I've had a mixed history with author Joe McGinniss. His true-crime book Cruel Doubt was a laughably bad attempt to blame Dungeons & Dragons for a 1988 murder. His soccer book The Miracle of Castel di Sangro may be the best sports book I've ever read.
McGinniss has a biography of Sarah Palin coming out in the fall. I was looking forward to it, since his move-next-door stunt reminds me of funny things he did in Castel di Sangro. But I'm looking forward to it less after reading this paragraph from his Palin book, which he shared on his blog:
Sarah Palin practices politics as lap dance, and we're the suckers who pay the price. Members of our jaded national press corps eagerly stuff hundred dollar bills into her g-string, even as they wink at one another to show that they don't take her seriously.
That's a lot of sexist awfulness packed into 45 words.
In the din of voices casting judgment on Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) for having consensual extramarital cybersex with six women, none of whom have complained that they were harassed or offended, a few people in the media share my complete lack of outrage over his sex life.
For my part I couldn't care less what sort of pictures or messages Weiner has been sending around the Net, and it's an imposition to be required to care; to be unable to avoid the topic. I find that I have no interest in Congressman Anthony Weiner's sex life or virtual sex life whatsoever. And I've heard enough tearful on-camera contrition to last me the rest of my life. I don't want to hear Weiner's apology. It's got nothing to do with me, tells me nothing I want to know; the cable news media, conservative and liberal, would do the public a favor if they would agreed to a blanket tearful-apologies ban effective this instant.
If adultery happens in 41% of marriages, if the guy next door is hiring prostitutes, if Brett Favre's penis scored nearly 2 million views, it's not the politicians that are the problem, it's Americans, who sit in turned-on judgment of those who dally sexually while doing so themselves, who dream of getting off in the same way but don't allow themselves to do so, who devote their work days to looking at the latest leaked cell phone pics of genitals that belong to someone more famous than themselves.
There are few things more sickening -- or revealing -- to behold than a D.C. sex scandal. Huge numbers of people prance around flamboyantly condemning behavior in which they themselves routinely engage. Media stars contrive all sorts of high-minded justifications for luxuriating in every last dirty detail, when nothing is more obvious than that their only real interest is vicarious titillation.
On MSNBC, the cable-news "home page" of my political tribe, one commentator said that one of the things Weinergate shows is that powerful politicians assume they can get away with things that regular people can't. If they do assume that, they’re wrong. It would be more accurate to say that they can't get away with things that regular people can. Look around you. Consider your friends, your work colleagues, your relatives, maybe even yourself. It's likely that a nontrivial proportion of them have some sexual secret (at least they think it's a secret) in their lives.
As far as I can tell -- we've all got a depressingly big sample size -- a politician's sexual fidelity in marriage, or his sexual behavior generally, doesn't reliably tell us anything about the integrity he demonstrates when acting in his official capacity. Nor is our moral culture elevated when we focus on these scandals. It is degraded, both because a large amount of the interest is prurient, and because by focusing on the sexual behavior of egocentric alpha males who spend a lot of time traveling far from home (that is to say, politicians) we may even be fooling ourselves into thinking that sexual impropriety is more common than it is, and thereby normalizing it.
Megan McArdle, a commentator for The Atlantic, believes that it's the valid role of the media to dig into our private lives to see if we've kept our wedding vows:
I don't think that cheating on your wife, or lesser betrayals like sexting, are minor marital pecadillos, of no more public interest than whether you remembered to pay the gas bill or unload the dishwasher. I don't think it's the government's job to punish infidelity, but that doesn't imply that society has no interest in whether people keep their vows. Marriage is a valuable social institution. There are good reasons that society should buttress it. ...
[T]here's something a little too fifties about the "All men do it, so why should we care?" approach to this. I'd like to think that enforcing the norms which hold that infidelity is really, actually wrong is worth taking a few hours out of a slow news cycle.
Before the next politician gets caught with his pants down, there's something I'd like to put on the record. After many years of being a moralistic scold, I have lost faith in the idea that this kind of stuff has any bearing on whether someone is a good leader. A public figure can be admirable in public life and scurrilous in private. As long as the sex involves consenting adults and the person would not deny others the pursuit of the same happiness, it's none of our damn business.
It's ridiculously intrusive for McArdle to think that there's a compelling societal interest in policing marital fidelity.
Her premise is founded on the assumption that extramarital sex is universally wrong. I think most of us would say that it is, especially if our partner or our relatives are in earshot. But if you read a sex advice columnist who encourages complete candor, like Dan Savage or Dear Prudence, you find numerous people who've made different arrangements.
A marriage operates by its own rules, most of which outsiders never learn -- even if they're close to the couple. One of the drawbacks to holding married people to account is that we don't what these rules are, and finding them out would be incredibly invasive. When they file their first story on a sex scandal, how do reporters know they're not maligning a person for sex outside of marriage whose spouse accepts the arrangement and engages in it too? There are people who do that sort of thing -- and some of them aren't even Europeans.
There's a funny, profane speech on YouTube by Savage, who thinks an insistence on absolute lifelong monogamy breaks up marriages that could otherwise thrive.
"We need to think of monogamy the way we think of sobriety. You can fall the fuck off the wagon and sober back up," he says. "I'm a deeply conservative person. I believe these things because I want people's marriages to survive for the long haul."
This is from a guy who has spent the last 20 years hearing from people about their actual sex lives. It should come as no surprise that he takes a more tolerant view of sexual transgressions than media talking heads who tut-tut in disapproval with each bimbo eruption.
Expecting the media to dig into the fine print of somebody's marital contract is disturbing. McArdle and her husband Peter Suderman are both journalists at prestigious national publications whose marriage was covered in the New York Times, so they're limited public figures. If they become embroiled in a sex scandal, would McArdle agree that it's my job as a journalist to buttress marriage by subjecting them to a thorough probing?
McArdle's argument that the media has a valid role enforcing societal norms is even worse. Homosexuality has been far outside the norm until recent years. Was this ever a sufficient justification to reveal that a public official was gay?
If you have any empathy at all, it's excruciating to see the press take a blow-by-blow look at somebody's sex life. I cringed at questions Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) was called to answer during his press conference Monday. As much as he invited that treatment by lying, I think many people would lie to prevent private sexual conduct from being scrutinized, especially if there's some guilt involved. Everybody has aspects of our sex lives we wouldn't want to explain to the world on live television. For most of my late teens I made sweet, sweet love to a throw rug I nicknamed Valerie Bertinelli.
Today, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) admitted that he sent a picture of his bulging crotch over Twitter to a female college student in Seattle and accidentally made it public. Obviously, my earlier post was completely wrong. This is my correction.
At the outset, I'd like to make it clear that I have made terrible mistakes that have hurt the people I care about the most, and I'm deeply sorry. I'm deeply ashamed of my terrible judgment and actions. I am deeply sorry for the pain this has caused my wife, a newspaper journalist who hates reporting errors like Charlie Sheen hates interventions.
When I started looking into this scandal, I found numerous reasons to doubt the veracity of Dan Wolfe (PatriotUSA76), the Twitter user who claimed to have found the photo posted by Weiner before it disappeared. Wolfe's Twitter account -- before he deleted it -- demonstrated deep obsession and irrational hatred for the congressman and his wife Huma Abedin over a period of six months. Based on my understanding of how Twitter works, I did not believe the story he told about finding it.
When Breitbart's site reported the original story, he had not checked out Wolfe at all, as he admitted to Tommy Christopher of Mediaite in a phone interview:
Once we published our story about Dan Wolfe, Andrew called me again, and it was clear from the conversation that he had genuine concerns about Wolfe as a source, and that he had been unaware of his prior activity on Twitter.
Because Wolfe's background was so dubious, Breitbart associate Lee Stranahan has been investigating Wolfe for days. He found numerous reasons to doubt him. On Saturday, Stranahan wrote:
Is Patriot a man or a woman? A group of people? ... Nobody I've encountered except "Patriot" knows. That is a fact. Nobody knows. There's a reason for that.
The facts gathered so far tell me one thing I'm sure about: Patriot is a liar and a manipulator. I'm 100% sure on that.
None of this means that Rep. Weiner isn't hiding something.
Like he did in the Shirley Sherrod incident, Breitbart did not begin to check out his source until after running his original story and talking it up on every cable news channel that would have him. This is not how journalism is supposed to work. But as I read all the coverage of this scandal the past weekend from news sites on the left, right and middle, it seems to be the emerging standard. First get it out. Then check it out.
Though he demanded (and got) an apology today from Weiner, Breitbart has never apologized for his July 2010 story that called Sherrod a racist based on maliciously edited video he received from a highly questionable source.
I think he should have apologized for that, as I am now apologizing to him for calling his Weiner piece "a bogus story being pimped by the biggest charlatan on the right." The conclusions I reached were proven untrue.
I'm reading Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life, a biography of the sorely missed Texas liberal columnist by Bill Minutaglio and W. Michael Smith.
When Molly was eight months old, her father Jim Ivins was serving on the USS Gallup in the Coast Guard during World War II. He wrote this in a letter home to his wife Margaret:
I think your new stationary is solid, but how about a picture of you lately? I think you have a complex about your looks. When you put your mind on it you are one hell of an attractive girl. No woman looks good unless she worked on it and you don't work on it enough. I want you to be a stunner, babe, and you can be. ... The Chinese woman of the upper classes, they say, has only one aim in life -- to make herself attractive to her husband. Not a bad idea, hey?
Ivins went on to be a corporate attorney and general counsel for the Texas oil company Tenneco, raising his family in the wealthy River Oaks section in central Houston. In 1998, Molly Ivins wrote this about him in her column for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:
(I started this column at approximately 8 p.m., April 19, knowing that my father had advanced cancer and anticipating that sometime in the next six months an obituary column would be required. I was planning to send him this column on the theory that he would like to know exactly what I thought of him. About 8:20, seven sentences into the column, I received a phone call informing me that my father had put a bullet through his brain. I am shocked but not surprised. And I continue.)
I discovered yesterday that a recent commenter to my blog is contemplating suicide. In response to a post about cruise ship passengers who are lost at sea, a visitor wrote this comment on May 24:
i am tentatively planning a suicide at the end of a cruise i am to take around the holidays...i will reconnect with my family, have some wonderful times, and at the pinnacle of positive memories having been made, I plan to dive or slosh or whatever into the water, leaving all the garbage behind, m decision, my way. Just because the reason is not apparent to you does not indicate it does not exist. ppl who know me call me "sunshine" and believe i am always happy, when in reality i am the opposite. if u have never been in the depths, dont bother to write about how it had to be murder. Some of us just hate it here. if u hate your job, u leave, hate your house, you move, hate your life, u leave. it should be a personal choice
If anyone has advice for how to handle this situation, I'm eager to hear it. Unless the holidays in question were the Memorial Day weekend, there's still time. I looked for news stories about cruise ship overboards the past week and didn't find any.
On Saturday evening, conservative activist Andrew Breitbart published a story suggesting that Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) sent a photo on Twitter of his underwear-clad penis to a female college student in Seattle.
This story, like others pushed by Breitbart in service of his right-wing agenda, appears to be factually questionable.
Weiner had more than 40,000 Twitter followers at the time the alleged tweet was sent, but only one of those users either responded to it or shared it: Patriotusa76. That account belongs to Dan Wolfe, a self-described "conservative Reagan Republican" whose Twitter history reveals that he's obsessed with Weiner. Wolfe created the account Jan. 6 and has posted hundreds of messages about the congressman and his wife Huma Abedin. His first 19 messages were all about the Weiners, as were around 175 of his first 400 Twitter messages.
Wolfe's primary use of Twitter has been to post extremely crude criticism of the Weiners and correspond with a small group of other right-wing users who share his sentiments. Among his messages, more than 200 of which were addressed to Weiner at his @RepWeiner account so he'd see them, were claims that Weiner is gay, that his wife is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's lesbian lover, that she's a Muslim who sympathizes with Al Qaeda terrorists and that she's so ugly she should wear a burqa. Here's a typical message he posted about them:
@goatsred LOL! Now there's an image not far from the reality! He's out looking for wiener while his "wife" is with her husband, Hildabeast
One of the technical aspects of how Twitter works is that you can't make a message disappear simply by deleting it quickly after you send it. Twitter messages are received and stored instantaneously by numerous Twitter clients and websites around the Internet. A user such as Weiner, even if he had deleted a message sent accidentally only seconds after it was transmitted, would not be able to stop copies of it from being saved. Tens of thousands of users receive his Twitter messages.
Yet in this situation, no one other than Wolfe responded on Twitter to the supposed crotch tweet. It was not present on Weiner's Twitter account when Breitbart's story was published. The only person who can vouch for it ever being posted at all is the rabid antagonist of the congressman.
The photo referenced in the alleged tweet was hosted on YFrog, an image-hosting service where people can post photos to be shared on Twitter. The photo did exist on Weiner's account for a brief time until it was deleted, presumably by him or someone on his staff.
YFrog has a huge security vulnerability that makes it possible to post photos to someone else's account without their password. If you know the person's email address on YFrog, you can send a photo to that email address and it will show up on that site under their account. Godfrey Dowson of the Cannonfire blog tried this out, sharing his YFrog email address firstname.lastname@example.org and encouraging readers to send a photo to it. One of them did, and it appeared on Dowson's account.
Considering this vulnerability, I think the most likely scenario for what took place is that someone posted the crotch photo on the congressman's YFrog account without his permission using the security vulnerability and it never appeared on Twitter. Wolfe shared this link as if it had been posted on Twitter, either because he was involved or because he monitors Weiner's YFrog page closely.
To believe Andrew Breitbart, Weiner sent a picture of his crotch over Twitter to thousands of people, but only one responded to it -- a person who has devoted his entire online life to hating that congressman and his wife. The media has once again fallen for a bogus story being pimped by the biggest charlatan on the right.