I happen to like New York Congressman Anthony Weiner. It has nothing to do with his politics. I like that Weiner doesn't mind getting into it on TV with people who have a view of the world very different than his. Having heard him speak at a Washington dinner, I found him personable, engaging, self deprecating and hilarious. Maybe not the qualities you look for in a politician, but it makes me happy to see someone with a real personality instead of the blandness that seems to take hold in the Nation's Capital. How can you not like a guy who even makes wiener jokes at his own expense?
Weiner usually has the timing and ear of a good comedian.
But the New York Democrat has become tone deaf on the latest scandal brewing in Washington that some have dubbed "Weinergate". (The press really should stop with the cliché "gate" with every scandal. How about "Weinerhead" instead?)
There are some good lessons from Weiner's actions for public safety officials or anyone else on how not to manage a reputation issue.
For those who don't know, the problem began when a 21-year-old woman from Washington State received a picture from Rep. Weiner's Twitter account. It's a below the belt shot of a man in tight underwear. To describe it further using the theme I started, Oscar Mayer might have similar pictures in ads showing the packaging of its product.
Weiner said originally that his account was hacked. But reporters wanted to know why U.S. Capitol Police weren't called in to investigate the hacking. And it has gone downhill for Anthony Weiner from there. The issue now is Weiner won't say whether or not that's him in the picture.
“This prank has apparently been successful,” Weiner told reporters gathered outside his office. “After almost 11 hours of answering questions, any that anyone wanted to put, today I'm going to have to get back to work doing the job that I'm paid to do.”
Of course, Weiner said on Tuesday that he was “not going to allow this to be what I talk about all week,” only to find himself a day later sitting down for one-on-one interviews with NBC, Fox News, CBS, CNN and ABC. Those interviews did nothing to end the scrutiny, as Weiner refused to say “with certitude” that the photo, which showed an underwear-clad groin, was not of him.
Anthony Weiner should know better. If Weiner did nothing wrong, he's playing a stupid game with the press. And Brad Phillips at mrmediatraining.com thinks Weiner is making it worse by engaging in the same grade school humor I'm doing here. The difference is I can say "with certitude" it isn't mine.
By chastising members of the news media, including calling veteran CNN producer Ted Barrett a "jackass", Weiner is making himself look guilty. It would be one thing to remind reporters, the press and the public that everyone has more important things to do once you've come clean by answering the obvious questions that are lingering.
But Weiner hasn't done that. His explanation as to why he didn't call in police, but is instead having a private firm investigate, isn't very convincing. Also, unless you are a porn star who has that part of the body photographed so many times that you lose count, you know whether or not a specific picture exists of you in your underwear. Again, for the record, there are none of me.
You can't help come to the conclusion this is a man with something to hide. And if that's the case, Weiner should be smart enough to know this is not going to work.
Many of you have heard me say or have read on the blog the following words: get it out; get it right; get it behind you. There really is no other way to deal with bad news and reputation issues.
Egos and pride often make it extremely difficult for someone like Weiner to take this advice. They think they can ride it out by avoiding, spinning, blaming the press and covering up. Very, very few get away with it. And in the digital age, where your reputation can be destroyed at the speed of light, it's almost unheard of.
There may be no better example of a politician doing the wrong thing when it comes to a sex scandal than former Congressman Gary Condit. It was ten-years-ago last month that Condit's name was first connected to a missing woman, Chandra Levy. Instead of coming clean right away about an affair, Condit was willing to allow police, the press and the public to suspect that he was a killer (which he was not). The only thing that got Condit off the front page were the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Until he levels with everyone, Anthony Weiner, who wants to run for mayor of New York, will also likely have to wait for bigger news to come along. Otherwise, expect to see that Oscar Mayer ad running an awful lot in the coming days and months.