Weigel

The Dangers of Sticking Up for Wiener

Let’s pretend that Anthony Weiner didn’t manhandle this story. Let’s imagine that instead of immediately claiming his Twitter account was “hacked,” he took the gift available to him and gave a surprising press conference on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. He came clean; he said he’d carried out sexy text and photo and chat communications with six women.

He’d still be in trouble, but if he’d done this he would have spared one group of people from collateral damage. I’m talking about the liberals, in office and in the movement, who defended him. That first week, he let a bunch of liberal-leaning pundits explain that he was probably just the target of a smear campaign. Jane Hamsher on MSNBC:

I think you did hit the nail on the head when you said Andrew, the words Andrew Breitbart. If he is now the gold standard for news, if we`ve got, you know, in Congress right now, they have a resolution to disapprove of the war in Libya, that they won`t let onto the floor because they think it would pass. But we are now going into day four of Weiner gate.

Joan Walsh on MSNBC:

He said that he didn’t send the pictures out. And my position from the beginning has been, I`m inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt because this originated with Andrew Breitbart, who released the selective, the deceptively edited ACORN tapes that people tried to use.

Jeffrey Toobin on CNN:

In his defense, I think we do need to point out that the person behind this is Andrew Breitbart, who’s made a practice of targeting Democrats, Shirley Sherrod most notoriously of all. And his stories tend to fall apart on close inspection.

This take was mirrored by a mostly blog-driven campaign to suss out the truth about what must have happened to Weiner. Who was Dan Wolfe, the one person who saw the original tweet? Did someone hack Yfrog? After the story collapsed , there was that inevitable, tedious second act: Choosing sides. Ed Schultz was one of the first liberal pundits to call for Weiner to go, but he was pretty lonely – he was the only pundit saying that on the episode of his show that aired after the Weiner press conference. This isn’t really surprising, because Schultz is a former conservative who started his career in the Midwest and only relocated to New York to host his show. He approached it morally, not strategically, and he didn’t litigate the issue of whether, because Weiner wasn’t in the business of legislating morality,* so a scandal like this didn’t matter.

When people say Weiner doesn’t have friends, they’re referring to his lack of strong allies in Congress. You could widen the net – at the end of this he’s not going to have any friends in the movement, either. This isn’t a situation like 1998, where liberals were defending a president who lied. Weiner is far more expendable. 

*In a manner of speaking. He didn’t oppose abortion rights or gay marriage, but he did co-sponsor legislation in 2007 to crack down on online sexual predators.