One last quick word on Weinergate: It contiues to surprise me that there hasn’t been a bit more discomfort among media figures about how this whole thing unfolded. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise me, but it does.
As I wrote the other day, even if you agree that Weiner’s conduct was indefensible, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that there was something very, very ugly about the media’s handling of it. Weinergate showcased a new kind of hyperkinetic, Twitter-fueled pack journalism — one grotesquely out of proportion to his sins — that made his survival impossible.
Hendrik Hertzberg has now written a great piece reaching a similar conclusion:
Weiner’s sins, being wholly online, basically onanistic, pathetically “immature,” and totally without direct fleshly carnality, are literally ridiculous. They lack the swaggering macho that pushes more traditional, arguably crueler male transgressions—having affairs, whoring, fathering children out of wedlock—into the comparatively (though only comparatively) safer territory of “boys will be boys” and “men are like that.”
One more factor that comes to mind: the particular media addictions of the political class. I suspect that, unlike normal people, a preponderance of that class — commentators, political reporters and editors, operatives, “strategists,” aides, news producers, etc.— spends several hours of every day watching cable-news television (or having it drone and flicker in the background), reading political blogs, sending and receiving e-mails about the latest political uproar, and talking about same to other members of the same class, on the phone or face to face. Actual office-holding politicians don’t necessarily have the time for all that, but they live inside the bubble it creates. The ambient atmosphere is one of constant overexcitement, hysteria, and sometimes unbearable tension, all focussed on the story of the day. That may be a reason why the protagonists of political scandals are dispatched more quickly and more mercilessly than in the past.
It seems clear that Twitter has only exacerbated this phenomenon. As Digby notes, Weiner was felled by a media “Twittergasm.”
I enjoy Twitter as much as the next fellow, but if there’s one conclusion you can draw from Weinergate, it’s that Twitter — in addition to all its virtues — can encourage and reinforce pack journalism’s very worst instincts. The unfolding of Weinergate on Twitter was a deeply dispiriting spectacle. There were times when the wall of puerile and adolescent Tweets about Weiner grew impenetrable. Anyone reporting and Tweeting on any other topic could be assured that it would get entirely lost.
You can never really predict what will prompt media soul-searching and self-criticism. I had thought this would be a good candidate, but there simply hasn’t been any of it to speak of in Weinergate’s wake. So I’m glad to see as respected a journalistic figure as Hertzberg step up and register his discomfort with the way it all unfolded.