Dana Milbank
Opinion writer June 1, 2011

Memorial Day barbecues may be over, but this town is enjoying a Weiner roast of obscene proportions.

On the spit: Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York, perhaps the most pugilistic Democrat in the House, who now finds himself in a fight he does not relish. Over the holiday weekend, a waist-down photograph of an aroused man in boxer briefs was sent from Weiner’s official Twitter account to tens of thousands of followers.

Dana Milbank writes about political theater in the nation’s capital. He joined the Post as a political reporter in 2000. View Archive

Weiner had a plausible explanation: His Twitter account was hacked and he didn’t send the photo.

That’s where the plausibility ends. Asked by NBC’s Luke Russert whether the photograph was if his own genitals, Weiner replied: “You know, I can’t say with certitude.”

So the hacker not only got into Weiner’s Twitter account but also into his pants? Or, Weiner has a whole collection of lewd photographs of himself, but he can’t be sure the private parts in this particular photo are his own?

Adding another element of suspicion, Weiner said he would not ask federal authorities to investigate, choosing instead to hire a private security firm. “I’m not sure I want to put national, federal resources into trying to figure out who posted a picture,” he reasoned. “I’m not really sure it rises – no pun intended – to that level.”

It should not have risen beyond minor amusement. But Weiner’s handling of the situation, a textbook case of bad PR, swelled it into a summer scandal.

There was just enough material at first to justify reporters’ inquiries: The TwitPic in question (this one might be called a NitwitPic) had been sent to a college student who had referred to Weiner as “my boyfriend” (turned out they never met), Weiner hired a lawyer, and reports surfaced that he had also sent a private Twitter message to a porn star.

But when Weiner saw reporters on stakeout duty outside his office Tuesday, he made a grave miscalculation: With cameras rolling, he lost his cool and argued for seven and a half minutes with Dana Bash of CNN and called her producer, Ted Barrett, a “jackass.” An excerpt:

BASH: “You’re saying the same thing over and over again --”

WEINER: “This is now day --”

BASH: “-- but you’re not answering the question.”

WEINER: “-- this is now day three. You have statements that my office has put out --”

BASH: “But they don’t answer the question. . . .”

WEINER: “I’m going to have to ask that we follow some rules here. And one of those is going to be you ask questions, I do the answers. Does that seem reasonable?”

BASH: “I would love to get an answer.”

WEINER: “That -- that --”

(CROSSTALK)

BARRETT: “A direct answer.”

WEINER: “That would be reasonable. You do the questions, I do the answers -- and this jackass interrupts me. How about that as a -- as the new -- the new rule of the game?”

Weiner wrapped up this performance by proclaiming that he was done talking about the subject. “Some people want to talk about this for days and days,” he said. “I choose not to. That’s my prerogative.”

By Wednesday, Weiner adjusted his prerogatives: He would do sitdown interviews explaining himself to MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, Fox and CNN.

His colleagues had found that “Weinergate” was crowding out more important issues. Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.) had a breakfast with reporters to talk about Medicare but before long was asked about the bizarre exchange between Weiner and Bash. “I have no comment,” he pleaded.

Weiner skipped a Wednesday morning meeting of the House Democratic Caucus, leaving his colleagues to deal with Weiner questions. “I can’t answer that,” replied Linda Sanchez, the top Democrat on the ethics committee, hurrying by. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi spied the Weiner stakeout and made a sharp turn toward an alternate exit.

At Weiner’s office in the Rayburn building, reporters and camera crews began pulling up seats in the hallway before 7 a.m. By midday there were more than 30 people in the encampment, studio lights in the hallway and camera cables taped to the floor.

Clearly, the voluble congressman would not be able to keep his vow to zip it. His staff began to send word that he would grant TV interviews, and before long Wolf Blitzer, Bret Baier and other media heavies were arriving for their interviews.

As he walked from the House floor to his office for the interview with Baier, Weiner apologized to reporters. “I’m sorry I was a little stiff yesterday,” he said.

Did the man at the center of Weinergate really use the phrase “a little stiff”? With certitude.

danamilbank@washpost.com