Media Behaving Inexcusably on Weiner Twitter Photo

If an intimate photo of a female member of Congress was posted online, she would get sympathy, not the third degree.

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Imagine this scenario: A youngish, recently married, female member of Congress learns that someone has sent a tweet to a fraternity house-follower of someone alleged to be her, allegedly from her own Twitter account. Her face is not in the grainy photo, but her breasts are, covered up by a lacy bra. It’s a provocative photo, one that is embarrassing to the congresswoman. She has no idea who would have done such a thing or why.

She gets the photo deleted, but when she comes back to work, she is surrounded by hounding reporters. Did she send the photo? Are those her breasts? If she really didn’t really send a sexy picture of herself to some college guys, why doesn’t she demand a police investigation? Is that reticence not proof of some guilt on her part? [Check out a roundup of this month's best political cartoons.]

Had that episode indeed happened to a woman, undoubtedly there would be an outcry. The media would be accused of blaming the victim. She would be defended as an upstanding member of Congress whose only crime was being ambitious and a bit in-your-face. But the scenario involved a male member of Congress, and New York congressman Anthony Weiner is enduring a radically different media reaction.

Here’s what we know: Someone tweeted an intimate photo, allegedly of Weiner, in his underpants. Yes, his name is Weiner—and yes, it’s pronounced WEE-ner. Ho, ho, ho. The woman who received the tweet says she does not know him; he says he does not know her. He says someone hacked into his Twitter account to pull a prank. He immediately deleted the tweet as soon as he became aware of it.

Unfortunately, it did not end there. The media demanded to know: Were those his private parts beneath the fabric of the underpants? Weiner—perhaps too honestly—rhetorically shrugged, saying he could not say with "certitude" that it was not a photo of him. That was the congressman’s mistake, although it was an understandable one in our YouTube, tweet-crazy, cell phone camera-stalking world. He should have paused, displaying an appropriately appalled face, and told the voyeurs--oops, I mean, media representatives--that it was none of anyone’s damn business whether he or anyone close to him had taken an intimate photo of him. But he frankly held open the possibility that someone had done so, and then the media went into overdrive.

On Capitol Hill, Weiner was swarmed by reporters in the Speaker’s Lobby. Never mind the looming financial crisis that could come from the failure to raise the debt ceiling. Or the massive debt itself. Or the GOP presidential campaign announcements. Or entitlement reform. No, the questions were shot at Weiner with an accusatory tone generally reserved for prosecutors interrogating serial killers: Was that, well, HIM, or rather, HIS, in those underpants? Is there a possibility some such photo of him exists, asked another reporter? Why hadn’t Weiner demanded a full investigation and prosecution of the crime, asked another? Weiner—who had gamely agreed to answer questions about something extremely personal—tried fervently to get an answer out before someone launched another rhetorical torpedo at him. It wasn’t a press availability; it was a mob. One half expected one of those present to demand that Weiner unzip. [See a slide show of who's running and who's not in the GOP primaries.]

Weiner’s used to the jokes about his name, undoubtedly having heard them since the sixth grade. As he pointed out, maybe if his name were "hamburger," the photo might have been different. He’s joked quite hilariously himself about his moniker, rhetorically asking Speaker John Boehner (who pronounces his name BAY-nor) why he doesn’t just embrace the name, and call himself BOH-ner. After all, Weiner said in a very amusing address at a press dinner, he doesn’t try to pass himself off as WAY-ner.

And true, Weiner’s demeanor can be a bit aggressive, even as it is bitingly funny. He’s like Capitol Hill’s answer to Larry David—clever, smart, ambitious, and edgy. Actually, he’s pretty … pretty… pretty… edgy. He dishes it out on the House floor, and he’s always been able to take whatever is thrown back at him.

But the behavior of much of the media toward Weiner is inexcusable. If he harassed a woman by sending her an inappropriate photo, that is indeed worth looking into. But no one, including the woman in question, has alleged such a thing, and it’s doubtful someone as savvy as Weiner would do something so supremely stupid, anyway. Weiner has declared himself a victim of Twitter invasion, and certainly, he’s a victim of an outrageous invasion of privacy. If someone (His wife? An old girlfriend? Himself?) took a photo of him in his skivvies, that’s his private business. And if a woman had been violated in such a way, her underwear photo sent to a Twitter follower, she would rightly be afforded sympathy, accompanied by outrage for the person who humiliated her. Weiner deserves the same consideration.

No matter how he pronounces his name.

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