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 Politico.com 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.