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Julianne Escobedo Shepherd: Why Progressives Should be Mad at Anthony Weiner

June 8, 2011

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Having cyber-infidelities may be a privacy issue, but by lying about his sexy TwitPics, Rep. Anthony Weiner may have put important progressive issues at risk.

By **Julianne Escobedo Shepherd**

By arrangement with Alternet.Org.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-NY, held a press conference Monday afternoon in New York to admit that the underwear photo sent to a 21-year-old in Seattle was, in fact, real. “Last Friday night, I Tweeted a photo of myself that I intended to send as a Direct Message as part of a joke to a woman in Seattle,”” he said. “Once I realized I had posted to Twitter, I panicked, I took it down, and said that I had been hacked. I then continued to stick to that story, which was a hugely regrettable mistake.”

Weiner scheduled the conference after two other women came forward saying they, too, had exchanged sexy pictures and emails with the congressman, and after right-wing fire-stoker Andrew Breitbart published two more sexually suggestive photos on his Web site BigGovernment.com.

Huma Abedin, a high-powered aide to Hillary Clinton and Weiner’s wife of one year, did not attend the press conference. When asked by reporters where she was, the congressman responded, “She is not here. She made it clear that she thought what I did was very dumb.”

Andrew Breitbart, who hijacked the stage before Weiner took to the podium, predictably displayed an incredible amount of arrogance and entitlement. Breitbart brazenly took questions from the press, playing every bit the “vindicated” soothsayer. “Quite frankly, I’d like an apology for him being complicit in a blame-the-messenger strategy,” he said, assuming the role of the victim who was burned by Weiner’s dishonesty.

To be sure, Weiner should have been forthright from the beginning, but Breitbart’s megalomania precludes the fact that many, many more people deserved an apology long before the right-wing blogger, not least of which included Weiner’s wife, his friends and constituents.

And apologize, he did. “At the outset, I’d like to say I made terrible mistakes, I’ve hurt the people I care about the most, and I’m deeply sorry,” said Weiner.

Certainly he should have known what the right-wing media would do … But his actions after the fact—the lying, the denials—are what truly call his character into question.

The year of high-powered men embroiled in public sex scandals soldiers on its revolting path with Weiner’s confession, although this case differs from, say, John Edwards’ baby/money scandal, Schwarzenegger’s lovechild revelations, or Chris Lee’s Craigslist solicitations for sex. First, though Weiner admitted to having sent the emails, he claimed that he never used government property to do so—he said he sent the photos from his home computer, which is believable (it’s hard to picture him in his office in Washington taking off his shirt and snapping a webcam pic). In that sense, he did not break any laws.

Weiner admitted to text, email, and social media-based relationships of a sexual nature with six women over the course of three years, but said that he has never met them, nor has he engaged in sexual relationships with them. “I am sorry and I continue to be,” Weiner told reporters, “but I don’t see that anything I did violates the rules of the House. I don’t see that anything I did violates my oath of office to uphold the Constitution.”

Secondly, Weiner is not a social conservative, and has, in fact, made his name on being outspoken, brash and unflinching, a true New Yorker. Hypocrisy is what made Lee resign; as Weiner noted in the press conference, he will not step down. Further, though his wife Huma Abedin refused to play the supportive spouse by his side at the press conference, Weiner says they will stay together.

She must be furious. And, without acting Breitbart-y and putting our own feelings before hers, as progressives, we should be, too.

Last week, while Weiner was busy denying the photographs were his and allegedly hiring a lawyer, he told MSNBC that he thought the incident would not distract voters from the important issues. “I think most of my constituents,” he said, “people who know me, are able to keep their eyes on the prize.”

We would have loved to. But by lying so grossly and egregiously for days—by not owning up to the one single photo that likely would have prevented the other women coming forward and certainly would have curtailed Breitbart’s smear campaign—Weiner is distracting from the real business of governing. By waiting to admit to the photos, he has endangered Democratic, liberal and progressive ideals, which are already on the line with the triple onslaught of an increasingly right-wing GOP, the expanding power of the religious right and the national influence of super-rich conservative capitalists like the Koch brothers.

Weiner has been an ally, open and progressive on issues such as abortion, taxes and foreign policy. Most importantly, he’s been an important advocate of Medicare, of health-care reform, of the single-payer option when it was still afloat. At this crucial time, with Medicare on the chopping block by a coalition of zealous Republicans, we need a voice as strong as his in the House of Representatives. And we need it not to be sullied by his online infidelities, or his inability to learn how to DM on Twitter.

His Internet relationships were indeed, idiotic, though frankly none of our business. (As Shakesville’s Melissa McEwan points out, Breitbart should also be held accountable for sexually coercing a Congressman into admitting to personal wrongdoing that has nothing to do with his job serving his constituents.) Certainly he should have known what the right-wing media would do with sexy self-portraits sent over the ever-porous Internet. But his actions after the fact—the lying, the denials—are what truly call his character into question.

Shortly after Weiner’s press conference, Nancy Pelosi called for a House Ethics Committee investigation to establish whether or not Weiner broke any rules. Senator Charles Schumer, whose New York House seat was succeeded by Weiner, released a statement: “I am deeply pained and saddened by today’s news. By fully explaining himself, apologizing to all he hurt and taking full responsibility for his wrongful actions, Anthony did the right thing. He remains a talented and committed public servant, and I pray he and his family can get through these difficult times.” As do we, but if he doesn’t, he’s got only himself to blame.

Copyright 2011 Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

________________________________________________________________________

By arrangement with Alternet.Org.

Julianne Escobedo Shepherd is an associate editor at AlterNet and a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and editor. Formerly the executive editor of The FADER, her work has appeared in VIBE, SPIN, New York Times and various other magazines and websites.

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