It was part teary-eyed confessional, part marital therapy, part ritual humiliation.
It was painful to watch, and impossible not to. It was riveting and revolting at the same time.
Anthony Weiner admitted to a roomful of aggressive reporters on Monday afternoon that he lied, that he “panicked,” that he is “ashamed,” that he is “embarrassed,” that he had done “a very dumb thing.” And then he stood there, grim-faced, and fielded a barrage of hostile questions for half an hour, throwing himself on the mercy of public opinion.
The New York congressman did tweet a bulging underwear photo to a 21-year-old college student, contrary to his phony story, repeated in one television interview after another, about his Twitter account having been hacked. And there was more: “inappropriate” contacts with six women over three years, sending some of them “explicit photos,” in some cases after he was married last year to Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
And he was multi-platform, to use today’s jargon, interacting with the women on Twitter, Facebook, email, and occasionally on the phone.
Weiner admitted to a “deep personal failing,” even as he said he had never met any of the women, let alone had sex with them. He said he had told his wife that he was lying about the Twitter hack in the morning, just hours before the news conference. She was “not happy,” the Democrat reported, she was “very disappointed,” but “she also told me she loved me and we were going to get through this.”
The longer Weiner spoke, the more tortured he looked, and the more cringe-inducing the spectacle. This was not the light-hearted lawmaker of last week, making wiener jokes at his own expense. This was a man trying to save his job, his marriage, and what remains of his reputation.
It sounded like we were all eavesdropping on a therapist’s office. “I have not been honest with myself, my family, my constituents, my friends,” Weiner said. What he had thought was “a frivolous exchange among friends” was actually “destructive,” he said. The longer he stood at that podium, the more he seemed to be pleading for some kind of forgiveness.
Even by the standard of politicians confessing affairs, this was by turns maudlin, heartfelt, and raw. Not since Mark Sanford said he hadn’t been hiking the Appalachian Trail and loved his soul mate has a television audience seen anything like it.
Weiner faced the music as ABC News was preparing to release an interview with Meagan Broussard, “a 26-year-old single mother from Texas who provided dozens of photos, emails, Facebook messages, and cellphone call logs that she says chronicle a sexually charged electronic relationship with Weiner that rapidly evolved for more than a month, starting on April 20.
“He would say ‘just good morning, how are you doing, what are you doing today? What are you wearing? What do you like? You know, in the bedroom, you know, that sort of thing,’" she said. Broussard was first identified by Andrew Breitbart’s BigGovernment website, and Weiner confirmed she was one of the women.
What made the event all the more surreal is that Weiner has always been a media-savvy politician, and yet he kept shooting off his mouth last week with an extraordinarily weak cover story. He told Wolf Blitzer, Bret Baier, Jonathan Karl, Luke Russert, Nancy Cordes, and anyone else who would listen that he didn’t know if the photo of him in that gray underwear was a picture of him below the waist. He said he was trying to protect his wife and, of course, wound up making things worse and becoming fodder for Jon Stewart.There was a multiplier effect at the presser because Weiner was beating himself up while the journalists, who had been lied to, were cuffing him around as well. He seemed at several points like he might start bawling. His struggle to maintain his composure is what bathed the event in both drama and pathos.Weiner apologized to everyone he could think of—his wife, his family, the women involved, the media, even Breitbart, whose site broke the story and who was standing with the press in the Manhattan hotel ballroom after earlier grabbing the microphone and briefly hijacking the event. Before it was over, Weiner was hit with such shouted questions as “Did you have phone sex?” and “Were you erect?”
Weiner said he would not resign his House seat. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is calling for an Ethics Committee probe of whether government resources were used, which suggests that his party is immediately trying to distance itself from this debacle. Whether Weiner can hang onto his job, and run for reelection, depends mainly on whether he gets any credit for belatedly coming clean—and whether he can win back the trust that he admits he frittered away.
Howard Kurtz is The Daily Beast and Newsweek's Washington bureau chief, and writes the Spin Cycle blog. He also hosts CNN's weekly media program Reliable Sources on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET. The longtime media reporter and columnist for The Washington Post, Kurtz is the author of five books.