The Fix’s best/worst political scandal press conferences

October 24, 2013

Note: This item was originally published back in June of 2011. We are resurfacing it today in light of Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, who just made a strong case for inclusion on this list with his Thursday press conference. 


(Jin Lee/Bloomberg)

Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D) press conference on Monday in New York City was one for the ages.

It had it all: admission of guilt, a tearful apology and an unplanned appearance by conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart — the man who had first found and brought attention to the picture of Weiner’s underwear-clad groin.

But where did the Weiner presser rank in the annals of the best/worst — depending on the approach you take to these sorts of thing — political scandal press conferences in modern (or at least our) memory? (Yes, we spend time thinking about this stuff.)

Our top five are listed below. What did we miss? The comments section awaits.

(Note: We purposely left off the suicide of Pennsylvania state treasurer Budd Dwyer — a far too morbid moment to ever include on a list like this.)

5. Eliot Spitzer (2008): Spitzer’s rise and fall was as fast as any modern politician, culminating with his apology for using an escort service and subsequent resignation. The statement was short and sweet and Spitzer took no questions. The dominant storyline in the aftermath of his press conference, however, focused on his wife’s decision to stand by him, literally, during the press conference. It set off a national debate about what the role should be for a woman put in this sort of position by her politician husband.

4. Bill Clinton (1998): At what was ostensibly a press event about expanding after-school programs, President Clinton decided to address the rumors swirling about an alleged relationship with a former White House intern. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” Clinton thundered. “I never told anybody to lie, not a single time — never.” While that line is one for the history books, Clinton didn’t take any questions — making it tougher for this one to fight for one of the two top spots.

3. Jim McGreevey (2004): The New Jersey governor dropped a double bombshell in this presser — he resigned from office and said that he was gay. McGreevey’s pronouncement that “my truth is that I am a gay American” — with his wife standing by his side — was compelling, ground-breaking and in­cred­ibly memorable even for the wild world of Garden State politics.

2. Anthony Weiner (2011): Maybe it’s because the Weiner presser is so fresh in our minds but, man, this was an absolute instant classic. It began with Breitbart hijacking the podium — that happened! — and ended with someone yelling out something about former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sex life. In between? Weiner acknowledging that he lied about taking and sending a photo of his privates to a college student in Washington state, admitting he had engaged in “inappropriate” online conduct with six women and repeatedly dodging the question of whether he had ever engaged in phone sex. Also, he took questions from reporters for upwards of 30 minutes. Wow.

1. Mark Sanford (2009): Without question, the grandaddy of them all. No one really knew what the South Carolina governor was going to say — or really where he had been — when he stepped to the podium after a five-day absence from the state. What followed was the stuff of political legend, a rambling 18-minute performance that includes reminisces about the Appalachian Trail, an apology to his wife and family and an extended riff about his time in Argentina with a woman who was not his wife. Extra points: Days later Sanford called his Argentine mistress his “soul mate” in an interview with the Associated Press.

Honorable mentions: Tom Eagleton in 1972, Brock Adams in 1988 and 1992, Larry Craig in 2007, Rod Blagojevich and Roland Burris in 2008.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Chris Cillizza | October 24, 2013