Weinergate's Lasting Impact: The First Big Social Media Political Sex Scandal

It seems fitting that Anthony Weiner's surrealistic meltdown of a press conference came on the same day that Steve Jobs unveiled another path to making our lives more virtual, more convenient, and more risky.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

New York Congressman Anthony Weiner has his definitive claim to fame. He's center stage in the first big social media political sex scandal. It seems fitting that his surrealistic meltdown of a press conference came on the same day that Steve Jobs unveiled another path to making our lives more virtual, more convenient, and more risky.

The fixation of the American media, and at least a large part of the media-consuming American public, on sex, and sex involving very high-profile political figures, has been very much on display over the past month or so.

The International Monetary Fund chief and French presidential frontrunner indicted for allegedly springing nude from behind a closed door and trying to rape a hotel maid. The Netroots' favorite candidate of 2008 indicted for using what supposedly should be seen as campaign contributions to hide the fact that he had a baby with his videographer mistress in the midst of running for President of the United States. (I think he's innocent as charged, by the way.) The former California governor and global movie star whose long private lovechild with a staffer was suddenly leaked to the press. The brash married New York congressman and star of liberal cable news chatfests who engages in sexting and forms of virtual sex with women he's never met in real life.

New York Congressman Anthony Weiner tearfully acknowledged his behavior yesterday in an extraordinary spectacle of a press conference. That's far right web impresario Andrew Breitbart at the podium, adding to the surreal air of massive distraction.

The last one is the one that really intrigues me, especially as I consider the video news clip below in which Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveils a massive new proposal to lure us all into a brave new world of cloud computing in which we entrust all manner of our stuff to the great databank in the sky. (Actually a server farm at the proverbial undisclosed location, taking the collective place of individual hard drives as we shift to smaller and lighter post-PC devices.)

Are we wise to entrust our stuff to the Cloud? Wise to place our private entertainments and intimate information in the care of anonymous, and inevitably fallible, technology? Any wiser than Weiner in foolishly trusting in his techno-savvy and entrusting his reputation to people he's never actually met?

The other current sex scandal examples are more mundane, certainly from a sociological standpoint.

Rape, if that is what it is in the case of the former future Socialist President of France, is an evil that has been with humanity always, at least since the caveman invented the club and almost certainly before. It's a tool of rage, hatred, and oppression used both individually and collectively in contemporary wars.

Children out of wedlock, another form of distinctly inappropriate behavior, though distinctly less pernicious even if both present cases involve employees, is nothing new. It's practically a tradition in Europe, and I suspect is far more prevalent in America than those of tender sensibilities would like to imagine.

What is new is the case of the inaptly, or perhaps too aptly, named Congressman Weiner.

As I understand it, as someone who's been both unfaithful and faithful in relationships, the key to cheating is keeping it secret. And one of the obvious keys to keeping something secret is being involved with someone that you have at least some degree of confidence will maintain the secret.

In this case, we have the exact opposite.

In the Facebook/Twitter variant, and Facebook is I believe where Weiner said, in his extraordinary press conference Monday afternoon, he met all these women -- to the extent that he had actually met them at all -- there is no reasonable expectation of secrecy at all. Using his real name, and his public profile as a prominent congressman, with all sorts of electronic evidence of his behavior freely left with people who are nothing more than virtual acquaintances -- and in some cases amazingly recent ones at that -- Weiner behaved in exactly the opposite way that a cheating husband of old would.

Is cloud computing the new thing? Apple CEO Steve Jobs, back for the moment from his latest medical leave, unveiled "iCloud" at an annual developers conference yesterday in San Francisco.

Of course, he may not think he was a cheating husband. It wasn't long ago that then President Clinton heatedly declared on national television that he never had sex with that woman, whatever her name was. Whatever.

Perhaps it was the odd reality/unreality of social media that seduced Weiner. The essentially faux and insubstantial nature of social media is why I don't particularly care for it.

Is a Facebook "friend" a real friend? Quite possibly not. I found Facebook messaging to be mostly lighter than air. It's no accident that the favored form of pronunciamento for Sarah Palin, before she discovered Twitter, that is, was the Facebook status update.

Was sheer underlying exhibitionism, one of the driving forces of social media, the real point in this first ever social media political sex scandal?

Perhaps it was the sheer insubstantiality of what he was doing that led Weiner to be so incredibly reckless. After all, he didn't have real sex, he didn't meet in person, it was all done via the Internet and the telephone -- little muss, no more than a modicum of fuss, and on to the next political tweet.

The irony, of course, is that he left far more evidence, all of it far more public and embarrassing, than the average cheating husband of old ever would have.

And all of it so self-absorbed and self-aggrandizing in appearance. After all, the condemning pictures weren't taken by a paparazzi or a private dick, they were taken by him. And they're not of him with any of his playmates. They're all of him showing off.

Had he had what I suppose we should now call an in-person affair, or four or five, the evidence would have been harder to come by, as his partners -- assuming they consented to the involvement -- would have more of a stake in privacy and be less able to cast themselves as mere recipients of a freakish attention. And his wife -- Huma Abedin, a very substantial figure in her own right who is a class act by all accounts -- would likely have been less embarrassed. Probably far less so.

Ironically, it's the very weightlessness and insubstantiality of his dalliances, creepy though they seem, and their ADD nature, that makes them so toxic for him.

If they had real weight, if they had real heat, if they existed on something other than a screen he might have stopped to consider that actions generally have reactions, and thus potential consequences. At least he would have bothered to cover his tracks better.

Instead, he has left treasure troves of incriminating evidence, all of it digitized and ready to be transmitted around the world in an instant.

Weiner became a darling of the liberal cable news chat circuit, for all the good it's doing him now.

So, what of Weiner? I don't know him, pay scant attention to him on cable news, which I seldom watch, and have never before checked into his Twitterstream. I spend vastly more amounts of time thinking about another man named Weiner, who pronounces it Why-ner, i.e. Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner. (And, yes, it's too cheap and easy to say that the congressman's pronunciation of his name was a cry for this sort of attention.) Therefore, naturally, I am uniquely qualified to opine on the congressman's character.

Aside from knowing the obvious, that he is a thrill seeker, as many in this world are, I would say that it is hard to know the forces which drive a person's life, not infrequently even our own. Those who conform to social norms may smugly judge themselves worthy. Yet they may simply be driven to conform. Those who strike out boldly may simply be acting out. And so on.

We are, in one way or another, all frail vessels behind the curtains of our own private Oz. The only question is to what degree that is true.

Meanwhile, we all have yet another excuse to snigger about sex.

Popular in the Community


What's Hot