The Media's Anthony Weiner Dilemma

The congressman says he's a Twitter victim, and the press won't let go.

05.31.11 3:10 PM ET

My Twitter feed filled up over the holiday weekend with demands that I write about Anthony Weiner and stop covering up his awful behavior.

Talk about mob justice. Can we find out first whether it was true?

By “it,” in case you were away for the Memorial Day break, I mean the lewd underwear photo that the New York congressman was alleged to have sent from his Twitter account to a 21-year-old student in Seattle.

Huh? Putting the weiner jokes aside, could he have been so stupid as to do that so soon after another New York lawmaker, Chris Lee, had to resign his House seat for sending a woman a shirtless photo on Craigslist? And after Weiner just got married last year to former Hillary aide Huma Abedin? He can’t be that bored yet.

I don’t know whether Weiner is a victim here or not. Of course the media, and especially the New York press, should look into the matter involving a rising political star. But what we have at the moment is a salacious picture that we’re not sure is Weiner (no face is shown), the congressman claiming he was hacked, and the student in question saying the picture wasn’t from him and she has no relationship with him.

After Andrew Breitbart’s Big Government site broke the story, New York’s Daily News got a pretty emphatic knockdown from a key source—the student, Gennette Cordova, who says she has never met Weiner.

“The account that these tweets were sent from was familiar to me; this person had harassed me many times after the congressman followed me on Twitter a month or so ago,” Cordova said in a statement. “Since I had dealt with this person and his cohorts before I assumed that the tweet and the picture were their latest attempts at defaming the congressman and harassing his supporters…

“I have seen myself labeled as the ‘Femme Fatale of Weinergate,’ ‘Anthony Weiner's 21-year-old coed mistress’ and ‘the self-proclaimed girlfriend of Anthony Weiner.’ All of this is so outlandish that I don't know whether to be pissed off or amused, quite frankly.”

So is Weiner merely the victim of a hack?

Well, not according to the conservative blogosphere. Among the questions bouncing around the Net:

--Why hasn’t the congressman called for an investigation of the hacking?

--Why did Weiner tweet what time one of his East Coast interviews would be shown in Seattle?

--Why is Gennette Cordova one of the 198 people he is following on Twitter? As the New York Post points out in a story headlined “Too Many Coincides in Weiner’s Tale,” “If two people follow each other on Twitter, they can send private messages unseen by others.” (Weiner told Talking Points Memo that he follows some fans who use the hashtag #WeinerYes. And yes, he seems to have sent one message to a porn-star fan.)

Weiner, who’s hired a lawyer, isn’t saying much right now, trying to put the flap behind him.

Part of the right-wing chest-thumping about this involves the false notion that the liberal media are protecting the Democrat (as opposed to the likes of Mark Sanford, David Vitter, John Ensign, Arnold Schwarzenegger—all of whom fessed up). Just like the press supposedly protected John Edwards until the National Enquirer got the goods on his mistress and love child.

But the reticence in both the Weiner and Edwards cases was due to a lack of evidence (unlike, say, in the Eliot Spitzer scandal, which was broken by The New York Times). I don’t mind saying that the mainstream media would get aroused by the Weiner story if it were confirmed.

Weiner’s account could still fall apart, but for the moment, he seems entitled to the presumption of innocence.