Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin at a press conference Tuesday. (John Minchillo)

 

In an interview with Eliot Spitzer last week, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked the following question: “I want to start back in 2008. What you did was incredibly reckless and perhaps more importantly, it was very illegal, as you know, a Class E felony, paying for sex, a law you signed, bumping it up to Class E. When was the last time you broke that law? 2008?”

The rationale underpinning Tapper’s question is transparent. If Spitzer was twisted enough to have committed that act before, what’s to stop him from doing it now?

The same dynamic applies to New York City mayoral hopeful Anthony Weiner. The things he’s copped to, of course, aren’t felonies — they consist of generalized online tastelessness, creepiness and lying to people. In a story that forced Weiner to hold a press conference Tuesday afternoon, TheDirty.com reported that Weiner in July 2012 — more than a year after he resigned from Congress for inappropriate Internet behavior — had an X-rated online relationship with a sexting partner.

That was around the time of a very nice and happy People magazine profile of Weiner. In the piece, he is quoted as saying this: “I really do feel like a very, very different person.” Also this: “I’ve had enormous regrets about what I put Huma through, how I let my constituents down. But it’s not like I sit all day replaying it in my mind. With a baby, it is pretty easy to put things into perspective,” said Weiner, referring to his son Jordan.

Rachel Maddow, addressing Weiner’s timeline on her MSNBC show last night, concluded: “We learned today that the reason he didn`t have to replay it in his mind is that he was still doing it. That was the same month that he was engaging in this latest online exploit. He was telling the public, ‘I really do feel like a very, very different person,’ while in private he was continuing with these same activity that caused him to resign from Congress.” Indeed, Weiner in his press conference conceded that his most recent naughty Web offense took place after the People interview.

Reading through the piece, it is unclear whether People posed this question to Weiner: When was the last time you sent illicit messages on the Web? Yet what’s clear is that People jumped the gun on the redemptive look-back piece, a specialty of the glossy mag biz.

Not that the truth of Weiner’s sustained online misbehavior was easy to suss out. His most recent sex-chats, after all, weren’t obtainable via Freedom of Information Act requests, and it took the wholesome public-interest-oriented efforts of TheDirty.com for them to surface.

The Weiner-covering media has doubtless learned its lesson, however. From here on out, every interview with the candidate must feature this question: “When’s the last time you Web-sex-chatted?” Simple as that. Reporters who fail to take that step will be shirking their public duty, given what we know about Anthony Weiner. Perhaps those persistent questions will help solve the matter of whether this guy should still be a candidate for public office. At least one prominent outlet has already decided.