Anthony Weiner's scandal does not require understanding complicated lobbying laws (Jack Abramoff) or how kickbacks were funneled through labyrinthine layers of bureaucracy (Duke Cunningham), nor does it depend on a partisan view of an issue, like hiring a 24-year-old with no finance experience to remake the entire stock exchange of Iraq. No, it centers on something simple that everyone can relate to: boners on the Internet. And yet, pundits' analysis of Weinergate is still highly dependent on their ideological viewpoint, with liberals defending the New York Democrat even as his hacking claim looked less than credible. Over the past week, Weiner made it pretty hard to defend him, and liberals slowly went through the all the stages of coping before accepting, with the news of Weiner's wife's pregnancy, that his behavior is, in fact, a pretty gross. Behold, our timeline of the five stages of liberal Weiner grief.
Salon's Joan Walsh became the target of much conservative Twitterly derision when she wrote an article June 1 titled "Lessons I Won't Learn from Weinergate." Walsh was skeptical that Weiner's crotch shot was real--and even if it was? "I will never, 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."
On the same day at The New Republic, James Downie posted an "EXCLUSIVE" that explained the metadata from the dirty Twitter pic was inconsistent with that of a photo that was known to come from Weiner's camera. And like many liberal blogs, Liberal Values' Ron Chusid pointed to a post a Cannonfire that claimed to exonerate Weiner by pointing to a security flaw in the photo posting service yfrog, which Weiner used.
Weiner told Luke Russert that he couldn't say with "certitude" that the crotch shot wasn't him, but still denied sending the picture, the afternoon of June 1. On June 2, The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart was "mystified" by Weiner's handling of the scandal. Still, he gave the New Yorker the benefit of the doubt: "While there are many theories out there, I subscribe to the one that says Weiner is a red-blooded American man who uses his tech savvy to not just tell but show his beautiful, high-powered and hyper-traveled wife how much he misses her."
At Daily Intel, Chris Smith was frustrated on June 2:
Whatever the facts surrounding the photo that may or may not show the congressman's boxer-brief endowment, Weiner's reaction to questions about the trouser-tweet has been amateurish. ... Okay, so Weiner is embarrassed (and let's not forget the role of Andrew Breitbart in getting this started) -- but if this is how he deals with uncomfortable personal questions, voters are going to have a tough time imagining him leading the city in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.
At Balloon Juice, Mistermix felt the same way on June 3:
Since “hacking” yfrog is clearly very easy, I’m at a loss as to why Weiner is being so goddam evasive and mealy-mouthed about the whole incident, instead of just trotting out a couple of nerds to explain the weakness of yfrog to the press. I’m not saying the story would have gone away, but it would have gone down a different path entirely, one that’s a hell of a lot less interesting than “I can’t say with certitude” that it isn’t me.
Weiner tearfully admitted to having cyber affairs with six women over three years Monday. Okay, so maybe Weiner is an Internet sex pervert--but Republican sex perverts are worse!
On June 4, The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen wondered why John Ensign's scandal--in which he slept with his aide's wife and then Ensign's parents paid the couple $96,000--didn't make a bigger splash. "It was, after all, the most significant scandal facing a sitting senator in about two decade... Much to my chagrin, most major media outlets just didn't care, and barely bothered to mention the Ensign story until fairly recently. Weiner, meanwhile, is accused of briefly tweeting a picture of his underwear-covered crotch. The media has found this endlessly fascinating."
Wednesday night, Rachel Maddow turned to Hustler publisher Larry Flynt to talk about the great D.C. sex scandals of yore, and how Weiner's compare. Maddow noted that Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, who admitted to paying hookers for sex, is still in the Senate--and he had campaigned on the sanctity of marriage. "If you were Anthony Weiner, why would you resign, knowing that Vitter is at this Washington townhouse tonight, collecting checks?" Maddow asked.
"If Anthony Weiner resigns, this means this is a country where we are all okay with people getting pressured to resign for doing something like this specifically because they are a Democrat. Because republicans who do stuff like this and significantly worse not only get to stay in office, but their party gets to keep campainging on their righteousness as the morals-and-values party."
Maddow also went on David Letterman's show to and said that Weiner's kinky Facebook chats are not a story unless he resigns--otherwise, it's "more gossip than news."
Likewise, Benen was annoyed when Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus demanded Weiner resign instead of waiting for an investigation, saying, "Do we really need an ethics investigation to determine whether this guy is a creep or not?" Benen countered, "But there are lots of creeps in Congress, and the head of the Republican National Committee isn't calling on all of them to resign." Vitter, he noted, "communicated with a madam about hiring a hooker while he was on the floor of the House... Which of these two men appear to have committed a more serious transgression? I’ll give you a hint: it’s the one Priebus doesn’t want to talk about."
On June 7, Walsh admitted she felt dumb for defending Weiner. "The lying is what disturbs me," she told MSNBC's Ed Schultz. "I gave him the benefit of the doubt, let's just say that, and, you know, I look kinda stupid. But on the other hand, this was brought to light for political reasons."
And as more details of Weiner's odd behavior emerged, some liberal pundits got more big-picture about the whole thing. What does it all mean? Really, since everyone was a consenting adult--not to mention the fact that no private parts touched--why is this news? Benen wrote, "On the Political Sex Scandal Richter Scale, I’m still not altogether sure why this even registers at all." Give recent scandals involved hookers or airport bathroom cruising, "I’m still not sure why anyone would care about this."
And why are we such prudes anyway? "The entire Anthony Weiner story," Outside the Beltway's Doug Mataconis wrote June 7,
"has led to yet another discussion of why exactly it is that Americans, especially the political media, seem to become so obsessed over the sexual peccadilloes of their representatives. ... For the most part, I fall into the 'who cares' camp when it comes to 'scandals' like this. ... Will Americans end their odd obsession of the intersection of politics and sex? Of course not, and since politicians will continue to behave badly we can be sure to have stories like this in the future. What purpose is served by obsessing over them, though, is another question."
At AlterNet, Amanda Marcotte worried that fewer good people would run for office, because their private lives would be held up to a sexual standard set by people "closer to 'the religious right' than 'Dan Savage.'" She painted a scary picture of future campaigns:
Once the standard for a sex scandal moves from 'public interest' to 'arbitrarily deciding this person’s behavior is gross/immature/offends Jesus', it’s open season. Today the crime is not following the standards of monogamy set by those outside your marriage (since we don’t know the details of Weiner’s relationship with his wife, these are the only standards really in play). Tomorrow, it could be that your personal behavior offends people who don’t approve of premarital sex or who think it’s gross or silly for adults to play little private games with each other. ...
Weiner is just a "Modern Human Being," Alec Balwin explained, a day after it was floated that he might run for New York City mayor, Weiner's old ambition.
My thought on Weiner is that he is a very busy man. ... For high functioning men like Weiner ... that leaves one tried and true source of a reliable high. The affirmation that comes when someone lets you know they want to sleep with you. Or even cyber-sleep with you. ... Appointment sex with your spouse doesn't always arrive when you need it most. A modern cell phone, loaded with contacts of willing fellow players, has a table with a red checkered table cloth ready for you at virtually any time.
We tell ourselves that these devices help us communicate more effectively. What they actually do is allow us to bypass the person lying right next to us, across the room from us or at an airport heading home to us, in order to meet our immediate, even inconvenient, needs. To bypass their moods, their current view of us and their own desires, or lack thereof.
If Huma Abedin is pregnant, as the New York Times is reporting, I think Anthony Weiner has to resign -- and I actually expect him to. That news changes everything. ...
I've resisted calling for Weiner's resignation, even though I've deplored his reckless behavior. Since I've defended the "victim" of the mess all along, the 21-year-old college student who received the photo unwillingly on her account, and who was slimed by conservative bloggers, I have to acknowledge that Weiner brought about her sliming. And now he's apparently done the lowest thing most of us can think of: Humiliate not just his wife, but his pregnant wife. ...
I've heard several people suggest that Weiner shouldn't resign if his wife wants him to fight. If that turns out to be the case, I might feel differently. Others have suggested that her pregnancy should change nothing at all; it's a private matter. That's all fine. I'm personally not capable of saying: Cyberinfidelity: fine. Tweeting naked photos idiotically recklessly. No problem. Lying about it, and making reporters complicit in your coverup? AOK. Doing all of that when you have a pregnant wife (who has rather conspicuously failed to come out in your defense)...I can't go there.