In the most shocking political press conference since the last time a some dude was forced to hold a press conference admitting a sexual transgression, New York Rep. Anthony Weiner took to a podium this afternoon to vindicate every joke made about his surname for the last week.
It was all true, a tearful Weiner said. He took that picture of his package. He sent that picture of his package to a young Twitter follower, thinking he was sending a private “direct message” but accidentally posting it publicly. He panicked and deleted it. And then he lied. Oh, also—he had had numerous other “inappropriate” liaisons online with women he met through social media, before and after his marriage last year, sending them pictures of his bare chest (and apparently more) and sexts.
And that may not even have been the most insane part of the press conference.
Before Weiner even took the stage at the New York Sheraton hotel, his online antagonist, conservative publisher Andrew Breitbart, hijacked the podium. Breitbart’s website, BigGovernment.com, had run early reports about the first illicit tweet to surface last week; this morning, it began trickling out photos of a shirtless, pecs-flexing Weiner sent to a single mother on Facebook. (In the background of one, a framed picture of Weiner cuddling with his wife. Shiver.) Breitbart said that he had a far more explicit photo of Weiner (shiver again) that he was holding back, and demanded an apology for, he said, Weiner’s insinuating that Breitbart was behind the “hacking” of his Twitter account that Weiner invented.
I half expected Weiner to come out and tussle with Breitbart, the fight eventually broken up by their boxing promoter. No such luck. Instead, a chastened-looking Weiner, his voice breaking, came out and began, “I have not been honest with myself.” (Not quite sure how that part of it worked. But glad he’s making it right with himself!) Weiner said he would take “full responsibility” for the acts that—with the Breitbart photos and ABC’s imminent interview of his Facebook friend—were about to become undeniable.
The conference was long, often excruciating and—not to credit Weiner for the week he spent lying to the media, his constituents and, by his telling, his wife and staff—self-flagellating. He averred that he and his wife still loved each other, though Huma Abedin did not appear on stage with him (probably to the relief of fans of The Good Wife and anyone tired of similar tableaus). He took numerous questions, though he deflected a question about whether he had had phone sex with any of the women (to protect their privacy, he said) and answered a question about whether any were underage by saying that he only knew what they posted online. (Cue the “her profile looked at least 21!” jokes.) He had been dumb, he had “lied”—he used the word directly—but he was not going to resign.
The conference is guaranteed to push the story to the top of the news again for at least a while, and with that will come questions about whether this is news at all. Let’s say I will not be shocked if it is over-covered. And you can make up your own mind as to whether it would be relevant to your vote. But once a congressman posted a sex pic in public—then claimed he was maliciously hacked—it was news; when he lied about it, and kept lying, and then “accepted responsibility” once the lie was untenable, it was triply news.
The press conference wrapped up around 5 p.m. Eastern (possibly too late for some late-night comedy shows tonight), leading into cable news’ pre-primetime shows. Fox News must have been crowing, right? Not at 5, at least, when Glenn Beck came on, gloated for maybe five minutes, and launched into an hour on Syria and the Middle East. CNN and MSNBC, on the other hand, gave the story much more time in the hour, with both Chris Matthews and Wolf Blitzer, strangely, holding three-dude panels on the political fallout. Because what this story has really been lacking is the male perspective. (Sidebar: Monday night happened to be Scott Pelley’s first as anchor of the CBS Evening News, where he took over for Katie Couric. His first newscast led with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.)
As for Weiner, he seemed shaken, and may be laying off the Twitter for a while. But he did make a point at the press conference that the fault here lay not with social media, but with the social-media user (and what part of his anatomy said user was thinking with). “There’s nothing inherently wrong with these outlets,” he said. “What I did was a mistake.”
Then, with someone in the room yelling “Were you fully erect?,” Weiner walked from the podium. But not, for any time soon, from the news pages. At least until we run out of terrible puns.