Weinergate Unravels: The Congressman Denies the Tweet Was His, but Can’t Place the Picture

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President Obama clashed with House Republicans at a White House confab, the Dow plummeted amid heightening fears of a catastrophic default and new reports revealed anemic job growth. Meanwhile, Washington spent its Wednesday atwitter over Chris Christie’s helicopter, the Palin-Trump pizza summit and Anthony Weiner’s Twitter account.

To tamp down questions about the lewd photo posted on his Twitter feed, Weiner launched a media blitz Wednesday, 24 hours after he stoked speculation by dodging direct queries in a combative scrum with Capitol Hill reporters. During interviews with MSNBC, CNN, ABC and other outlets, Weiner said he did not send the photo to its alleged recipient, a Seattle-area college student, and that he was a victim of a “hack,” a “prank” or a “hoax” perpetuated by a juvenile trickster. “Someone sent a picture of a weiner from Weiner’s account,” the congressman told ABC News’ Jon Karl. “I’ve been hearing that joke since I was five.”

Weiner also chided reporters for latching onto a frivolous prank  — though more gently than he did the day before, when he likened persistent reporters to pie-hurling hecklers and called one a “jackass.” Speaking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Weiner mused, “At what point do we say, you know what, we’ve kind of jumped the shark here. It’s kind of gotten a little bit crazy.” These sorts of kerfuffles, he added, are bound to crop up in the Internet’s shadowy corners. “It seems to me that this is what goes on in the Internet world, in the social media world, of 2011,” he said. “Sometimes this happens.”

There’s no question the incident has ignited a pretty sordid media firestorm. As for these things happen — well, no, not really. Anytime Wolf Blitzer is asking a congressman about his alleged correspondence with a porn star and brandishing photos of bulging boxer shorts in the Rayburn Building, the cameras are going to roll. And Weiner has fanned the blaze by sitting down with the national press without an answer to one of two key questions: Is the photo of him? He can’t say “with certitude” that it is or isn’t.

A skeptical Blitzer tried to rescue him. “You would know if this is your underpants, for example.”

“I have photographs, I don’t know what photographs are out there in the world of me,” Weiner replied. “Photographs can be doctored, photographs can be manipulated, can taken from one place and put in another. And so – that’s – and I want to make it clear this is, in my view, not a federal case. In my view, this is not an international conspiracy.”

It was a surreal exchange in a deeply awkward interview, one whose dodges and non-denials only invited further scrutiny. To get the press to pack away the circus tents, Weiner will have to explain the origin of the photo; he has so far parried questions about why he hasn’t asked authorities to investigate the alleged hack by downplaying the seriousness of the issue. “This has turned into kind of this international whodunit,” he said, seemingly bemused. He said he has hired a law firm to investigate the security breach. As he noted, the young woman corralled in the scandal has confirmed his statement that the two do not know each other.

Widely considered among the front-runners to succeed Michael Bloomberg as New York City mayor, Weiner is a sharp-tongued combatant who, until very recently, was something of a media darling thanks to his appetite for dramatic partisan brawling. (He likes to use “scrappy” as a self-description in messages to his more than 52,000 Twitter followers.) But his vaunted media-savviness seems to have abandoned him in a moment of need, and tweaking reporters for their prurience isn’t doing him any favors. Reporters, as Weiner acknowledged, are doing their jobs. If he can’t answer their questions soon, it could wreck a promising political career.

That’s not to say it will, and certainly not that it should. (There is, to pick just one example, a sitting Senator with links to a prostitution ring.) Nevertheless, the conservative agitprop machine is practically breaking out the popcorn as they watch one of their tormentors squirm, and some of his Democratic colleagues in the New York delegation are less than sympathetic. As the story churns on cable, it’s worth bearing in mind the effect it has on others–including the photo’s unwitting recipient, and Weiner’s new wife Huma Abedin, a Hillary Clinton aide. “She’s a remarkable, remarkable woman,” he said. “Hopefully my marriage survives my first anniversary.”

In the meantime, Weiner has plunged back into the Twitter fray. “Ok,” he wrote Wednesday evening, “howz about i get back in the game over here. #ScrappyHasBlownPastCrazy.” At the very least, they’ve merged.