Yes, Anthony Weiner Is A Creep. Can We Move On Now?

The latest sexting scandal is a waste of precious journalistic resources.

Flickr/Joe Wolf

I’ll begin by stating the obvious: The picture of Anthony Weiner taking a racy selfie with his young son in bed positioned next to his bulging underwear is disgusting, unsettling, and the fact that Weiner took the picture at all could very well be indicative of any number of mental health issues.

Now that we’re all agreed, why is anyone wasting oxygen or newsprint or server space on this story? When I look at my Tweetdeck, I see smart, accomplished, dedicated journalists gleefully trying to get in their little Anthony Weiner jokes. Here’s one that just happened to be near the top of my Twitter feed as I was writing this post, written by one of the Washington Post’s national political correspondents:

Ha! Anthony Weiner’s sexts aren’t sexy at all!

You know what they also aren’t? The sexts of a public figure. OK, it’s not as if I’m completely dumbfounded here. I get why media outlets need to report on this. He is an ex-Congressman whose time in Congress came to an abrupt end because of a sexting scandal. His campaign for mayor of New York City (which I worked on briefly as an intern, but that’s a story for another time) came to a similarly abrupt end for similarly salacious reasons. And now, as his wife Huma Abedin works to get her boss elected president, he steps in it again.

And this time, you won’t BELIEVE who’s in the picture next to him!

Other than Huma’s role in Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, Weiner himself has no real connection to public life at this point. This whole round of media coverage reminds me of, of all people, former Cleveland Browns and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny “Johnny Football” Manziel. For years, the media jumped on any Johnny Manziel story they could get their hands on, as he threw away his shot at being a starting NFL quarterback seemingly due in large part to his inability to stop drinking and lip-syncing along to Future songs in Instagram videos. At a certain point, though, the story went from “Browns QB Can’t Stop Partying”, to “Rich Alcoholic Hits Girlfriend.” In other words, it went from being the kind of wasted talent morality tale Americans can’t seem to get enough of, to just a deeply sad story.

We’ve reached a similar point with Anthony Weiner. Again, the man is no longer a public figure, and, by making their separation official, Huma is severing his one link to public life. Whatever his failings—and clearly they are many—they are the failings of a private figure. I know it’s too much to ask the New York Post to practice some discretion in the kinds of stories they chase, but just because they choose to go down that rabbit hole doesn’t mean serious journalists have to follow.

Because I’m not making this argument out of consideration for Weiner’s feelings. Whether or not his behavior is due to real mental health issues, I don’t have much sympathy for the guy at this point. It’s more that we live in an age of dwindling journalistic resources that are being spent on Anthony Weiner’s online sexcapades for what I suspect are not the purest of motives. Reporters talk about the tortured decision-making process of which stories they’ll cover on a given day, or in the longer term, and then willingly give their time and energy to laugh at someone who’s already been laughed off the political stage.

I know, reporters are human, and they need lighter stories to balance out the serious, often depressing stories they spend the bulk of their time on. What worries me, though, is that this latest Anthony Weiner story is sordid gossip-column stuff masquerading as serious political journalism. Nate Silver made a similar point earlier today:

If the mainstream media wants to talk about Anthony Weiner’s illicit DMs, fine. Let’s just call it what it is, though: Weiner is DC and New York politicos’ Johnny Football.