Should We Care About Anthony Weiner’s Wiener?

So, Anthony Weiner is a lying dick. Does it matter?

So, it turns out, Anthony Weiner is not only the sort of man who sends photos of his underwear-encased private parts to young woman but a lying SOB who spends weeks professing that his account has been “hacked” and demanding that the police investigate the injustice that’s been done to him.

Should we care?

There’s a strong argument to be made that we shouldn’t. After all, the women involved were of legal age and, insofar as we know, consensual recipients of Weiner’s junk shots. Isn’t it really a private matter with little impact on his public business?

Megan McArdle offers a solid effort at the standard retort:

My take on the Clinton scandal at the time was that it got about the right result. Clinton lied under oath. And while I might ordinarily have been sympathetic to complaints that he shouldn’t have had to answer such questions, my understanding is that Clinton himself signed into law the legislation under which his behavior–with, mind you, a state employee–was illegal. At which point, I thought the only person in the world who should have had to answer those questions was sitting in the dock. We impeached him, sending the message that, no, you don’t get to lie under oath just because you’re the president, and then we didn’t punish him, sending the message that no, we are not crazy enough to remove the leader of the free world from office over a minor sex scandal.

But later I read Jeffrey Toobin’s rather sympathetic account. And I was shocked. I’d had no idea how reckless Clinton had been, dragging off this girl he barely new for a little, um, grip-and-grin. It was completely, astonishingly irresponsible. For all he knew, she might have walked out of that office and told the world. He was playing around with her while he was on the phone with major world figures. Does that tell us something about how Clinton did his job? I think it has to.

Then again, Clinton was the commander-in-chief of the World’s Last Remaining Superpower. Weiner is 1/435th of one half of one third of the U.S. federal government. Still, Megan argues,

What he actually did is bad enough: sexting from work?  With strangers he met over the internet?  As with Clinton, this is strange and reckless behavior for a public figure whose inappropriate behavior could be used to blackmail him.  I don’t think it’s somehow out of bounds to point it out, or how much we’re losing by having less available air time to report forgettable sniping between Republicans and Democrats over the debt ceiling.

(The issue is very important.  Most of the reporting right now says the same thing over and over with new quotes, and no one except other journalists appears to be reading it. Not the fault of reporters–we still have deadlines even when not much is happening.  But I’m skeptical that we’re really sucking all that much oxygen from Vital Issues of The Day.  If a major news event actually happened–say, the debt ceiling or a nuclear reactor was breached–we would quickly forget all about Anthony Weiner’s, er, alleged acts of photojournalism.)

Maybe it’s because I’m older and tireder but these days, the “not our business” school of sex scandal seems to function as a get-out-of-monogamy-free card for powerful men who want to behave badly.  If Anthony Weiner were to, say, start randomly swearing at a constituent and calling her terrible names, would anyone argue that we should not report this on the grounds that the behavior’s legal?  How about if he’d been tricking old ladies out of their pension checks with a shady stockbrockerage? Sure it’s legal, but we think it tells us something about his character, and that it’s actually useful to know those sorts of things about the people we elect.  Gallons of ink have been spilled over Newt’s attempt to discuss the terms of his divorce while his wife was recovering from cancer surgery*, and rightly so; it’s an act of epic self-absorption, and it’s hard to believe that this would never have affected his job performance.

I think this is right. Is it a huge story in the grand scheme of things? Of course not. Is it news? Yep.

And I don’t have any animus against Weiner, who I know almost exclusively from his appearances on Jon Stewart’s program. He always came across as a reasonable fellow. (I’ve since gathered from DC area news radio that he’s not particularly well liked by his fellow Congressmen, either generally or within the New York delegation. But that could well be a feather in his cap.) Yes, he’s a liberal Democrat. But anyone elected from his district would be, too, so I don’t have any particular interest in seeing him go.

But his is another in a seemingly endless line of stories of powerful men behaving badly. It’s worth some attention, even if the drip-drip-drip nature of the story gave it undue attention. But I’d point out that Weiner could have put an end to that by not compounding his indiscretions with lies.

FILED UNDER: Media, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    Ah, the juxtaposition of “wiener” and “drip-drip-drip.” Kudos, sir!

  2. Chad S says:

    Up to his district now. He’s come clean to all of us, so unless there’s something illegal, we’ll know after next year.

  3. CB says:

    eh, to come clean after weeks of twisting like a pretzel, i dont give him too much credit. hes obviously stubborn, willing to lie through his teeth, and well, kind of a creepy dude. all of which speaks to his character. but i agree with chad…its up to his constituents. if i were one, the alternative would have to be pretty awful for me to put my support behind the guy.

  4. It’s official, Weiner is a dick.

    The man has no honor. It is profoundly depressing to hear so many say that this isn’t all that important.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    I am not responsible for tweeting this picture.

  6. Hey Norm says:

    Clinton lied under oath about an affair that evidently McArdle still can’t let go of. Weiner lied, but not under oath. So there goes that right wing canard. Folks like McArdle should worry more about their own sexuality and not that of others. The country has serious problems and Weiners Weiner isn’t one of them.
    If it turns out some of this was non-consensual or worse if a minor is involved then it’s different. Until then I think we need to spend more time making sure seniors have to negotiate with private insurers over what their vouchers can cover and what it can’t.

  7. James H says:

    This scandal proves that one should never see how laws or sausages are made.

  8. OzarkHillbilly (used to be tom p) says:

    John Ensign anyone? Not making excuses, just wondering, where was the vitriol? Weiner was (is) a Weener….

    Ensign is a dick head. Where is the outrage?

  9. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    Since Weiner didn’t commit the crime of being a Republican it’s only natural that the usual suspects (media, academia, Internet) largely will adopt a laissez faire attitude or at worst from Weiner’s standpoint an ambivalent attitude towards this sordid episode. That’s a function of demographics. We would expect nothing less.

    Out in the real world, however, far less in the way of misbehavior has in the past and will continue in the future to result in very powerful people (CEO’s, etc.) getting shit canned.

    When someone looks you in the eye and then lies through his teeth right to your face that speaks volumes about that person on various levels. When that person holds an important decision-making position their lack of veracity calls into question their judgment, which in turn calls into severe question their fitness to retain their position. When said person holds a public office the magnitude of the impact of their untrustworthiness is magnified. For reasons that are beyond obvious, although ironically enough not necessarily obvious in a media newsroom, a campus setting or on the Internet, when a public official stacks layers upon layers of lies it becomes virtually axiomatic that they lack the sound judgment to be entrusted with taxpayer-funded employment.

    Incidentally, although Rep. Weiner is only 1/435th of the lower chamber his vote does have the potential to affect the outcome of legislation that impacts the country at large. We’re not talking here about a file clerk.

    Simply put, it’s not Weiner’s weiner that’s the issue. That in many respects is a straw man. The issues are the demonstrated lack of judgment, the now-admitted lack of truthfulness and the now-admitted scapegoating campaign in which he engaged. And that’s only what we know so far. If none of that really matters, then we’ve really slipped as a country.

  10. michael reynolds says:

    People, people!

    Can we not simply enjoy the fact that a man named Weiner tweeted his wee wee? Must everything be partisan? Is there nothing that can unite us as Americans?

    I fear for our future.

  11. OzarkHillbilly (used to be tom p) says:

    Until then I think we need to spend more time making sure seniors DON’T have to negotiate with private insurers over what their vouchers can cover and what it can’t.

    Fixed that for ya Norm (I know what you meant to say..)

  12. TBogg says:

    Since Weiner didn’t commit the crime of being a Republican it’s only natural that the usual suspects (media, academia, Internet) largely will adopt a laissez faire attitude or at worst from Weiner’s standpoint an ambivalent attitude towards this sordid episode. That’s a function of demographics. We would expect nothing less.

    Out in the real world, however, far less in the way of misbehavior has in the past and will continue in the future to result in very powerful people (CEO’s, etc.) getting shit canned.

    The real world:

    It is estimated that roughly 30 to 60% of all married individuals (in the United States) will engage in infidelity at some point during their marriage (see, Buss and Shackelford for review of this research). And these numbers are probably on the conservative side, when you consider that close to half of all marriages end in divorce (people are more likely to stray as relationships fall apart; also see, who is likely to cheat).

    I’ll just add that if there was no infidelity there would be no country music. Not that that wouldn’t be a desirable effect…

  13. CB says:

    Tsar,

    If none of that really matters, then we’ve really slipped as a country.

    oh, put away the smelling salts and get up off the fainting couch.

    the guy is just a dick (heh heh…) one of many.

    seriously though, i agree with michael. if we cant all come together and enjoy a good dick joke, were done for.

  14. Hey Norm says:

    Tsar…fine…if lying is the standard then Palin the Pathological Is first to go.
    Ozark…you are correct…but I was trying to point out that McArdle is fixated on wieners and wants 80 year olds to have to negotiate with insurance companies while holding a voucher specifically designed not to keep pace with health care costs…so consider the source.

  15. An Interested Party says:

    Out in the real world, however, far less in the way of misbehavior has in the past and will continue in the future to result in very powerful people (CEO’s, etc.) getting shit canned.

    Really? Who are some of these CEOs and what caused them to be shitcanned?

  16. Liberty60 says:

    After careful consideration, I think Weiner should be given that most strict and stern of all treatments, the David Vitter treatment, wherein he is given a standing ovation by his fellow members when he returns to the chambers.

  17. Jim Treacher says:

    Should we care that he lied about it and tried to ruin the people who told the truth?

  18. ponce says:

    Wow, TBogg posting here.

    A touch of class..

    Safe to say the fringe right will be sucking on the Weiner story for weeks to come.

    The rest of us can put Weiner behind us.

  19. michael reynolds says:

    ponce:

    Thank you. Finally someone who gets it.

  20. Herb says:

    Should we care that he lied about it and tried to ruin the people who told the truth?

    Yes to the first question, but I don’t care that he “tried to ruin” Breitbart. Breitbart’s lucky that he finally found a liberal he could take down without making stuff up.

  21. mpw280 says:

    It must be so hard for you libs to swallow that Breitbart had it right and that you fell for the liberal press’ spin that Weiner didn’t broadcast his wiener. I would feel for you except for the fact that the press will explain it away. I hope his wife is as forgiving as you all are, except that she may be not as stupid as you all are. mpw

  22. Raoul says:

    Did he send a pic of his junk? I thought it was only underwear.

  23. bains says:

    The country has serious problems and Weiners Weiner isn’t one of them

    “Weiners weiner” was never the problem, his lying was; Clinton’s lying about marital infidelity wasn’t the problem, his perjury was. And in both of these stories, the medias’ duplicity certainly is.

    The empowerment of an advocacy media, while temporarily beneficial, is still an empowerment. At a future date, it is almost certain that that advocacy media that you empowered, will advocate something you abhor.

  24. Southern Hoosier says:

    Chad S says:
    Monday, June 6, 2011 at 21:36

    Up to his district now. He’s come clean to all of us, so unless there’s something illegal, we’ll know after next year.

    It may be up to his district, but what Weiner and others like him does on the floor of congress affects us all.

  25. rodney dill says:

    I am not responsible for tweeting this picture.

    Just couldn’t wait to deploy the Cuke-lear option, eh?

  26. rodney dill says:

    I wonder if we’ll get a Weiner-in-a-box SNL skit now.

  27. john personna says:

    1. It’s possible that being named Weiner does something to a guy.

    2. I don’t really care.

    3. If anything, it seems an example of the narcissism of the political class.

  28. john personna says:

    (Though, if he were in my district, I’d vote him down. I expect decorum.)

  29. Wayne says:

    Re “He always came across as a reasonable fellow”

    Evidently you need to watch him on a show where the host isn’t super friendly to liberals. The guy is a nutcase. Just look at the press conference when the story broke. “If I was in room with 25000 people …..”

    I notice James and Reynolds was so quick to be dismissive of Lee when he had a similar scandal.

    Yes there are so many more important stories to cover like another Palin hit piece. (Sarcasm off)

  30. Herb says:

    like another Palin hit piece.

    To paraphrase Joe Scarborough, every piece on Palin is a hit piece.

  31. G.A.Phillips says:

    I don’t care, WEINER IS AWSOME!!!!

    I wonder if we’ll get a Weiner-in-a-box SNL skit now.

    lol, How about a Hanes commercial with M.J. skit…?

  32. Janis Gore says:

    I’m not particularly offended by his peckerdilloes, but I’m not Huma Abedin.

    He should be shot for this exchange on Facebook.

    “This thing is ready to do damage.” Gag me. With a spoon.

  33. John Weiss says:

    mpw280: Breitbart got something right. A stopped clock gets it right, too.

    Doesn’t mean that Breitbart suddenly isn’t a lying sack of crap, does it?

  34. Why is it so hard for our friends on the Left to just say that Weiner disgraced himself and his office without having to add, “but you/Palin/Brietbart suck too!”?

    It’s aas though the political is personal.

  35. CB says:

    um, its not? most will readily admit that weiner is, ahem, a tool.

    oh, and breitbart sucks.

  36. That’s one.

  37. Southern Hoosier says:

    I wonder if we could get Anthony Weiner to sing the

    OSCAR MAYER WEINER SONG?

    Oh I wish I were an Os-car Mayer Wie – ner
    That is what I’d tru-ly like to be
    ’cause if I were an Os-car May-er Wie – ner
    Ev-ery one would be in love with me.

  38. Wayne says:

    @James
    Your memory must be short. Many of the main bloggers stated that people need to drop the Weiner story because there are more important stories to cover. I also haven’t seen any post on Obama’s false statements about the auto bailouts. What I have seen is post after post on Palin.

    So what is more important, a possible Presidential contender ad hoc jumbled statement on a history event or a President’s false prepared statements on a current event?

    Don’t get me wrong, Palin’s statement interest me to. However those who claim that we need to get over talking about other stories because there are more important stories to cover sound like a lot of B.S. when you consider what they are covering.