Rep. Anthony Weiner finally called the police Thursday — but not to investigate the hackers who the New York Democrat claims hijacked his Twitter account to send a lewd photo to a coed last week. Instead, Weiner’s staff sicced Capitol Police on Marcia Kramer, a reporter for New York’s WCBS-TV who showed up in the Brooklyn congressman’s D.C. office and tried to get an interview. “All I want is for him to say something to his constituents, the people who have to vote for him,” Kramer told Weiner’s press secretary, who responded by saying that his boss had done all the interviews he intended to do about the so-called “WeinerGate” scandal.
Kramer managed to talk her way out of being arrested, but her experience Thursday in some sense symbolized Weiner’s problem: Every time he talks to reporters about last Friday’s incident, he digs himself a little bit deeper into a hole of implausibility. Even his staunchest political allies can see that Weiner is lying — or at least trying to hide some guilty secret — and so he finds himself increasingly at sword’s point with the media, which has gone into feeding-frenzy mode at the irresistible scent of an apparent cover-up. This is intensely ironic, given that the seven-term Democrat has long been one of the liberal media’s favorite members of Congress.
For the benefit of readers who perhaps don’t have a TV and who today logged onto the Internet for the first time, a brief recap: Late last Friday night, on the online social networking site Twitter, a message from Weiner’s account (@RepWeiner) was sent to the attention of a 21-year-old college student. The only content of that tweet (as Twitter messages are called) was a link to a digital photo of a man in gray underpants, shown only from the waist down, whose turgid phallus was bulging quite prominently. Within minutes, the offensive tweet was deleted, although not before being seen and copied by several of the congressman’s more than 40,000 Twitter followers. Weiner quickly claimed that he was the victim of computer hackers, but the incident was reported as a news story at Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment.com site, and by Saturday afternoon had become a major topic of conversation among bloggers. The intended recipient of the crotch-shot tweet was Gennette Cordova, a student at a community college in Bellingham, Washington. Ms. Cordova issued a statement Sunday evening to the New York Daily News in which she denied being Weiner’s mistress. (Weiner is married to a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.) Ms. Cordova said she had never met the congressman, and explained that her claim on Twitter of being his “girlfriend” was meant as a joke.
Because it was Memorial Day weekend — with Congress out of session and most reporters on holiday — there hadn’t been much mainstream media coverage of the story as of Tuesday morning when The American Spectator asked, “Is America Ready for WeinerGate?” That quickly changed, however, when Weiner met Tuesday with a small scrum of reporters in the Capitol and suffered perhaps the worst press-conference meltdown in political history. While the congressman now attempted to dismiss the offensive tweet as a mere “prank,” CNN producer Ted Barrett kept trying to ask the obvious question: If Weiner was the victim of an online identity thief, why hadn’t he reported this apparent crime to law enforcement? Weiner’s response was to call Barrett a “jackass,” ensuring that video of the press conference became a viral Internet sensation. Appearing the next day on CNN, Barrett said that because Weiner “didn’t appear to be forthcoming… our flags went up.”
Many other flags went up as well. The piranhas in the political press corps smelled blood in the water and, when Weiner scheduled a daylong round of TV interviews Wednesday — including Luke Russert of NBC News and Bret Baier of Fox News — he faced more questions to which he refused to give straight answers. Asked by Russert if the now-infamous photo was actually him, Weiner answered: “You know, I can’t say with certitude.” Referring to the claim that his computer had been “hacked,” Baier asked: “Do you have suspicions of who did it?” and Weiner answered: “I’m not an expert at this stuff.”
If Weiner was innocent, he was certainly giving a world-class imitation of a guilty man. And even in the friendliest media venue possible — Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC program — Weiner managed to make matters worse by trying to joke his way through the interview. As Andrew Breitbart said in a telephone interview late Thursday, Weiner’s appearance on the Maddow show was “Eddie Haskell hiding behind a lot of snark.” (Weiner’s tendency toward inappropriate humor was also noted by Washington Times columnist Emily Miller.) Some liberal bloggers seeking theories of how Weiner might indeed be a victim of hackers have openly accused Breitbart himself of orchestrating a smear, but the conservative Internet entrepreneur laughed off their speculation as demonstrating their deficiency in deductive logic. “They must not have watched ‘Murder She Wrote’ or read any Encyclopedia Brown mysteries,” said Breitbart, whose new book Righteous Indignation describes his one-man war against what he calls the “Democrat media complex.”
Members of that media complex, however, appear to be losing patience with Weiner’s increasingly desperate attempts to deflect questions about his online embarrassment. On Thursday, liberal pundit Jonathan Chait of the New Republic recalled previous accounts of Weiner’s womanizing reputation. “Understanding Weiner’s character makes it very easy to believe that he would tweet a lewd photo to a young woman,” Chait wrote, concluding that “it’s hard to generate much sympathy for the man.” Even those who felt sympathy for Weiner could scarcely resist the conclusion that he was in a mess of his own making. CNN’s Jack Cafferty said watching Weiner’s Wednesday interview with that network’s Wolf Blitzer “was sort of like watching one of those Buddhist monks set himself on fire. You feel bad for the guy, but it’s impossible not to watch it.”
Among those watching Weiner’s self-immolation with obvious satisfaction was the award-winning conservative blogger known as Ace of Spades. His notoriously rowdy blog, whose commenters proudly proclaim themselves “AOSHQ Morons,” has been a must-read source on the WeinerGate scandal for the past six days. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, after Weiner’s press-conference meltdown, Ace recounted the behavioral evidence of the congressman’s guilt. Early Thursday, after the congressman’s Wednesday round of interviews had done nothing to quell the media furor, Ace compared Weiner’s situation to that of rock singer Hayley Williams. A year ago, Williams similarly blamed hackers for sending out a topless photo of her via her Twitter account. That particular mystery was quickly solved when it was discovered the singer had made a simple mistake: Sending the photo as a public Twitter message, when she actually intended to send it as a private direct message (DM) to her boyfriend.
The evidence that Weiner might have made some such mistake has been accumulating for nearly a week. When the congressman’s office announced Monday that he had “retained counsel” to advise him how to handle the case (which most obviously could be solved by reporting the alleged “hacking” to the FBI or Capitol Police), it was Ace who observed: “Victims call cops. Perps call lawyers.” What remains to be seen is whether reporters for the mainstream press will play the role of hard-boiled detectives and continue interrogating the suspect until he finally breaks down and confesses.