Commentary

Dirty Men, Double Entendres, Damage Control

I almost started this column four weeks ago, just after news broke of Anthony Weiner's pecker being paraded on Twitter. But I hesitated: what's the big deal? It's a harmless pic ... pervy men post tasteless photos of their willies all the time. It will blow over.

And blow until last week it did.

Over the following weeks, I watched as Weiner's story morphed from a computer hack to a misjudgment, to a televised apology à la Tiger, to a string of lies that revealed Anthony Weiner to be not only an insidious liar but a destroyer of progressive ideals and a shatterer of political integrity.

Okay, maybe that's going a little overboard, but Weiner's shenanigans demonstrate a trend among male politicians -- the crown for which, until recently, was held by Republicans. A trend that highlights how hypocrisy, lies and political sex scandals have become acceptable in our society.

It seems that perviness, narcissism and good old-fashioned idiocy are bipartisan offenders. I won't go into the "why" here, but how can they think they'll get away with it? Is the public to blame?

Perhaps.

One rule when being sworn into office is not to lie to your constituents. Another is not to expose your private parts to the universe. Clearly, a lot of men can't help themselves with the latter, but we've tolerated a growing number of sex-related scandals in the past few years (Sen. David Vitter and Mark Sanford's, for example) that have set a precedent.

So why have we accepted that it's okay to deceive, deny and lie publicly if you're a politician? One could argue that when a degree of morally bankrupt behavior gets a pass, it lends a teachable moment to A-listers' PR factories. Each indiscretion, however miniscule, provides a backdrop for the next literal battle of the bulge, Weiner-style. For social networking scandals, there's the hacking defense; for extramarital affairs, there's sex-addiction rehab. Just as our communication options have skyrocketed, so have options for finger-pointing.

There's no doubt that Weiner's lack of a PR powerhouse made a difference in how he handled his scandal. The end result of resignation may have been the same, due to the last straw that was wife Huma Abedin's pregnancy news, but the timeline and details would have been different.

Weiner committed many a foul that could have been squelched by a PR professional. The laundry list includes calling a CNN producer a "jackass" and responding to initial inquiries with a political-brand blend of defensiveness and near sarcasm. Not to mention the bald-faced lying. Backtracking on hacking claims didn't enhance the sincerity of Weiner's following press appearances, nor did his lack of a promised "investigation" into the Twitter-centric rumors.

Despite shameful image handling, Weiner knew the importance of having proper PR backup. Gossip powerhouse TMZ published a message from Weiner to former porn star Ginger Lee offering help from a "professional PR type person" and saying that someone from his "team" could call her. It's not clear whether Weiner was offering use of his congressional staff -- another ethical violation right there -- but no matter what, Weiner wanted Lee to use his tactics.

"The key is to have a short, thought-out statement that tackles the top-line questions and then refer people back to it. Have a couple of iterations of: 'This is silly,'" he allegedly wrote to Lee.

Lee would have been better off consulting someone who wasn't embroiled in the scandal. Nevertheless, Weiner was right: A plan and a PR pro will get you far.

I can't say whether or not Weiner's public would have accepted his lack of resignation, but that's only because there were -- and are -- issues competing for our attention. During the week his scandal exploded, there was disheartening job market news, fighting in Libya, a political crisis in Yemen, and a volcanic eruption. Weiner's scandal was also a distraction from the debt ceiling deadline. We would eventually have to look elsewhere, to decision making that could make a larger difference than Weiner's resignation, or lack thereof.

While terribly embarrassing for upstanding politicians and the general public, Weiner's battle to avoid resigning resonated worldwide. By drawing things out, Weiner deepened and extended scandal coverage. Since then, there's been a political scandal in China (Liu Ning, a district official in Guangzhou, allegedly used social networking to send X-rated pics) and one in Belgium (Prime Minister Yves Leterme purportedly sent over 800 text messages to his mistress).

Considering the scale of Weiner's downfall, it's hard to imagine these politicians topping it. One thing is certain, however: they've gotten close, however unwittingly. If they've learned anything from Weiner, hopefully it's to suit up with the right representation from the get-go ... and to bow out quickly after damage control.

Tags: commentary, pr
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3 comments about "Dirty Men, Double Entendres, Damage Control ".
  1. Jeffery Beliveau from PFC , June 28, 2011 at 9:17 a.m.

    "... the crown for which, until recently, was held by Republicans".
    Two words: Slick Willie.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , June 28, 2011 at 10:28 a.m.

    As much as I respect and honor reporters, journalists and the press, this mess is as much a press debacle as any. They have the choice to sensationalize a topic or move on to show how unimportant the protagonist is. The less publicity given to free Willy, the more it encourages such behavior. The spotlighted person, as sick as it sounds, really believes fame brings fortune and cannot do wrong. Mr. Weiner may seem to have had the crown passed, but alas, he had to abdicate before the ceremony.

  3. Jerry Foster from Energraphics , June 29, 2011 at 5:35 a.m.

    What made things far worse for Weiner than all the others, most of whom never had to resign mind you, was that he hadn't really been trying to be discrete and he came across as a huge loser for not having actually had a physical relationship with any of those women.

    People admire men who succeed in relationships with women. Weiner did all the wrong things (sending such photos is childishly stupid) and didn't have a real life chance with most of the women he communicated with.
    He was ultimately forced to resign for having been a loser with women (especially not good for a sycomphant of feminist organizations) where he might not have had to resign if he'd actually been discretely sleeping with some of them with no Twitter trail.

    A man shouldn't have to give up on sex just because he's serving his country as an elected official nor is it really anyone's business if the sex he gets is from an official "wife" and, no, he'd be expected to lie about an actual affair although voters would prefer that he just tell nosy journalists to butt out of his private life.

    Vanessa is projecting what she, as a woman, would like men to be (entirely honest about their private lives) and she is implying that male politicians should be this perfect man or else suffer at the voting booth.

    But men don't want to vote for sycophants and White Knighters who are always afraid of what women would think of them, their opinions and their private life.

    Vitter and Ensign, although hypocrites for having campaigned on family values platforms, were only doing what men do. Neither had to resign as a result.

    What happened with Bill Clinton was that Republican males were tricked by a pro-feminist Fox News into adopting the feminist attitude that it's supposed to be wrong for an employer to mess with an intern. Republican men had also tricked 100+ years before in the days of Grover Cleveland to condemn a Democrat President for getting a single woman pregnant. In both cases, however, the majority of American men actually though more of the President for having done well with a young woman (to this day, Republican men will condemn Bill mainly because they think Monica wasn't attractive - she was actually quite beautiful).

    The bottom line: if you are a male politician who wants to mess around in his private life, you should actually succeed in having a sex life and not act like a total loser and completely fail to get any action which is what Weiner did.

    It didn't help Weiner that he had been such a friend of feminist organizations. He should have known that feminists aren't attracted to men who agree with them and will be ready to turn on their male sycophants more viciously than they will attack male anti-feminists such as Ensign or Vitter.