The cover story of the upcoming New York Times Sunday magazine is independent journalist Jonathan Van Meter's 8,000-word sympathetic profile-slash-therapy session for disgraced New York City former congressman Anthony Weiner, he of explicit Twitter photo infamy. Weiner's extended interview is having its intended effect, as the networks promote his political rehabilitation.
But even some liberal journalists think Van Meter left a lot out of his cover story. And conservative blogger Ace of Spades' timeline of the summer 2011 scandal suggests Van Meter is shielding Weiner by tossing details of the scandal down the media memory hole while ignoring the indispensable role played by the late Andrew Breitbart.
The bulk of the Times article is spent on portraying Anthony Weiner exactly as his press advisers wish him to be portrayed, as having made a mistake, and suffered adequately for it, and repented it, and so, like Bill Clinton after a few sessions in Jesse Jackson Jr., ready for the responsibility of public trust again.
Van Meter spent hours interviewing Weiner, his wife, and his family:
One day in early February, I met Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin for breakfast at the Gramercy Park Hotel, one of their regular joints, just a few blocks from their apartment on Park Avenue South. The first thing Weiner said when I sat down was that their 13-month-old son, Jordan, had just moments ago taken his first step. They were both giddy, kvelling with baby-pride, especially Weiner, who, with all his free time, has become his son’s primary caretaker. This is what life is like now for the man whose name is invariably followed in print by some version of “the disgraced former congressman who sent out a lewd picture of himself via Twitter.”
By agreeing to be interviewed, Weiner and Abedin would seem to be trying to give voters what they want -- and gauge public reaction. But it’s clear that the idea of talking about the scandal and its aftermath appeals to them on a personal level too. “We have been in a defensive crouch for so long,” Weiner said. “We are ready to clear the decks on this thing.” Their lives have become too small, too circumscribed, too claustrophobic for a couple accustomed to public life. They haven’t been to a major event together -- no White House Correspondents Dinner, no red-carpet events -- in nearly two years. “We didn’t want to make other people uncomfortable,” Abedin said, “but also, we just didn’t want to deal with it. I have now gotten used to people asking, over and over again, ‘How is Anthony?’ Oh, he’s good! ‘But how is he doing?’ He’s doing fine.”
Weiner and Abedin have realized, it seems, that the only way out is through. So they have agreed to talk -- and talk and talk -- for the first time about what happened and why and what it looks like from the inside when your world comes crashing down because of, as Weiner puts it, “one fateful Tweet.”
There was a lot more to it than "one fateful Tweet," as Van Meter admitted:
At a hastily arranged news conference in New York on Monday, Weiner tearfully admitted that he “engaged in several inappropriate conversations conducted over Twitter, Facebook, e-mail and occasionally on the phone” and exchanged “messages and photos of an explicit nature with about six women over the last three years,” essentially the entire length of his relationship with Abedin, but that he had never met any of the women in person. “
Van Meter took a shot at Breitbart.
“I’ve never been on Twitter,” Abedin says. “I couldn’t tell you the first thing about how it works. And Anthony had told me in the past that there were these sort of trolls on the Internet who were trying to damage him, take him down. And so, that’s the mind-set I came with to this conversation.” It wasn’t such an implausible theory; after all, it was the not entirely reputable right-wing blogger Andrew Breitbart who broke the story. “Anthony was Anthony,” Abedin says. “Confident! Determined! Defensive! I was right there with him: ‘Let’s fight! Defend! I don’t understand. Why don’t you just say this is not your picture?’ I was with him. One hundred percent.”
Van Meter offered what Ace of Spades termed a "very Clintonesque defense."
It was a sex scandal without any actual sex -- more creepy than anything else. But it was hard for people to get their heads around: an affair is one thing, but sending crotch pictures to a virtual stranger? Mike Capuano, a congressman from Massachusetts and Weiner’s roommate in Washington for many years, spoke for a lot of people when he told me, “He obviously did something incredibly stupid that, honestly, I still don’t understand.”
Politico's Dylan Byers found "a few significant holes," including Van Meter stating as fact that Rep. Peter King tried "to scuttle the 9/11 health and compensation act." Also, "Van Meter doesn't even mention that both Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz had called on Weiner to resign, thus allowing him to claim -- without contest -- that he made the decision to end his political career "to focus on my marriage, my family, [Abedin's] family." Byers noted that Van Meter "seems not only sympathetic to Weiner, but uncritical and unquestioning."