Weiner Twitter-pic story just won't go away
Right-wing commentator Andrew Breitbart began pushing the story over the weekend that a photo showing a man's crotch in snug underwear had been posted from the congressman's Twitter account.
Those initial reports suggested that the provocative photo had been sent in a direct Twitter communication (not visible to other Twitter users) to a young woman in Seattle. The woman denied receiving any photo. The New York Democrat said he had never sent such a picture, or ever met the woman in question.
She agreed that she had never met Weiner, though she acknowledged calling the lawmaker her "boyfriend" on the social network. She explained this as a fangirl gesture, delivered from a distance, rather than evidence the two had any sort of real relationship.
Weiner got so agitated about being asked about all of this on Tuesday he called CNN's Ted Barrett a "jackass" during a confrontation on Capitol Hill. The lawmaker later said he lashed out because the reporter was interrupting him.
Weiner acknowledged that wasn't such a great performance and that he needed to do more to clear the air. So he was back on cable TV Wednesday, this time granting interviews to Luke Russert of MSNBC and Wolf Blitzer of CNN.
Weiner was calmer in those interviews than he had been a day earlier. He insisted he had never sent the picture in question to the Seattleite. But he also said he could not say for sure that the picture was not of him.
“It certainly doesn’t look familiar to me," Weiner told Blitzer. "But I don’t want to say with certitude to you something that I don’t know to be the certain truth.” Hmmm. Not exactly conclusive. And things got a little bumpier and more halting as the congressman tried to explain whether he had ever taken such a picture of himself.
“I can tell you this, that there are, I have photographs, I don’t know what photographs are out there in the world of me," Weiner said. "I don’t know what things have been manipulated and doctored. Um, and we’re going to try to find out what happened.”
Weiner declined to answer when pressed by Blitzer as to whether he had ever communicated by direct message with the Seattle woman. “Look, I am not going to get into how I communicate with people on social media," he said.
Asked to explain why he would have received another message, this one allegedly from a stripper, Weiner suggested his Twitter account might have issued a "pro forma" response, like ones that would have gone to others of the roughly 45,000 people who follow his 140-character missives. Weiner keeps up a lively, sometimes combative narrative on Twitter, making him one of the most popular lawmakers on the social media site.
Weiner, 46, tried a lot of angles to make the mess go away Wednesday. There was humor: “It seems like a prank to make fun of my name. When your name is Weiner that certainly happens a lot.” There was empathy: "I would just hope you would leave these people alone," he said of his Twitter followers. "They didn’t do anything wrong for following me.” There was the commonweal: "I want to talk about the debt limit and health care reform."
Weiner married former Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin last summer, in a ceremony officiated by Bill Clinton. When Blitzer asked if his responses were designed to protect someone, Weiner replied, "Yes, I am protecting my wife."
The congressman said the pursuit of rumors in the story had gotten so silly that a blog's list of attractive women he followed on Twitter included his sister-in-law. But the furor seemed unlikely to conclude at least for a few more days. Those who wanted to keep it alive looked for a bigger public policy issue: If a congressman's social media account had been hacked, wasn't this a potential security threat to all of Congress? And shouldn't an investigation take place, to make sure the lawmakers could keep their online accounts secure?
Others were questioning Weiner's tactics in trying to blunt the questions. "Anthony Weiner's non-denial denial about the pic sure undermines his defense," said Daily Beast media and political writer Howard Kurtz on, yes, Twitter, "and casts doubt on hacking tale. Why'd he wait almost a week?"
On CNN, commentator Gloria Borger talked about the advantages and pitfalls of interacting with constituents on social media sites. “It establishes this sense of intimacy," Borger said, "and that can be good and sometimes it can be really bad."
Photo: U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) as he met with reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday to dicuss a photo from his Twitter account. The lewd picture was a close-up of a man in tight underwear. Weiner denied that he sent the photo via social media, but he said he couldn't be certain it was not of him. Credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images