came time for damage control, his lies made it too difficult for his caucus to help him out. Without knowing whether he was still lying, defending him risked major problems for Democrats in the event worse details eventually surfaced.

*****

It’s not a good thing that Anthony Weiner resigned. But the harm isn’t what many progressives believe it is. The problem isn’t that a supposed progressive voice has been silenced, or that Democrats eat their own. It’s that in the age of cable news personalities, back-benchers with poor impulse control and no inclination to work with their colleagues can overwhelm all other political news, hurt Democrats, embolden the right to attack more Democrats and liberals, make politicians look like cads, and divide those who should want Democrats to succeed in serving the needs of the country.

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9 Responses to Some Fundamental Misunderstandings of the Anthony Weiner Story

  1. LM says:

    Couldn’t agree more!

  2. POBRE says:

    Good-bye Weiner. If you had any common sense you would have resigned two weeks ago. He was a fool for thinking that there was even a chance of surviving this one.

  3. POBRE says:

    Re-reading your post, you miss the most obvious comparison – Mark Foley. He did the same damn thing … although he was “sexting” little boys rather than little girls. As I recall, Denny Hastert didn’t waste time telling Foley to resign or be expelled. (Although, in all fairness, GOP leadership at the time might have been bothered more by his gayness than his actual perversions). With Weiner, Pelosi’s crew seemed far too slow to pull the trigger. Once there’s a photo of a Congressman’s cock on Comedy Central, it’s all over … there’s no “spin control.” Pelosi should have put Weiner out of his misery within 24 hours of the story. The indecision on the part of leadership … and the parade of liberals who tried to defend Weiner … just showed that they don’t get it. Weiner embarrassed the country, he should have immediately been kicked out the door, Mark Foley-style. Denny handled this one the right way (you won’t hear me say that very often).

  4. Dana Houle says:

    There are three huge differences between Weiner and Foley.
    1. Foley was communicating with pages; in effect, they worked for him. There was nothing like the same power dynamic between Weiner and the women to whom he sent the photos.
    2. Foley knew they were minors; there’s no evidence that Weiner knowingly communicated with minors.
    3. Foley was also in the physical presence of the pages with whom he communicated. Weiner wasn’t likely to bump in to a woman from Seattle in the tunnels beneath the Rayburn building.

    All of those differences are huge. As I argued in the post, this isn’t a case of fully consensual and welcome sexual play (lacking intercourse) between adults. It wasn’t just harmless play. But it’s profoundly different than what I think

    As for Hastert, remember that the Republican leadership, or at least members of it (such as Tom Reynolds) had knowledge of much of the problem, if not all.

  5. POBRE says:

    Okay. I think that you’re right about GOP leadership. As I recall, you’re absolutely right, they knew all about Foley. They did push him out quickly … but only after the Washington Post had the story. Denny just did a good job keeping the story from infecting leadership. You’re also correct … harassing a page or intern is different than harassing somebody across the country. But, in reality, I don’t think that the public would draw distinction. Any Congressman caught “sexting” is done. Maybe the fact that he wasn’t going to actually meet his victims face-to-face makes him less of a threat … at least within the temporary restraining order context. But, he’s still a pervert.

  6. Jenny says:

    According to tee vee commentators, Weiner had built a $5 million war chest for his 2013 mayorial run. What does he do now with the cash?

  7. Jenny says:

    Blogger are saying IOKIYAR because of Vitter and Ensign. But what is more on point is how Chris Lee lost his job over photos, even though no sex was involved and how Mark Souder lost his job last year over an affair with a staffer.

    Both Lee and Souder where Republicans in safe districts.
    Perhaps this is the new norm in the House – a zero tolerance for sex scandals that surface.

  8. POBRE says:

    I think that zero tolerance for sex scandals is the new norm for the time being. Standards of decency shift from time-to-time. But, Weiner has the misfortune of sharing the front page with diplomat rapists, Edward’s mistress, and Arnold’s loss of future career as comic book character. Weiner’s acts were outrageous … and he deserves what he got. But, his sins weren’t any worse than a typical Hyannis Port (or probably Kennebunkport) weekend in pre-twitter era. The public and media are being hard on Weiner, in part, because their frustration is compounded by all these other scandals. The public just isn’t in a forgiving mood right now. The alpha dogs on the Hill need to stay on the straight and narrow … nobody is going to show any sympathy. Thank goodness Obama is smart enough to keep his pants zipped.

  9. Pingback: Anthony's Weiner is Toast: Rep. Weiner Resigns Today; Long National Nightmare is Over | Angry Black Lady Chronicles

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