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Weiner’s Mea Culpa Signals New Era of Virtual Misbehaving

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New York Congressman Anthony Weiner faced reporters today and admitted that for the past three years he has been using social media and other means to send lewd messages and photos to some half a dozen young women. These activities commenced before his recent marriage to Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but did not entirely cease after it.

Before we relegate Weiner to the scrap heap of politicians cut down by a deluded sense of unbreakability, it’s worth reflecting that his particular brand of misbehavior is a new sort, enabled by the digital age. Eliot Spitzer visited a live prostitute. Jim McGreevey and John Edwards had physical affairs, as did Bill Clinton. Dominique Strauss-Kahn allegedly attempted to rape a maid in a hotel room, Larry Craig was accused of soliciting sex in an airport bathroom, and so on. But Weiner, if his story is true, never even met any of the women he carried on with online. In some sense, then, his offense differs from those of the more traditionally lecherous politicans; it’s a thoroughly modern one.

Pondering the nature of that difference leads us in some interesting directions. The nearest pre-digital analog would be someone who flirted via letters and postcards with a variety of partners whom he’d never met face-to-face. It would be up to the wronged significant other to decide whether that form of cheating rose to the level of the unforgivable, as it will now for the congressman’s wife. But while many affairs have been carried on via old-fashioned post, they typically began after the parties had met face-to-face and discovered a mutual attraction.

Twitter and Facebook enable a new and different flavor of relationship. Online social networks foster an immediacy that snail mail letters never could, a sense of being in the same “room,” even if it’s a virtual one. So we might see flirting and carrying on via social networks as more intimate, and thus more wrong.

I predict that Congressman Weiner’s virtual-cheating scandal represents not a weird anomaly but a leading edge. He was incredibly foolish to assume any communication sent over the internet was securely private, but so far we haven’t seen a lot of evidence that even those younger netizens who’ve truly grown up online take their privacy very seriously. As they move into the halls of power, they’ll find they should have wised up when they could – before they take their “private” dalliances online.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.
  • Clavos

    I think you’re right, electronic affairs are likely to spread in the future.

    Consider, for example the already widespread adolescent practice of sexting.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    Rachel Maddow’s graph of political sex scandals last night was both funny and disquieting [she mapped them on two axes: more creepy/less creepy and more prosecutable/less prosecutable]. There have been so many, from both parties, in the last several years.

    I’m not sure I agree that they should be career-ending, at least not all of them. The fact that David Vitter, a ‘family values Christian,’ got reelected after wearing diapers in a baby role playing scene with a prostitute, is disturbing. You’d think he would have been laughed out of town.

    Weiner just may survive, although it’s 50/50. But he will probably not regain his position as a rising star who serves as a very effective TV spokesman for liberal thinking. These guys seem to think there will be no consequences, when there is so much evidence that there will be.

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    Weiner’s already pretty much lost his chance of becoming the next NYC mayor. Although we should never say never…

  • Baronius

    Handy reminded me of Chris Lee, who left office after a Craigslist scandal. Before that, there were Mark Foley’s IM’s. The era of virtual political sex scandals is here.

  • Baronius

    Yeah, I don’t know what happened with Vitter. He was overshadowed by Mark Foley, or it was a Louisiana thing, or something. I do know this: in 1500 years, etymologists will never believe that the word “weiner” existed before 2011. The origin of the word will seem obvious to them.

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    What about all those Oscar Mayer commercials?

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    Confusing the record for etymologist’s 1500 years hence:

    “Would you like to see the Gotham mayer’s weiner?
    (That is what I’d truly like to be.)”

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    mayer=mayor.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    Actually, wiener = sausage [from Vienna, Wien]

    weiner = variant of wagner = wheelwright

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    And a big thank you to Handy, who is standing in for Clavos today as the BC grammar/spelling Nazi.

    :-)

  • Costello

    Poor taste to include DMK with the others.

    Did Vitter have sex or was he just role-playing? That might explain how he survived, along with the forgiveness of his wife and what must have been an inept Democrat.

    Was Lee the guy from western NY?

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    weiner could also mean “one who weeps” in German.

    And if you watched the congressman’s surreal press conference yesterday….there was plenty of wein-ing.

    PS I hate Andrew Breitbart even when he’s “right.” He’s never right, but even when he’s not being deliberately tricky and deceptive. He is an evil schwein. And the way he hijacked the press conference yesterday, before Weiner arrived, was stupefying.

  • Baronius

    Oh, great. I can barely handle “i before e” as it is.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/irene-athena/ Irene Athena

    Not to fear, Baronius. The correction Handyguy made is consistent with the I before E rule. I think?

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    Not exactly, Irene. The Congressman spells his name Weiner but pronounces it “wee-nur.” [I used to have a doctor who spelled his name Wiener and pronounced it “wine-ur.”] Hot dogs are spelled “wieners” or if you prefer, “wienies.” As in Beanie Wienies.

    And in German, they say, “vee-nur,” as in Wiener Schnitzel.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    Sorry, that’s actually “beanie weenies.”

    And Andrew Breitbart? Definitely a Weenie. Or, as Wonkette called him today, a greasy pustule, who will never ever go away now thanks to Andrew Weenie.

  • http://tmackorg.com/ Tommy Mack

    Someone put the jerk back in jerk-off, so what? Clavos’ widespread adolescent practice covers it aptly. But, why should we care? Shouldn’t wanking be ethical?

    Tommy

  • Baronius

    Tommy – He spent a week and a half lying to the press. Badly. That’s tougher for his supporters to forgive.

  • zingzing

    well, unless he starts legislating against mildly provocative images sent via the web, all i can say is that the man’s in good shape. how does he have enough time for that much exercise, one has to wonder.

    i’m certainly not innocent of whatever his crimes are.

    i like weiner. wait. i think he’s a awesome speaker, and i agree with what he says a lot. it would be a shame if weiner’s schlong ruined weiner’s mouth. oh, damn.

    he didn’t waste any taxpayer funds and he wasn’t being a hypocrite. he shouldn’t have lied, but let’s not pretend that’s new, and i assume his relationship with his wife is a bit strained.

    he may have a harder time getting reelected, but that’s on him. i hope he’s a rep for my state for a long time to come.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    Well it is New York, and that’s why he may have a chance to survive this. [Rangel got reelected; and in Mass., Barney Frank after an arguably more damaging scandal.]

    But apparently his seat may be redistricted out of existence…NY is losing two seats after the 2010 census.

    I like the guy, and I’d still vote for him, if it were my district.

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    I’ve long been a fan of AW. He speaks his mind like few politicians do, and he’s been an important, outspoken counterweight to some of the smugger-than-thou, party-line-parroting Republicans in Congress. I hope he survives this scandal, though I have my doubts.

  • http://heloise8.wordpress.com/ Heloise

    My take: Weinergate Productions. You can be stupid and get elected to congress. He is stuck on a double entendre for congress meaning to join in sexual union. Weiner was not well liked and now he’s a pariah.

    It was his weiner and he sent it. Should he step down? Even if a crime were not committed I think he took a long walk across ethical lines and should keep walking until he falls off the virtual plank. Watch out below for falling weiners. This scandal is too funny. Why are scandals so ticklish to the public?

    Poor Weiner has had his public disgrace but no one seemed to call him out but ole Breitbart>

    Heloise

  • http://cinemasentries.com El Bicho

    “he didn’t waste any taxpayer funds”

    if he was on the clock and using congressional equipment, then yes he did.

    if the story is over, he may survive. if there’s more stories and photos to come, he’ll have to step down and get a cable TV job

    Lee was the guy from Western NY

  • zingzing

    “Poor Weiner has had his public disgrace…”

    hardly. if he’d been a little less well-endowed, maybe, but damn, woman, did you take a look at that thing? yeah, we all pretend a man’s sex life is our fuggin business just because he’s a politician. but is it? not really. it’s only fun when their sex scandals out them as hypocrites. if weiner wants to have some fun with college girls, what harm does that do to you? absolutely nothing. now if he was trying to pass legislation saying you can’t have some fun with college girls, that’d be different. but he wasn’t.

    “if he was on the clock and using congressional equipment, then yes he [wasted tax payer money].”

    i’m sure he’s got an unlimited texting plan. or was it all on the internet? and are they ever “on the clock” or off it? either way, he didn’t fly off to argentina on a workday and disappear for a few days. he sent some texts or emails or something. if someone demands that their millionth of a cent be refunded, i guess he could start gathering up coupons and cutting them into 1,000 pieces.

  • http://heloise8.wordpress.com/ Heloise

    zing, by the by “Weinergate” is the proper appelation for this scandal because more has been revealed than ever expected.

    He’s admitted guilt and it could be a crime. It has all the hallmarks of Watergate. If he were the prez he would be sitting on an impeachment.

    I think your second para is what’s got Pelosi on stage calling for an investigation. They suspect an abuse of power. Okay one or two calls or use of office stuff is no biggie but ongoing use of public resources makes him a welfare tweeter. Damn that’s funny. This welfare queen is going down. Who cares if he’s got a big pecker or not? He could use his nose if that pecker ever failed him. That’s funny too. And we know he Jewish but his wife is Hillary’s Arab chief of staff. Isn’t she the pretty one that everyone said Hill was having an affair with?

    So is Weiner her beard? Or was that just gossip? Was she at fault never being at home in bed next to Mr. Weiner? This scandal is interesting more than most for some reason.

    Let me stop while I’m ahead.