Anthony Weiner scandal: Is anything in Congress private anymore?
Rep. Anthony Weiner finally acceded to demands that he resign because of his 'sexting' scandal. The incident further opens private lives in Congress to public scrutiny.
(Page 2 of 2)
“Congressman Weiner exercised poor judgment in his actions and poor judgment in his reaction to the revelations. Today, he made the right judgment in resigning,” she said in a statement after the resignation.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In earlier eras, sex scandals on Capitol Hill were widely known in the Washington press corps, but rarely reported. Even if reported, they often had little consequence. In part, the heightened scrutiny of the private lives of public figures reflects a change in public standards. It also reflects more diversity among members of Congress and the press corps that covers them.
“The press corps was predominantly male until the 1980s, and men looked the other way,” says Gene Grabowski, senior vice president and manager of the Crisis and Litigation Practice Group for Levick Strategic Communications in Washington. “There was as much going on then, but now it’s found out.”
“The sensibilities have changed. More women are in positions of power and more women are in positions of influence in the press,” he adds.
There were 17 women House members when Ways and Means chairman Wilbur Mills and stripper Fanny Foxe made sensational headlines in 1974, but he was not pressed by his colleagues to resign. Today, there are 75 women in the House, 51 in the Democratic caucus, many in leadership positions, Congresswomen Pelosi and Wasserman Schultz among them.
Women in the Democratic caucus were among Weiner’s most outspoken, early critics. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D) of Pennsylvania was the first to call for his resignation, citing his “offensive behavior online.”
On Thursday, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D) of New York echoed the sentiment that Weiner made things worse for himself.
“If Anthony hadn’t lied in the beginning, it would have been OK,” she says. “The culture has changed because of a 24-hour news cycle. It makes everything here a little more sensitive and paints a bad picture of all of us.”
Beyond the TV news cycle, sex scandals over the Internet have an immediacy that creates new problems for politicians trying to escape them, says Mr. Grabowski, whose firm has represented members of Congress involved in sex scandals.
“The Internet has been a marvelous tool for messaging, but it’s a tool your adversaries can use against you,” he adds. “It can trip you up if what you think is private isn’t. Weiner used the Internet to great advantage for his political career, and it proved to be his undoing. You’re going to see more of that.”
“The whole thing is very sad. It’s a tragedy,” says Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D) of New York, speaking outside the House chamber as Weiner was resigning. As for lessons from the scandal for members of Congress, he said: “I hope they’re tweeting a little more carefully.”
IN PICTURES: Who is Congressman Anthony Weiner?