Update: In an interview with MSNBC's Luke Russert, Weiner has managed to cloud the issue even more, telling Russert that while he didn't send the tweet, he "can’t say with certitude" whether he's the person in the picture. "My system was hacked," he explains to Russert. "Pictures can be manipulated. Pictures can be dropped in and inserted.” He also reiterates that the photo was sent--by somebody--as a "prank" and that it's "not a matter of national security." (He also adds that wife Huma Abedin, the longtime Hillary Clinton aide Weiner married last summer, has gone through a "befuddling time" lately, which could have something to do with her husband allegedly sending porn star Gina Lee direct messages over Twitter telling her how much he liked her blog. ) The interview was supposed to be broadcast live, but Matt Lewis of the Daily Caller says MSNBC's feed kept cutting out
, so we're waiting for the taped version to surface.
And here it is, thanks to Talking Points Memo:
Who's to blame for the explicit, possibly hacked photo that appeared on New York Rep. Anthony Weiner's Twitter feed and that have fueled gossip during the first week of Washington's slow season? Even the media is divided on who's hurting Weiner more: Weiner himself (because of his awkward attempts at downplaying the story) or Andrew Breitbart, for ginning folks up over the story after his conservative Big Government blog first published the photo in question. Already, the D.C. press corps was taking sides.
No One to Blame But Himself
On MSNBC's Morning Roundup today, the National Journal congressional correspondent offered a frank assessment of why the story isn't going away, placing the blame on Weiner's eagerness to sweep the whole business under the rug.
Hacking. Prank. Distraction. No investigation. Nothing operative is happening at the FBI or Capitol Police. Every indication is that he did it. And because he won’t answer, people are going to jump to that conclusion.
Host Chuck Todd didn't go that far, but did concede Weiner was "overly defensive" in his handling of questions from the press.
The CNN congressional correspondent was among the reporters who put Weiner on the defensive yesterday during an impromptu press conference just outside the House chamber. The video is embedded below, but here's one notable exchange, based on a transcript provided by LexisNexis, that reveals her frustration with Weiner meeting with the media in the name of "good optics" but ducking some pretty fundamental questions--like whether the photo is of him, whether he sent it, whether he's contacted the police--about the matter at hand.
BASH: Congressman, you understand -- you understand that the -- what's going on here, the frustration. We appreciate you coming out here talking to us. You're smiling. You're -- you're cooperating. And that gives, you know, good optics. But you're not answering the question. So can you answer --
WEINER: This is now --
BASH: -- even the most basic question.
WEINER: This is now day --
BASH: But you're saying the same thing over and over again --
WEINER: This is now day --
BASH: -- but you're not answering the question.
WEINER: -- this is now day three. You have statements that my office has put out --
BASH: But they don't answer the question.
WEINER: There are statements that I've had my offices put out. And there are going to be people who are going to want -- look, this is the tactic. The guy in the back of the room who's throwing the pie or yelling out the insult wants that to be the conversation. I am --
BASH: But you were the one who --
WEINER: Dana, let --
BASH: -- (INAUDIBLE) you were hacked.
WEINER: -- let me --
BASH: That you were hacked.
WEINER: Dana --
BASH: And that's -- and that's a criminal -- a potential crime.
WEINER: Dana -- Dana, let me -- I'm going to have to ask that we follow some rules here. And one of those is going to be you want some (INAUDIBLE) answer that's reasonable --
BASH: I'd love to get an answer.
Weiner may not have done anything untoward, but his performance at yesterday's press conference made it seem like he had. "It was an uncharacteristically defensive performance that seemed to go on and on," says Salon's political writer. "Over and over," writes Kornacki, "reporters asked him a basic, direct question: Did he send a lewd photograph to a female college student from his Twitter account or not?" He wouldn't give a straight answer and his "evasiveness was notable," adding weight and interest with each non-answer. "[I]f he thought his appearance before the press would put the story to rest, it had the exact opposite effect," writes Kornacki. "CNN played the entire seven-minute in primetime Tuesday night, and each New York network affiliate played the Weiner story prominently at the top of its 11 P.M. newscast."
Breitbart the Rabble-Rouser
The Nation editor, guest-hosting The Last Word last night while host Laurence O'Donnell was on jury duty, wasn't pleased with CNN for inviting Breitbart on to "spout off" on the Weiner story earlier in the afternoon. "Am I wrong in my level of outrage that this person who has been so discredited, so many times, is such a serial manipulator of the media is allowed to just come on and spout off like this?" Hayes asked guest Alex Wagner.
Immediately after Breitbart's segment on CNN, in which he inferred Weiner was following "quite young" women on Twitter for prurient reasons, network legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin slammed Breitbart's comments as an "outrageous" response to a "minor prank" by Weiner. "What Andrew Breitbart was insinuating about [Weiner] with young girls and stuff is outrageous," said Toobin. "And frankly, it’s too bad that he got to say that stuff on CNN. Look, this is a light-hearted story. This is a silly little thing that happened, it’s not a big deal."
Even if it turns out Weiner sent the picture, it won't be enough to convince Salon editor-at-large Joan Walsh to "ever take the word of Andrew Breitbart or anyone in his army of political sewer workers, over the word of someone who denies his claims, without independent proof. After Breitbart's hit-job on Shirley Sherrod, as well as the selectively and deceptively edited tapes he used to bring down ACORN, his victims will always deserve the benefit of the doubt." Those in the mainstream media pursuing the story, writes Walsh, are lending their credibility to something that "came from Breitbart and his right-wing smear machine."