Anthony Weiner’s plan to cool Twitter photo furor backfires


Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) makes his way to the Capitol for a vote June 1 in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
June 1, 2011

In a moment that will probably go down in the annals of how not to handle a crisis, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) insisted again on Wednesday that he was not the one who sent a suggestive photo from his Twitter account — but he told NBC News that “I can’t say with certitude” whether the now-famous image is of his own crotch.

Weiner gave a series of television interviews in an attempt to tamp down the furor that began over the weekend when a waist-down photograph of a man in his underwear appeared briefly on his Twitter page. The tweet, which Weiner said he deleted when he saw it, was addressed to a college student who follows him on the social-networking site.

The questions regarding the incident continued into a fourth day, fueled in part by the fact that the controversy is perfect early-summer fodder for cable news and that it involves a lawmaker who is both an intense partisan and an adept user of new media.

As CNN showed the image on the screen, a puzzled Wolf Blitzer pressed the congressman: “You would know if this was your underpants.”

“I appreciate you continuing to flash that at me,” Weiner said in a tone that made it clear he didn’t.

Weiner insisted again that the episode was “a prank” and “a hoax.” But his responses — and lack of them — assured that the controversy would continue.

He said he has hired a lawyer and a security firm, which he did not name, to investigate the incident. But he did not take the matter to legal authorities, he said, because he thought they had better things to do.

Meanwhile, Gennette Nicole Cordova, the 21-year-old Seattle area student to whom the tweet was addressed, wrote in the New York Daily News that she has never met the congressman. She added that “there have never been any inappropriate exchanges between Anthony Weiner and myself, including the tweet/picture in question, which had apparently been deleted before it reached me.”

Most puzzling to many veterans of Washington imbroglios is why Weiner would not clarify whether he is indeed the person in the photo, which is presumably something he would have a pretty good idea about.

His answer ranks “somewhere below ‘no controlling legal authority’ and above ‘wide stance,’ ” said Democratic crisis-management specialist Chris Lehane.

Lehane was referring first to the infamous phrase that Vice President Al Gore used in 1997 to describe questionable fundraising activities, and then the one that then-Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) used in 2007 to explain how he came to be arrested for lewd conduct after tapping the foot of an undercover officer in a restroom stall in the Minneapolis airport.

“These are the situations where the question is not if it is going to come out, but when it’s going to come out, and how it’s going to come out,” Lehane said, adding that politicians do well “to get ahead of the information” by disclosing as much as they can.

It doesn’t help that the situation has echoes of a grade-school playground.

“When your name is Weiner, you get a lot of people who are doing mischievous things, making jokes about your name,” the congressman told Bret Baier on Fox News Channel.

Weiner, who is considering running for mayor of New York, made a few jokes himself.

“I’ve got more Twitter followers than you, Ryan!” Weiner told House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who was standing just off the House floor, briefing reporters on a meeting earlier Wednesday at the White House.

“You do these days, that’s for sure,” Ryan responded with a laugh. “You’ve got to give me your tips.” (Actually, as of early Wednesday evening, Ryan had more followers: nearly 56,000, compared with just above 54,000 for Weiner.)

Weiner said the episode has been particularly difficult for his new wife, Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“I’m hoping my marriage survives the first anniversary,” he told Blitzer.

Twitter’s chief spokesman, Sean Garrett, declined to discuss the particulars of the Weiner incident or to say whether the social-networking site has any clues as to who sent the tweet.

However, with Twitter becoming increasingly popular among lawmakers and government officials, the company’s Washington representative, Adam Sharp, on Wednesday sent out a warning that they be diligent about protecting their accounts.

Industry officials say that accounts most often are “compromised” when a user chooses a password that is easily guessed or uses the same one for different services. Twitter also advises against revealing passwords to a third-party application.

As for Weiner, he apparently intends to stay in the vanguard of social networking.

Shortly after his round of interviews Wednesday, he was again tapping out tweets. His first: “Ok, howz about i get back in the game over here.”

Karen Tumulty is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where she received the 2013 Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting.
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