Dana, I agree with you that Anthony Weiner is a cheater and was careless about his cheating. I would consider these relevant points if he was a “potential boyfriend.” What he actually is to me—and to most of us, including the press—is “Congressman from New York.” Since, as you admit, his private life has no bearing on his ability to do his job, this should be relegated to the realm of “gossip,” covered perhaps by the Gawker, and not “news” and certainly not “scandal worth resigning over.”
As you probably know, I’m not a big fan of the “he was asking for it by being careless” defense you offer. Is it stupid to walk down a dark alley in a bad neighborhood? Sure. But does that mean the jury should deliver a “not guilty” verdict if someone mugs you? Should the mugger be paid restitution since you made yourself a tempting target? Absolutely not. In this analogy, Breitbart’s the mugger (with a long record of committing crimes against innocent people!) and the press is the jury. If I were a judge, I’d call for a mistrial.
The state of Weiner’s marriage is also irrelevant. If we drummed every bad spouse out of office, we wouldn’t have enough warm bodies to fill Congress. Our society overrates the ability to hold a marriage together as an indicator of how well someone does a job. In fact, some traits that probably work badly for a marriage may make you better at some jobs, and I’d put politician at the top of that list. Weiner’s role right now is to be a bulldog for the left, to holler things that our overly cautious president is afraid to whisper. You need bulldogs, but some of the traits that come along with being a bulldog—carelessness and narcissism come to mind—work against you in a marriage. I’m not ready to sacrifice people playing necessary roles just to make sure everyone’s as nice a husband as Barack Obama appears to be. And it’s definitely not our job to decide for Huma Abedin what kind of consequences her husband should face for betraying her.
I’m alarmed at how much investment many in the press and public have in the state of Weiner’s marriage, honestly. I suspect many people feel, on one level, that publicly shaming adulterers and forcing their resignations will make their own marriages more secure. But I’m skeptical; adultery used to be punishable with jail and people still did it. The best protection against it is not to look to society but to your own relationship.
I don’t condone all sex scandals. Politicians who work to pass laws to impose their religious dogma about sex and family on the public should be held accountable when they don’t live up to their own values. Politicians who break the law or do things for sex that genuinely interfere with their job performance should also be held to account. (No, I don’t think using work computers for personal correspondence should count; if that became an enforceable standard, 95 percent of the country would be out of work.) But Weiner doesn’t pass any of these tests. Half the reason this is even a news story is there’s humiliating pictures in play, but if the fact that you’re cheating isn’t anyone’s business, that goes double for how you cheated. John Ensign’s adultery may be news, but I don’t care to know what positions he and his mistress favored.
I think that journalists who embolden Andrew Breitbart by treating this gossip as a newsworthy scandal should really rethink how cavalier they’re being. Breitbart hates a lot more than Democratic politicians. His previous targets for harassment have been activists and bureaucrats, and he’s not limited by honesty or decency. He could easily go after journalists he considers too good at their jobs, too. Can everyone out there laughing off Weiner’s treatment really say for sure there’s no sexy photos, text messages, e-mails or even old-fashioned letters in their history that might be humiliating if shown or read aloud on the nightly news?
Read Dana Goldstein’s original post “On Weinergate: In Defense of Acting Like an Adult.”