Anthony Weiner’s Twitter Trouble

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Ben Smith, senior political writer for discusses the lewd tweet Representative Anthony Weiner sent out last week, and the controversy that’s ensued.

Weinergate!  Briefgate! Twittergate!

What would we do if we didn’t have things like this to make up names for?

When a photo of a man’s brief-clad crotch was tweeted from Congressman Anthony Weiner’s account to that of a young Seattle woman this weekend, the story quickly grew from a tweet to a slew of corny headlines. Weiner initially said it was the work of a hacker, but he has since quietly lawyered up. Wiener himself declined to be interviewed for this story. Weiner has repeatedly denied sending that picture, but only asserted that he “could not say with certitude” that the photo was not him. While that lack of certitude has certainly caused some laughs, Ben Smith said what is really troubling is that it is so unclear what Weiner himself thinks happened.

It would be one thing if he was alleging that it was hacked and he had nothing to do with this and it was all sort of a plot against him. That’s all fairly straight forward. But now he’s saying that somebody else potentially had a picture of his genitals, and somehow put them on the internet from his account? I mean, anything is technically and physically possible, but suddenly, kind of a baroque explanation is required.

The woman herself initially told the Daily News that the photo was from a guy who had been harassing her for some time. Later, however, she seemed to backtrack, tweeting confusingly that she does not support, nor does she doubt the hacker theory.

Smith said she probably doesn’t know much more than anyone else, as the tweet in question was taken down before she saw it. He said she is handling the spotlight well.

She, being a 21 year old college kid, is far better at rapid response and online communications than any member of congress. She has handled this with great ease, in a way that most adult politicians would be envious of.

Hacking is a crime, but Weiner, instead of bringing in the police, has hired a lawyer and an investigator. Smith said it’s hard to know what is behind that course of action.

Hiring a private firm rather than going to the police suggests that maybe there’s something that you do not want to be shared publicly. But given that a picture of his erect penis was just shared publicly, what would that be? I don’t know. He’s just in a position where everyone is utterly puzzled.

Former Mayor Ed Koch suggested that Weiner might be reluctant to report it as a crime because if he did send the picture himself, the false reporting of a crime is also a crime. That is only speculation, however Smith said no plausible alternative explanation springs to mind.

The simplest explanation, obviously, is that he sent the thing.

One of the things that Smith pointed out as making it plausible that this was a hacking was the origin of the news. The photo was first noticed by a Twitter follower of Weiner’s who seems to have some sort of obsession with tracking Weiner’s interactions with young women.

When you have somebody making a case obsessively, you worry that that person creates evidence to prove that case, and when that person is the one to notice the evidence first, you worry about that a little. But if that’s what happened, then there’s really no reason for Anthony not to call the cops.

The person in question is a Twitter personality who goes by the name of Dan Wolfe. The politically-active conservative Twitter user tweeted weeks before the incident, on May 11th,  that there would be an Anthony Weiner explicit photo scandal. Smith pointed out that no one really knows anything about Dan Wolfe, including if that is even his real name.

Weiner follows only a few hundred people himself, most of whom are either political colleagues or actual friends. There are recent allegations that aside from these two categories there is a number of attractive women who he also follows. Smith is skeptical about these allegations. He said there are men who Weiner follows as well as women, and that in fact at one point Weiner offered to follow anyone who tweeted him with the hash tag #weineryes. 

I suppose there’s some debate about whether those people are disproportionately young women. It’s possible. He basically spends his time on MSNBC these days, which may be watched largely by young Democratic women… that may be who’s following him.. It seems to me that who you follow on Twitter is not the most interesting thing here. He also follows some unattractive guys.

A caller from Long Island said while the allegations are not surprising, he was a little disappointed by the frenzy around it.

I don’t see this kind of frenzy to get tot the bottom of the recession, I don’t see this kind of frenzy to find out why there are no charges from the Justice Department yet of any major players that caused the recession and all the fraud that took place. But a little photo of this kind on Twitter, and it’s like catnip.

Smith said he felt a little conflicted about covering this story. Though highly compelling, it does take advantage of what is either Weiner’s victimization or a person’s personal alleged sins.

Politics is and has always been not some sort of bloodless abstract pursuit, but it’s very much about the people who are in it, and this is part of that, and sex is part of that.

The local back story now, said Smith, is that the Democrats who might have expected to run against Weiner in the next mayoral election are calling into question whether he has the judgment necessary to be mayor.

You’re not seeing a unified Democratic front supporting Anthony, by any means. He's starting to step into the waters of a mayoral campaign here, and there’s a lot of jostling and others are looking at this as an opportunity to step ahead of him.


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Comments [56]

amalgam from Manhattan by day, NJ by night

@ ken mac - Prove that Weiner is a liar. You can't because he hasn't claimed anything one way or another. You must not be following the story closely otherwise you would understand that.

Sure call him creepy. Sure hate him. So what.

Doesn't matter because unlike other politicians who have broken the law or stated that they are above moral reproach when it comes to some presumed "kinkiness" in a sex scandal, Weiner has at no point claimed to be morally superior to others. He can't be called a hypocrite because he's not from the religious right so he literally has nothing to apologize for, especially when nothing has been determined. Kinda nice (and smart) to be socially liberal.

The reason why people are standing up for Weiner is because he is a good politician that serves the wishes of his constituents. Sounds to me that you are a reactionary right winger. Too bad you don't have a vote to get him out of office...

Jun. 03 2011 02:52 PM
ken mac from michigan

WOW, a lot of Weiner appologists around here. Do you morons actually still support this creep? Really? I would be ashamed to say I voted for this loud mouthed pervert to begin with. Now he lies to everyone (looking them in the eye as he does it) with some of the most ludicrous explanations ever spoken and you sheep are still supporting this smarmy, lying, creep. Well, there is your first problem NY, you elect this immature liar and downright worm to represent you... ???

Jun. 03 2011 08:59 AM

Link to Maddow's blog post on the YFrog ease of access to non-account holders:

Jun. 02 2011 12:07 PM

Finally, I'm somewhat aghast at the wall-to-wall coverage of Weiner, that it's already being labeled on our TV's as "Weinergate."

Over the weekend I'd come across one of the DKos descriptions of what might very likely have gone down with Dan Wolfe (tweeting as Patriot76, iirc) who seemed to have a precog ability to tweet about things which had not yet happened.... And that Breitbart, whose long list of fake stings and exposes have not made him radioactive to the MCMers, was involved.

I figured this was one Breitbart attack which would be smothered by facts.

Instead, it's almost as if I'm back in the summer of 2001 -- and the MCM has decided Anthony Weiner will be their Gary Condit of the season.

Remember when some said 9/11 would mean the MCM would pay attention to serious issues? Like high unemployment, nominally around 9% but when all those without jobs who want jobs are counted is at least in the high teens if not low 20's? Think about that: ONE FIFTH of our population is un- or under-employed.

And this gets what kind of attention????

Jared Diamond in "Collapse" wrote that societies fail when the elites are too far removed from the pain changes are inflicting on the greater portion of that society. And our media elites--do they play a role in that disconnect? Our possible looming societal failure? The DC types sure don't seem very concerned about unemployment, not even its effect on the economy. Maybe losing office will cause them to think about such things....

And, another huge problem, global warming, anyone? Just going a bit meta here.

Jun. 02 2011 12:02 PM

Ray from Red Bank mentioned that Rachel Maddow did a segment on how these tech tricks work -- and said one of her producers had replicated the photoshop "hack" of a Tweet (in less time that it takes to make a two-minute egg) and a viewer had used a search to find the "private" and secret email to YFrog for one of Maddow's producers. The viewer then used the email address to send a photo to the YFrog account, and followed up with an account of what she'd been able to do with photo evidence.

So...the techniques are available and easy to do (I couldn't, with my very limited knowledge, but those somewhat more savvy would find it easy-peasy).

Maddow's segment link:

There's a link to her blog for "Trick of Tweet", which gives the written version of the what she talked about on the air.

I've been leery of Facebook for these reasons -- and it seems the media have been sold on FB being just great for news. Hhhmmm.

Jun. 02 2011 11:52 AM

I've been having trouble posting this morning -- tried two different browsers -- same lack of response. Tried two different segment to test -- cldn't post. Is it me...or WNYC?

But, other commenters have brought up, complete with links to DKos (nicely presented, Steve from NY @ 10:15AM; nice addition to the info pool), blog posts which have looked at the technical issues is detail, sometimes mindboggling detail.

But, it seems pretty clear that the photo in question, no matter where it originated, was not sent by Weiner.

Also, I was not aware that every follower of Weiner received that photo -- anyone have a citation or link for that information? THNX!

The most amazing thing is the YFrog doesn't even require hacking -- it's just an issue withYFrog's set up that someone can access an account without a password and drop a photo into someone else's account. And get it Twittered! Big OOOOPS, YFrog developers.

I write as a non Twitter/YFrog user, so forgive any terminology mistakes. BUT, I've been amazed that almost every MCM report I've seen or read has no idea about these tech issues, which have been discussed in depth on the Internet for at least 4 days now.

Don't MCM (Mainstream Corporate Media) types use search engines, like, ya know, Google???

Jun. 02 2011 11:41 AM
ray from red bank

i find it hard to believe that someone as media savvy as congressman weiner would make such a novice mistake. even if by some off chance he did send the photo, why should that reflect poorly on him as a member of congress, its not as if he is a "family values" guy. this has nothing to do with his policy positions, which is what we should be judging him by. sex scandals ruin the careers of hypocrites who rail against activities they themselves are participating in.

the fact that congressman weiner follows the twitter feeds of some attractive co-eds is a should be a non-issue. isnt the whole idea of twitter to follow peoples tweets? are we saying that only "attractive" people can be sexualized, that if he was following a bunch of fugly co-eds it wouldnt be an issue? this is so stupid.

congressman weiner has stated from the very beginning that his account was hacked. brian and his guest made this seem like an implausible idea.
on the rachel maddow show last night she ran a segment that illustrated how simple it could be to hack into someones twitter/yfrog account and send a picture using the other persons account. also, she showed documents that stated most pictures congressman weiner posted on his yfrog account originated from his blackberry, however, the crotch picture did not have a picture origin.

although this story is somewhat entertaining, there are way more important issues going on in this country, that get no media coverage. the amount of time spent on this story is ludicrous and is diverging our attention from the real issues. this is exactly what the perpetrator wanted and we are playing right into their hands

Jun. 02 2011 11:15 AM
William Terdoslavich

I'm looking at "Weinergate" from a wider perspective. Not a month has gone by recently without some man in a position of responsibility and power getting into trouble for making an unwanted advance at a woman. And these incidents are always "irrational", regardless of whether the advance was accepted or not.

Jut this past month, we've seen sex scandals surrounding Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), former senator John Edwards (D-NC), IMF chief Dominique Straus-Kahn (France-Socialist), and now Weiner (D-NY). Let's not forget that a special election for a House seat was also resolved in western NY state, prompted by the resignation of a Republican congressman who transgressed as Weiner "allegedly" did.

At what point do we ask ourselves this question: can men be entrusted with responsibility and power if they consistently act with such poor judgment?

Fifty years ago, many men claimed that women were not cut out for executive responsibility because they were too emotional and hormone-addled to make reasonable judgments. In subsequent years, women have proved this claim to be untrue. Given all the recent scandals involving men chasing women, have we reached a point where men are too emotional and hormone-addled to be trusted with power and responsibility?

This question has not yet crystallized in public debate. But it will soon.

Jun. 02 2011 11:03 AM
lin2rose from Ditmas Park, Brooklyn

1. Joe from Jersey states it succinctly.
2. He's damned if he says too little and damned if he says too much. The press needs to cover significant news such as: a.expenditures for wars that are bankrupting us for what! ; b.the distaseful logjam in Congress and c.the fact that the "middle class" and unions are under attack as "scapegoats" for Bush's profligate spending and squandering the Clinton surplus and the Medicare Trust Fund!! 3.Who said that "anti-intellecuals" like Palin, Bachman and McDonnell plus opportunists like Trump, Beck and Palin should "define" the electoral debate and allow crooks to continue to steal from us and our progeny. Brian, I love you and your show and you know better. Let's help the Ameican people focus on where our counry is really going!!!

Jun. 02 2011 11:01 AM
Katie from Brooklyn

What is the big, fat, hairy deal?! (No pun intended...)

Assuming he did send it, that's between him and his wife, and maybe the recipient, though she does not seem to be upset. It's not a crime, and it has nothing to do with his service as a representative or his abilities as a potential mayor. Why are we such a bunch of prudes and busy-bodies??

Jun. 02 2011 10:53 AM
Elizabeth from NYC

@Nick, I agree that Americans can be too puritanical and hold our politicians up too highly, denying them a sex life. I can think of a couple politicians who were skewered unfairly.

However, sending a photo of genitals on-line could be considered harassment. If the girl came upon the pic unexpectedly, it could be traumatizing. Lastly, as someone pointed out, it questions the judgment of a potential mayor.

Jun. 02 2011 10:48 AM
CL from NYC

This discussion is adding not one iota of value to the story. Unsupported opinion and innuendo-- clearly the bulk of this segment-- do not "clarify the facts." BL is forever invoking the standards of "journalism" (as if his show were not primarily entertainment and the epitome of middlebrow analysis). Perhaps building a segment on this dreck, with a "senior political writer" from (what a joke!) will give the lie to that nonsense.

BTW, how many times in the past several minutes has BL said "I don't want to..." and then proceeded to do just that?

Jun. 02 2011 10:44 AM
steve from NY, NY

steve from NY, NY
Breitbart is the story, not Weiner.

The repeated fraud and fakery from Breitbart, and the fact that the mainstream media keeps falling for it, is the obvious real issue.

As IT people who actually know something have pointed out, for a whole bunch of reasons this is obviously a hack. Given how twitter works, it does not matter if the photo is him or not, still an obvious hack. see:

Jun. 02 2011 10:15 AM

Jun. 02 2011 10:44 AM
Fuva from Harlemworld

Events of the last couple of weeks -- Schwartzenegger, DSK, the Egyptian Bank Chairman, etc. -- have been illustrative of a significant aspect of the psychoses of folks in power, who we too often (consciously and unconsciously) defer to. We really must put them in perspective, and take heed.

Jun. 02 2011 10:43 AM
hyperkinetic from Brooklyn

It's obvious to me that Andrew Breitbart, Dan Wolfe, et al are behind this whole event. The right can only win when they play dirty.

Jun. 02 2011 10:42 AM
Bill from Midtown

Hey Brian, why are you using kid gloves with Weiner's weener? You and WNYC would be all over a Republican. Let me be the first to coin "Weinergate".

Jun. 02 2011 10:42 AM
gary from queens

Having said that (Martin), I do insist that liberals grow up and accept that Weiner is being judged and is under the same scrutiny that Republican legislators are getting.

You live by the sword . . . .

Jun. 02 2011 10:41 AM

It's not a little thing, he's a public figure who represents a constituency and he should act accordingly.

Jun. 02 2011 10:40 AM

Do you think it would be any easier on him if he admitted it was him?

Would you want to admit that similar pics were taken of you?

I know lots of folks, including myself, who've had risque pics taken for some boy- or girl-friend.

If he honestly believes it isn't him and then it turns out it's a pic that a former girlfriend had on her desktop? They he's screwed.

Worst thing he is guilty of is being just another guy.

Jun. 02 2011 10:40 AM
The Truth from Becky

C'mon don't be naive...he obviously did it and he is obviously lying! White men have been lying and cheating and whoring all over town all gotta be careful before you click send!

The sooner he admits it, the sooner they will forgive him, there are no consequences for this behaviour!

Jun. 02 2011 10:39 AM
Pam from NY

Who cares?!!!

Jun. 02 2011 10:39 AM
Nick from UWS

Brian, people are not angry because you're "piling on" Wiener.

People are angry because this is a STUPID ISSUE.

Jun. 02 2011 10:39 AM
uscdadnyc from nyc

Mr. Smith mentions that Rep. Weiner has an interest in young women. Wasn't there a Congressional Scandal involving Congressional-Interns a few years back? Was Rep. Weiner implicated in this also?

Jun. 02 2011 10:39 AM

What we need is someone (an ex-girlfriend, or ex-housemate like Jon Stewart) who can paraphrase Lloyd Bensen and authoritatively state: "I knew Anthony Weiner. Anthony Weiner was a friend of mine. This is not Anthony"s Weiner." :-)

Jun. 02 2011 10:39 AM
Sandra Jordan

This is such a boring waste of my time I am now turning off the radio. Who really cares. Not me.

Jun. 02 2011 10:38 AM
Drew from Williamsburg

Did I miss it? Have you mentioned who broke this story?





Jun. 02 2011 10:38 AM
Nick from UWS

Really Brian? Grown, supposedly intelligent adults seriously discussing this meaningless moronic infantile "issue"?

Anthony Wiener is not supposed to have a penis or a sex life? How can ANYONE take Americans seriously as adults when people get hysterical about a blurry snapshot of a guy in his underwear?

What is WRONG, what is WRONG, with Americans? WHY WON'T WE GROW UP?

Jun. 02 2011 10:37 AM
Leah from Brooklyn

Who. Cares.

Jun. 02 2011 10:37 AM

A. Weiner is in fact acting a bit strange, but the bottom line is: why is this such a big deal? Any guy who would send a picture like this of himself is a loser and sleazy and I wouldn't want to date but why the uproar? It is not a crime. It is not even a betrayal. Only in the US where puritanism goes so hand in hand with a heightened "prurient interest" (to quote the esteemed justices) is this possible.

Jun. 02 2011 10:37 AM

Creates evidence. Innocuous flirting from a public figure? I guess "boys will be boys"...should we chalk this up to that?

Jun. 02 2011 10:37 AM

Brian --
1. do you play any role in this that you are not stating, as his friend? did he ask you for your opinion?

2. also, is wiener married? if not, what is the story here -- just the lie? is it a rumination on whether it is acceptable for "normal" people to include the internet as part of their sexual lives?

Jun. 02 2011 10:37 AM
Cory from Reality

How can you waste air time on this crap?

Jun. 02 2011 10:36 AM
Fuva from Harlemworld

And whether he sent it is an issue only because he denies it...

Jun. 02 2011 10:35 AM
MartinChuzzlewit from Manhattan

I agree with both Gary and gary !!!!!

Jun. 02 2011 10:35 AM
Karl Wiemer from Park Slope

Well I've a bit of sympathy - I've lived with the "wiener" jokes for fifty years myself - but really! C'mon Anthony, you're no newbie to politics. No certitude? Did you expect that to really answer the issue?? I'm surprised.

Jun. 02 2011 10:35 AM
Ira from Park Slope

Brian, it's time for you to demand Weiner appear in a police line-up with pants downs for the victim to identify the culprit. (You would demand the same for a Republican, right, Brian?)

Jun. 02 2011 10:35 AM
dutch from brooklyn

I find it curious that this coincides with the Sun NYT Meghan McCain profile in which she expresses her admiration for Weiner's wife and implying she finds her "hot".

Jun. 02 2011 10:33 AM

Why is Ben Smith speaking of "Anthony"? If the two are friends, then Smith (or should I say "Ben") can hardly claim to be objective. (Not that he is anyway, or anybody else among the sycophantic grovelers at Politico.)

Jun. 02 2011 10:32 AM
moocow from manhattan

Everybody knows it's a picture of his own "below the beltway".

Jun. 02 2011 10:32 AM

puh-leeze! You don't know if you have pictures of yourself in your underwear on your hard drive?


Jun. 02 2011 10:31 AM
Fuva from Harlemworld

At issue is not whether it's Weiner in the photo, but whether he sent it, correct? It's his business if he takes pics of his business(perhaps some WNYC listeners can relate...), correct?

Jun. 02 2011 10:30 AM
Tom from Toronto

Time to put a fork in this story.

Jun. 02 2011 10:28 AM
Evan from New York, NY

I heard someone describe this as Weiner's "wide stance" moment. He's given this incredibly baroque "well, there could be a picture of me and someone photoshopped underwear on..." Come on, Congressman. That may be the case (doubtful), but that's the defense of a guilty man. Either there's a picture of you in your underwear somewhere or there isn't. If there is, admit it. If not, say, "I don't take pictures in my underwear." Not this.

Jun. 02 2011 10:28 AM
Fuva from Harlemworld

Does the title of this segment take it as a foregone conclusion that Weiner sent it?

Jun. 02 2011 10:27 AM
Joe from Jersey

The pic is no more lewd than 'famous designer' underwear ads plastered in public on huge billboards...and this was done in private!
Double standard. Who cares.

Jun. 02 2011 10:27 AM
gary from queens

Washington Times columnist Jeff Kuhner----no friend of Weiner----stated on the Steve Malzberg Show Wednesday that he had information that makes him suspect that the Obama people hacked into Weiner's files and released the photos. Why? Because Weiner, a Clinton man, has been very critical of Obama admin.

Weiner has been using the internet to get laid. Fine. That's what single men do, legislator or anyone. But he messed with Obama, and Obama has destroyed people in this way. it's his MO from the chicago days.

Jun. 02 2011 10:27 AM
Gary from Upper Left Side

I'm lovin' this! Weiner--your last name is soooo appropriate. This guarantees he WON'T become mayor. (Thank, God.)

Jun. 02 2011 10:27 AM
Henry from Manhattan

I'm already sick of Twitter and Facebook posts constantly making headlines.

Jun. 02 2011 10:27 AM

tuning in for this one since i understand that there is a strong friendship between aw and bl...looking forward to bl's personal take...

Jun. 02 2011 10:23 AM

Makes me want to change my name to billionaire !

Jun. 02 2011 10:22 AM
Joe from Jersey

The pic is no more "lewd" than the Calvin Klein underwear ads plastered in public on huge billboards....and this was done in private!
What a double standard. Who cares.

Jun. 02 2011 10:21 AM

And public figures can be that dumb!

Jun. 02 2011 10:12 AM

If it was fraud, Weiner would be fighting back--not saying he's tired of talking about it.

We have enough examples of horny politicians getting caught, then saying something never happened AND then FINALLY admitting to their transgressions (with loving wife standing by their side)--what makes Weiner any different? Looks guilty to me.

Jun. 02 2011 10:12 AM
Lloyd from Manhattan

Since Breitbart is involved, the whole photo incident stinks of fraud.

Jun. 02 2011 10:07 AM
Martin Chuzzlewit from Manhattan

"I can't say with certitude that the City of New York isn't fortunate that the political life of this dishonest, bizarre little man may be ruined."

"The Man Who Would Be Mayor"......heaven help us.

Jun. 02 2011 09:48 AM
JT from LI

The way he's been stressing that it's a prank and his reluctance to talk about it makes me think that he knows who did it and doesn't want to get the person in trouble. Someone who was with him at the gym or when he was changing did it, maybe pretending to do it and pressing the wrong button by mistake.

The alternative is that Weiner was dumb enough to do this, and dumb enough to do it on Twitter. I really have to hope that no adult, especially a public figure, would be that dumb.

Jun. 02 2011 09:45 AM

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