The Anthony Weiner twimmolation saga ended today with all the dignity began with: a heckler (Benjy Bronk from The Howard Stern Show) shouting his resignation speech down, cable-news anchors saying the word “sexting” repeatedly and Weiner saying he would step down “most importantly, so that I can continue to heal from the damage that I have caused.”
I’ll leave to my colleagues at TIME’s Swampland and elsewhere to analyze Weiner’s political future, if any. As a TV critic, it was most interesting to me to watch CNN cover the event live, with Wolf Blitzer and John King asking whether Weiner could mount a political comeback, without raising the (maybe more likely) possibility that’s already being floated: that Weiner could end up a pundit on cable TV, perhaps on their own network, CNN.
Why the speculation? (And it is, right now, nothing more than that.) Well, a couple years after he left office in disgrace from a prostitution scandal, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer is now Blitzer and King’s co-worker. Whatever the penalties for personal embarrassments in politics, the statute of limitations is shorter in media. More important, the numbers in media just work differently than in politics. To win a seat in Congress or the mayor’s office, you need a plurality of votes. To be a success as a cable-news commentator, it’s fine if a lot of people hate you, as long as a significant, loyal fraction love you enough to watch. And whatever Americans in general think of Weiner, there may be a significant following of progressives who still like his voice and his politics and believe he got a raw deal. That’s a built-in audience!
Of course, not every disgraced politician can automatically go on to a second career in media, or wants to. But there are a couple of factors that may make Weiner a particularly likely candidate. For starters, he needs a job: he doesn’t have an immediately apparent second career or massive personal fortune to fall back on. And more to the point, his most significant accomplishments in Congress may have been as a communicator and firebrand.
As I wrote in a column, up until Weiner fell apart through Twitter he was, publicly, a really effective user of social media. And he was a showman—not just in that sense. On the floor of Congress, he was the guy you could count on for the attention-grabbing, sarcastic speech, with props, to defend PBS. (In the postmortem coverage, I heard the argument made that one reason Weiner didn’t have more support from Democrats was that he was seen as a grandstander. But grandstanding + alienating colleagues = not necessarily a deal-breaker in a media career!)
Weiner was in the grand tradition of the kind of politician of whom it is said that the most dangerous place to be is between him and a camera. (Again, not just that kind of camera.) Maybe he was theatrical, maybe he was pugnacious, maybe he had enemies. But that’s showbiz! Would I watch his show? God, no! But I’m not the audience for the nightly cable-news blood-pressure pumps anyway. Weiner has a proven ability to put on a show and engage an audience. (Once again, not just that kind… well, you get the point.) Just ask Sarah Palin how much being polarizing damages a cable-news career.
The other side of the equation may be tougher, namely: which network would take him? CNN, home of Spitzer? MSNBC, home of “Lean Forward”? Current, needing a lineup to surround Keith Olbermann? Fox, looking to zig instead of zag?
I’m not sure I see a spot for Weiner right now, but I’m also not sure that much matters, since he would in any case have to spend the requisite period in the wilderness (the Spitzer standard is about a year and a half) before getting signed, and who knows which network might need staff then? It may be a long shot, but it’s not insane: cable pundits worrying about Anthony Weiner’s job future might just want to keep one eye on their own.