The strange saga of Weinergate, in which New York congressman Anthony Weiner may have accidentally tweeted publicly a photo of his erect (boxer-briefed) penis to a college student in Seattle, set off a frenzy over the holiday weekend. Weiner says he was hacked, the victim of a prank, and while that seemed unlikely at first to a rightfully cynical audience — in light of his contemporaries like the Craigslist Congressman, compounded by the overuse of the “hacked” excuse for every online would-be scandal — as the layers of this snafu started to pile on, it got much less clear instead of being elucidated, as these things tend to be after the initial lies from the guilty. It became a tale of the blood-thirsty conservative Internet press, perhaps too used to their kind getting caught up in sordid activity, against those observers becoming more doubtful, or otherwise just after the truth. And so as interesting as whether the pol did it or not is how it’s been covered by the blogs in the ensuing days. As a result, we’ll run down what we know now in Press Clips, our daily media column.
We Don’t Know Dick: The battle lines were clearly drawn right away; whereas we asked a lot of questions, sites led by Andrew Breitbart’s Big empire pounced.
The story was first propagated by one Dan Wolfe, an avowed conservative who tweets with the handle @patriotusa76, the one man who managed to RT the Weiner picture before it was deleted. Curiously, Wolfe tweeted weeks ago, on May 11, “Rumor that top rightwing blog has sexscandal pics of high profile Dem congressman, NE region. @RepWeiner, Frank, or @cbrangel,” leading some to believe he’s the one behind the hoax or hack.”
In his defense, Wolfe claims he’s been watching Weiner closely and that the congressman has a penchant for interacting with young women online, and so Wolfe just happened to hit the jackpot when he caught the dick tweet. (Wolfe has spent much of the last few days denying his involvement in the scandal on Twitter.) Breitbart has been floating the “likes young girls” theory as well, including today in a CNN appearance.
On the case like a local media blog on a local politician’s internet sex scandal has been Mediaite, where Colby Hall notes that Breitbart got quite a large pulpit today for his view of the events. “I’m not saying what type of relationships, but people that Rep. Weiner follows are quite young, younger than the girl in question, talk openly about Rep. Weiner, who he follows,” Breitbart said on CNN, playing up the anti-Democrat conspiracy.
CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin countered, “What Andrew Breitbart was insinuating about [Weiner] with young girls and stuff is outrageous. And frankly, it’s too bad that he got to say that stuff on CNN.”
The intended recipient of the picture, Gennette Nicole Cordova, a 21-year-old student, was initially edited out of reports to protect her privacy, giving the conservative blogs another chance to act high and mighty, shaming liberal sites like Daily Kos and Salon for violating her privacy. Of course, eventually she was bothered enough anyway and had to release a statement of her own, so the point about her name is now basically moot.
But the content of Cordova’s correspondence with the press is important. She says she was bothered previously by Wolfe and his “cohorts,” so she “assumed that the tweet and the picture were their latest attempts at defaming the Congressman and harassing his supporters.”
Weiner reportedly has lawyers and is investigating. What we’re left with now is a pile of circumstantial evidence, some of it so complicated when it comes to Twitter/Facebook/yfrog/blogs/etc. that Weiner’s guilt or innocence is actually shrouded to the point of it not really mattering; he’s having to weather this scandal regardless because the specifics of the techie evidence is so wonky that most people just hear “Rep. Weiner” + “dick pic” and either giggle or get outraged, and then turn to the swampy mess of the internet, especially if Google Trends are to be believed.
The Daily Caller, for instance, a non-Breitbart conservative website, is representative of the fun that particular sector of the internet/media is having with the scandal, taking a poll and comparing the tweeted penis picture to Weiner wearing telling slacks.
Luckily for Weiner, the speed and sensationalism of the blogging news cycle, which makes stuff like the Daily Caller nonsense possible, is the same stuff that will ultimately make it blow over.
That, added to the complicated evidence, make it unlikely this will ever touch Anthony Weiner in any real way, other than putting a target on his back in the eyes of scandal-hungry conservative bloggers. As it stands, grey area and internet nerd talk doesn’t play well as a national scandal. And so barring any blockbuster breaks in this case, Weiner will weather it; one of his peers is bound to screw up soon in a simpler way.
But he should probably be on his best behavior, just in case.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 31, 2011