Opinion: Rep. Anthony Weiner, tweeting with fire

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I started the day planning to blog about the double-dip housing market and the House of Representatives’ plan for a fake debt-ceiling vote. But then the geeky side of me became fascinated with the (possibly trumped-up) scandal involving Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), the outspoken liberal who generates no small amount of love and loathing from partisans online.

Mediaite has done a nice job rounding up the facts and some of the speculation about the affair. It boils down to this:


Late Friday night, Weiner’s Twitter feed briefly included a tweet directed at Gennette Nicole Cordova, a 21-year-old college student in Seattle, with a link to a lewd photo of a man’s underwear-clad crotch. That photo was posted on Weiner’s account at a photo-sharing site. The tweet and the photo were soon deleted, and Weiner posted a seemingly lighthearted tweet saying he’d been hacked (‘TiVo shot. FB hacked. Is my blender gonna attack me next?’) But about two hours after the original tweet was published, Andrew Breitbart’s right-of-center blog posted the photo and a redacted version of the deleted tweet, saying, ‘Hacked or hung? Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY 9″) finds himself in a late night online pickle.’

Various folks have tried to discern from the few inarguable facts about the incident whether Weiner was telling the truth about being hacked. Fox News’ site, for instance, carried an idiotic piece by RedState blogger Neil Stevens claiming that Weiner’s tweets minutes after the offending post -- tweets that were, incidentally, about the hockey game his TiVo failed to record -- show that his account couldn’t have been hacked. Note to Stevens: It’s child’s play for several people to post simultaneously to a single Twitter account. All they need are the user’s name and password. That’s usually what happens when people get hacked: They don’t get locked out of their account, they merely find themselves sharing it unwittingly.

I’m inclined to believe Weiner, although I don’t for a minute understand why he followed the aforementioned 21-year-old on Twitter after she started following his tweets. That just seems, well, odd; Cordova’s not a constituent, and he’s following only a fraction of the nearly 50,000 people who follow him. She is, however, a journalist (at her college paper), which may be the innocent explanation for how she made Weiner’s list.

I’m also inclined to believe Cordova’s take on the scandal, which the New York Daily News published Sunday. (Best lines: ‘The point I am trying to make is that, contrary to the impression that I apparently gave from my tweet, I am not his [Weiner’s] girlfriend. Nor am I the wife, girlfriend or mistress of Barack Obama, Ray Allen or Cristiano Ronaldo, despite the fact that I have made similar assertions about them via Twitter.’)

What interests me most about this is the dilemma Weiner finds himself in. He’s as media savvy as they come, and he evidently believed that the best way to respond to the incident was to make fun of it briefly, then say no more. That’s one of the first things I imagine that media coaches tell public figures: Don’t add fuel to the fire. But his refusal to talk about this topic has become a story in itself. And he’s basically ceded the microphone to opponents who want to keep the story alive.

Would an elected official be stupid enough to post a lewd picture of himself on Twitter? Given what we’ve learned from Rep. Chris Lee (R-N.Y.), the answer, sadly, is that it’s not out of the question. That sorry precedent makes it more difficult for Weiner to dismiss the incident with a couple of zingers. But then, Weiner has probably said (and tweeted) enough to satisfy the Democrats who liked him before the incident, and it’s not clear whether anything he said or did would satisfy the Republicans who didn’t.


As for me, I’d love to see a screen grab showing where the tweet with the offensive link came from. If it came from yfrog, that would buttress Weiner’s story and pretty much destroy his critics’ claim that he was trying to send the picture privately to the coed as a direct Twitter message. As best I can tell, that’s not possible in yfrog -- all it can do is blast photos to all of one’s Twitter followers.

I suspect that investigators with subpoenas could track the disputed tweet back to the computer that originally sent it. Weiner may not have sought such a probe, however, at least not yet. Instead, he told the New York Post, he’s hired a lawyer to advise him about what to do next. The incident ‘was intended to distract,’ he said, adding, ‘I’m not going to let it do it.’

Good luck with that.

-- Jon Healey