Press Box

Anthony Weiner’s Semantic Satiation

The sexting doesn’t bother me. The copious apologies on top of the pile of lies do.

Anthony Weiner at his press conference

When lies fail to stop the bleeding, the only thing that will remove a politician from scandal is a New York televised press conference in which he tells the truth, lots of truth, ample truth, excessive truth, and then still more truth until the reporters start to become dehydrated, the camera batteries start to fail, the Klieg lights finally burn out, and the Arctic’s melting glaciers inundate the island of Manhattan, and then just keeps on talking until every reporter, every constituent, and every viewer has expired from boredom.

That appears to have been Rep. Anthony Weiner’s plan this afternoon as he took the podium at the Sheraton Hotel to apologize and apologize again for having used Twitter and Facebook to get cyber-sexy with six women over the past three years. He called his behavior, including his many lies about claiming he’d been hacked, “a terrible mistake.” He said he was sorry so many times that his utterances reached the point of semantic satiation—completely bled of meaning and heard only as strange repetitive sounds.

The Weiner performance, which by my clock lasted only a half-hour but seemed endless, destroyed the antics of the undercard performer, Andrew Breitbart, who hijacked the press conference by seizing the podium at 4 p.m., the time scheduled for Weiner’s act of contrition. Breitbart held forth for 11 minutes, demanding apologies from Weiner and all the left-wing bloggers who’d accused him of hacking Weiner’s account. At first, Breitbart’s Kanye move seemed like an act of ragged genius, but he didn’t really have a brilliant message to maximize his mike grab. By the time Weiner left the podium, it seemed like ages since Breitbart had interceded.

Deeply regret, deeply regret, regret, regret, regrettable, regrettable thing, Weiner chanted. He dug deeper, saying he wasn’t making “any excuses for his behavior” and that he accepted “full responsibility” for what he had done. Ever since Mickey Kaus ripped Attorney General Janet Reno for saying she accepted “full responsibility” for the torching of the Branch Davidian compound, I’ve been suspicious of politicians in a jam who embrace the I-take-full-responsibility formula. It means nothing—except, perhaps, get off my back—unless the politician 1) makes things right, 2) resigns, or 3) moves to another planet.

Weiner owes me no apology for his serial lies because I understand that that’s what politicians do when they’re cornered by their fibs or unseemly behavior. I’m not even sore with him for scapegoating the press over a problem of his own making. That, too, goes with the territory. Nor am I outraged that he went onto national television to attempt to cover up his lies, telling Rachel Maddow that he wasn’t “trying to be evasive” and he just didn’t “know” whether the tweeted drawers photo was of him. For me, when the mass of lies equals the mass of apologies, the whole package congeals into some new sociopathic form for which there is yet no name. (Weinerite, perhaps?) That he was caught lying about his personal life, and not about public policy, doesn’t really matter to me. By demonstrating that he’s as good a liar as he is an apologizer, Weiner tells us everything we need to know about him.

I’m less judgmental about the “sin” that Weiner confessed to this afternoon, of sexting his junk or his chest shots to six women over three years. If you’re as old as Weiner (46) and have never done something naughty but still legal, you’re probably immune to the power of human desire, have no sense of fantasy, and have been living in a locked veal cage in a convent basement. You don’t have to be a libertine to not care about a politician’s kinks, as long as those kinks don’t get in the way of his job.

The most painful apology that Weiner appears to have tendered at his press conference was not to his wife, his family, his staff, or his constituents, all of whom were subjects of his contrition, but the one he gave to Andrew Breitbart after reporters kept hounding him for one. When he said, “I apologize to Andrew Breitbart,” I smelled a lie.


Don’t sext me at or my Twitter feed. (Email may be quoted by name in “The Fray,” Slate’s readers’ forum; in a future article; or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)

Track my errors: This hand-built RSS feed will ring every time Slate runs a “Press Box” correction. For email notification of errors in this specific column, type Satiation in the subject head of an email message, and send it to