Is CNN Trying to Rehabilitate Weiner's Career?

From listening to CNN's pre- and post-Weiner press conference commentary, one could be forgiven for thinking they were already attempting to jumpstart the congressman's political career. Already one former politician caught in a sex scandal is using his prime-time position at CNN to rehabilitate his image.

"Sad" and "tragic" were words used by CNN's political team to describe Weiner's resignation given that he was a "rising star" in the Democrat Party. CNN's Wolf Blitzer told colleague John King, "It's almost tragic, John, because as you've been pointing out, [Weiner] was really the front-runner to become the next mayor of New York City after Michael Bloomberg."

Before and after the press conference, the CNN hosts and correspondents repeatedly threw around the possibility of a political comeback for Weiner.

Wolf Blitzer claimed that "just reading the body language, hearing what he had to say, I would by no means rule out at some point down the road, maybe a year from now, five years from now, Anthony Weiner, it's in his blood, he might seek political office once again." He remarked earlier that "New Yorkers are very forgiving."

Blitzer posed the question to CNN's legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who was surprisingly more even-keeled in his assessment of a comeback. "Well, I think like most politicians, he was keeping his options open," he said of Weiner, before adding that "you know, I think that is really off in the future, if at all."

Dana Bash hyped that "everybody in this country loves a comeback story" as she agreed with Blitzer. Anchor John King called the possible comeback an "open question," but did seem to agree with Blitzer's opinion of New Yorkers as "forgiving."

"They are scrappy people. They like somebody who stands up and fights for themselves and fights for the district and fights for the city," he said.

The next hour, anchor Brooke Baldwin continued the narrative in her one question of New York Democrat congressman Steve Israel. "Look, New Yorkers are a forgiving bunch. And he has represented this district in New York for seven terms. Do you think there is any kind of possibility down the road that he could return to Capitol Hill?"

Ironically, the Democratic congressman played down the idea. "Well, I can tell you absolutely firsthand that the only kind of recovery that Anthony Weiner is concerned about, based on the conversations that I have had with him is not a political recovery. It is his personal recovery," he told Baldwin.

"So I don't believe that politics is anywhere near the – in the equation right now for Congressman Weiner."

A partial transcript of the commentary, which aired on June 16 at 2:06 p.m. EDT, is as follows:

[2:06]

WOLF BLITZER: Yes, I wouldn't rule out a second chance. Dana, I don't know what you're hearing up about there about any political ambitions he might have. Right now, he's got a lot of other serious issues he's got to deal with, with his family, his friends, his constituency, and himself -- he says he's been in treatment. He's trying to fix the problems obviously, that he's had. But what almost $5 million in campaign cash that if he wants to someday will be available and he will continue. He will obviously get that congressional pension, assuming he announces his resignation in the next few minutes.

DANA BASH, CNN Capitol Hill correspondent: That's right. And, you know, everybody in this country loves a comeback story. So – and his colleagues are also saying, Wolf, even as we speak, they are telling our colleagues, like Deirdre Walsh, right off the House floor, don't count him out in the future. Right now, he's got to take time. He's got to go get himself help. He's got to go deal with his family, with his wife and everything else. But they're saying, you know, don't rule him out.

(...)

[2:14]

BLITZER: This is a very, very dramatic moment indeed. It's almost tragic, John, because as you've been pointing out, he was really the front-runner to become the next mayor of New York City after Michael Bloomberg.

JOHN KING: And you look at the scene, Wolf, there are 435 members of the House of Representatives, none of them can draw a media crowd like this unless – unless –  it is something tragic and something sad and something scandalous, like this. He was a rising star, Mary just mentioned, he was on the city council. He was a protege of Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, someone who like Anthony Weiner can be combative and made a name for himself by sparring with Republicans.

Anthony Weiner tried to follow into that suit. Very combative, sometimes abrasive, drew a lot of fans. In fact, many of his conversations with these women online started after they saw him on television and reached out to compliment him, to follow him on Twitter or to go his Facebook site to say, you know, thanks for fighting the good fight, when they would see him on the cable television interviews taking issue with the Republicans, defending the Democratic agenda.

And so, he did get a name for himself, not just in his district and in his city and in his state, but somewhat nationally for his high profile. And now, of course, along the way, he made some enemies within his own Democratic Caucus, or rubbed some people the wrong way, often critical of then-Speaker Pelosi, saying that they didn't have a good communication strategy, they weren't fighting the fight right. So, now, at a time when this probably would have forced him out anyway, but where if he had deeper reservoir of goodwill with the leadership, maybe things may have gone a little differently, maybe – he doesn't have that deep reservoir of support.

But, he is ambitious. He is aggressive, and he will bow out today with a resignation. And as many of his colleagues and associates on Capitol Hill are saying, you know, this is closing one chapter, his congressional career, and closing it in a horrible, horrible way. Will he come back? That's an open question.

BLITZER: New Yorkers are very forgiving and for the same reason, his abrasiveness, let's say, he was unpopular with many leaders here in Washington. He was very popular with his constituents. They liked the fact that he was seen as a fighter for them.

KING: And you're talking about Brooklyn, you're talking Queens, you're talking a lot of blue collar working class neighborhoods. They are scrappy people. They like somebody who stands up and fights for themselves and fights for the district and fights for the city. He was involved in all of those funding, homeland security money after 9/11 for New York and things like that. So, look, this is a sad chapter. Most of what will happen is an important political story here.

(...)

[2:26]

KING: And as sad as this chapter is, and whatever your opinion of Anthony Weiner at home, he should have been able to deliver his statement without being interrupted. He deserves a common courtesy of that. However, that didn't happen.

(...)

KING: The fact that he said, "Here in this senior citizens center is where I began my political career," I think some will take from that that he's trying to close the circle and close this chapter and say he's done with his congressional career. He did say that he wanted to find ways to continue to contribute, that he hoped he'd be forgiven by his constituents. You know, are there seeds of a potential Anthony Weiner comeback in that? I think, you know, sure, you canb make that conclusion if that's where you want to go. I think, today, though, his main point you mentioned, at the beginning and the end, he apologized again to his wife, thanked her for standing by him.

(...)

BLITZER: To me, just reading the body language, hearing what he had to say, I would by no means rule out at some point down the road, maybe a year from now, five years from now, Anthony Weiner, it's in his blood, he might seek political office once again.

BASH: I don't think anybody should rule that out. I think you're exactly right.

(...)

BLITZER: Mary, stand by. Jeffrey Toobin is with us. Jeffrey, you're a longtime observer of New York politics. You live in New York. Did you sense, as I did, that he was perhaps thinking down the road he could make a political comeback at some point, assuming he gets his personal life straightened out?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN senior legal analyst (on the phone): Well, I think like most politicians, he was keeping his options open. I mean, my experience with politicians is ambition dies when they do, so he's got – he's a young man. Only 46 years old. But, you know, I think that is really off in the future, if at all. You know, the other factor as a New Yorker that I would just like to point out is that this district, unlike a lot of other congressional districts in this area, is not an overwhelmingly Democratic district. There are many districts in New York City where the Democrat wins 80, 90 percent of the vote. But against token opposition, Anthony Weiner only won 60 percent of the vote in 2010, and it is not inconceivable that a well-financed Republican challenge could make this a very competitive race in the special election that Governor Cuomo has to call in the next 70 or 80 days.

(...)

[3:16]

BROOKE BALDWIN: And, Congressman, I appreciate you jumping on. My final question to you is this. Look, New Yorkers are a forgiving bunch. And he has represented this district in New York for seven terms. Do you think there is any kind of possibility down the road that he could return to Capitol Hill?

Rep. STEVE ISRAEL (D-N.Y.): Well, I can tell you absolutely firsthand that the only kind of recovery that Anthony Weiner is concerned about, based on the conversations that I have had with him is not a political recovery. It is his personal recovery. It's recovery – his recovery with his wife, and it is the baby that they are expecting. So I don't believe that politics is anywhere near the – in the equation right now for Congressman Weiner.

Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro
Matt Hadro was a News Analyst for the Media Research Center's News Analysis Division from 2010 through early 2014