A gossip Web site revealed this week that New York mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner’s habit of exchanging sexually obscene communications with young women online continued after his resignation from Congress in 2011, and that he used the colorful pseudonym “Carlos Danger.” These revelations have changed the tenor of the race:
Now his rivals, who had been reluctant to so much as utter Weiner’s name, wanted to talk of little else. They called on him to leave the campaign and questioned his judgment and integrity.
At a debate in the Bronx, one Latino mayoral candidate said Weiner’s use of the amorous pen name Carlos Danger reflected poorly on Hispanics. Another rival called him a distraction from middle-class issues, prompting Weiner to respond that his accuser was “playing to the cameras.” Everyone, including Weiner, cracked up when he was asked if he prefers Facebook or Twitter. The cameras clicked.
Weiner, who over his career has delighted in media coverage, was getting run over by it. The media scrum around him dwarfed those that orbit presidential candidates.
New Yorkers on the train and in pizza places folded over tabloid headlines such as “Meet Carlos Danger.” An excoriating editorial in the New York Times demanded that Weiner “take his marital troubles and personal compulsions out of the public eye, away from cameras, off the Web and out of the race for mayor of New York City.”
Political operatives compared the embattled couple to B-League Clintons. Weiner tried to find a message to stay on, and Abedin’s defenders insisted that she spoke to set the record straight, not just to stand by her man. Even Eliot L. Spitzer, the disgraced former New York governor who followed Weiner’s path back into politics as a candidate for comptroller, had to answer questions about whether he had continued to frequent prostitutes. (“Absolutely not,” he said at a campaign stop. “And we’re done answering those questions.”)
On Wednesday evening, Weiner also continued to face unsavory queries. The gregarious candidate, who entered the race and quickly crowded his challengers out of the debate, looked blankly at a reporter who was shouting, “Do you use any other aliases other than Carlos Danger?”
See other disgraced politicians who have tried to return to public life in the gallery below.
Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, has deflected some of the attacks by publicly defending her husband:
Although those who know Abedin say they were surprised by how she seized the moment at his news conference Tuesday, rejecting humiliation for defiance, they note that she has been a major force in Weiner’s unlikely bid for redemption.
One friend said Abedin has known since last fall that her husband had not given up his habit of lewd behavior with women on the Web. Nevertheless, Abedin, a top aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton, has continued to aggressively work Clinton’s circle — to the annoyance of some — seeking support and financial contributions for Weiner’s mayoral bid.
“People like Huma, but they saw her trading on the Hillary card and resented it. But that didn’t mean they didn’t show up” for Weiner, said a Clinton intimate, one of several who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The chatter was, if you wanted to stay in Hillary’s good graces, you answer the call from Huma.”
Even those who believed Weiner had no shot at winning were eager to stay on the good side of a woman they expect would be a major figure in a Clinton 2016 presidential campaign, should the former secretary of state decide to run.
But Abedin acknowledged a miscalculation, said the friend, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity.
When the exchanges became public Tuesday, the friend said, Abedin realized she had erred in thinking she could maintain some privacy by remaining vague about her marriage, most notably in a much-discussed New York Times Magazine profile that presented a gauzy view of a couple in recovery.
To correct that error, she decided she must stand by her husband’s side at the news conference — an appearance that evoked memories of the times that Clinton, her mentor, had been in similar situations as first lady of Arkansas and the United States.
A wronged spouse in her own right, Abedin gazed at her husband dolefully. She looked away. She stared at the floor. She attempted to smile.
When it came her turn to speak, she acknowledged she was nervous, then declared her love, her forgiveness, her support going forward.
“I do very strongly believe that that is between us and our marriage,” Abedin said.
But any possibility of maintaining that privacy ended in May, when Weiner announced he was running for a job that has long been his dream.
Watch Nia-Malika Henderson discuss Abedin on PostTV here.
There is little consensus among psychologists and therapists about what might be causing Weiner’s lewd behavior:
Fred Berlin, director of the Sexual Behaviors Consultation Unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said many of his patients exhibit behavior similar to Weiner’s, although he and other experts cautioned that they could not speak to the former congressman’s specific situation.
“It’s driven behavior,” said Berlin, a psychiatrist who has been treating patients for more than 30 years. “People are feeling they are pushed to act a certain way even though their intellect and their conscience may be telling them otherwise.”
Berlin said he has treated patients with problematic sexual behavior from all backgrounds and levels of society. People with this type of behavior are energized by a powerful biological force, he said. Other factors, such as anxiety or depression, may play a role.
“But fundamentally, there is a driver there that they are not resisting for whatever reason,” he said. “It really is about sex.”. . .
Berlin and others said that in the past five to six years, they have seen a significant increase in the number of patients with problematic sexual behavior related to the Internet, including inappropriate chatting, accessing inappropriate images and engaging in virtual relationships.
In addition to making it easier for people to say and do things they might not otherwise, the Internet has become a delivery system through which someone can get access to an unlimited number of partners and sexual fantasies, said Michael Radkowsky, a District psychologist who treats couples and individuals with sexual issues. The human brain is wired to look for sex and sexual partners, he said.
“Our brains have all these receptors looking for sex, and there’s the Internet providing all sorts of opportunities for sex. Wham, plugs right in.”
To the extent that the Internet has exposed weaknesses in Weiner’s character, writes Dominic Basulto, he is experiencing a problem we all confront in one way or another:
On one hand, he’s a capable career politician vying to become mayor of New York City. On the other hand, he’s a sexually confused individual, sending lewd texts and terribly inappropriate Facebook messages to women who are not his wife. So, is he Mayor Weiner or is he Carlos Danger?
It’s easy to make jokes about the former congressman, of course. But if you spend a significant amount of time on the Internet, you could experience a similar type of identity crisis. The sheer number of networks and mountains of content can obscure how or what you should be sharing with others. What you might consider to be business as usual – such as tweeting out photos of your lunch and texting news of a breakup – could be easily mistaken as over-sharing or just really socially insensitive behavior by others.
Our collective online identity crisis is only becoming more pronounced as we let technology take over a greater share of our lives. . . .
This doesn’t excuse Weiner’s behavior – his escapades on Facebook as Carlos Danger were hurtful not only to his wife, but also to his friends, political supporters and family. They’re also embarrassing for the good people of New York (yes, including me) who are tired of the endless Weiner jokes in the tabloids. His behavior also sends the wrong signal to the upcoming generation of young political hopefuls, who may think they can “get away with it” if Weiner does.
However, haven’t all of us, to one degree or another, engaged in a bit of Carlos Danger-like role-playing across social media? We create fake Twitter accounts. We create online avatars. We assume pseudonyms and find clever ways to make ourselves anonymous. And the more time that we spend online, the more that our online and offline identities begin to blend together in strange and unexpected ways. We assume that nobody will see this activity, and that nobody will judge us for it later.
Meanwhile, the real Carlos Danger is not speaking to reporters:
Yes, he really exists. But unlike the perennially shamed NYC politician caught borrowing the “sexy” name as his naughty-chat avatar, the Miami psychiatrist known as Carlos R. Danger isn’t holding any news conferences. Or returning calls, it seems, despite a flood of inquiries from reporters. (What were we all going to ask him? “Hey, mind taking the heat off of Anthony Weiner by claiming those texts as your own?” “Have you always known that your name is preposterous?”)
For past coverage of Anthony Weiner, continue reading here. Watch portions of this week’s news conference below.