Rep. Weiner’s Tangled Twitter Tempest

The past two days has seen the mysterious case of the picture sent from US Representative Anthony Weiner’s Twitter handle to a female college student here in Washington state go from bad to worse to downright toxic in the span of two days.

As I write this, this story is now listed as the top story on Google News with over 1700 stories listed on this for today.

It remains to be seen how this will all play out.

One thing is clear though, the downward progression of this story in terms of tone and the outward progression in terms of breadth of coverage are a direct result of yesterday’s failed attempts to quell the situation at a press conference.

Steve Kornacki has a good write-up at Salon outlining yesterday’s disastrous press conference. Justin Elliott follows on, again at Salon, with a good discussion of how that press conference has sent things spiraling out of control.

If you watch the video of the press conference, it’s a cringe-worthy performance. Weiner tries to seem that he’s being open, accessible, and up-front by engaging with the press, rather than simply “bunkering down” and not commenting or engaging. The problem is, he’s not actually being open. Once he starts to engage the reporters, he refuses to actually address the issue in a straight-forward manner. Worse yet, the questions they’re asking are reasonable in the mind of most people and refusing to answer compounds the sense of evasiveness and lack of candor.

The error of yesterday’s press conference was that they refused to pick a direction and go with it. They had the choice to either be open and engage the story head on, or take a more defensive, “bunker” approach. What they ended up doing was a combination of those two which leads to them showing us the defensive, “bunker” approach on camera. That really is the worst of both worlds. And the story has changed from one about sending a photo over Twitter to one of “what is the congressman covering up”.

It remains to be seen how this will play out. The handling today doesn’t bode well, though. The most recent statement has a tone of uncertainty that only builds on the sense of evasiveness. That’s sure to enflame the issue all the more. As a congressman, one would hope that he knows the lesson of Watergate that “it’s the cover-up that kills you”. Even if there is no cover-up, the handling makes it seem like there might be. And, as the saying goes, perception is everything.

At this point, you can be sure that this won’t go away until the press and the public are satisfied that there is nothing being hidden from them. The best way to contain and close down this situation now is to commit to a path of open engagement on the matter as quickly as possible.