Time, Newsweek Defensively Backed Out of Weinergate and Scorned Our 'Pitiless Prurience'

Since we disposed with the notion that the networks had a feeding frenzy on the Anthony Weiner scandal, what about the news magazines? They began with a whimper, but then that week’s magazines were summer double issues. After the week off, what happened in their June 27 issues? Not much.

Newsweek didn’t offer a down arrow in their “Conventional Wisdom” column, but they gave an up arrow to “GOP Fringe,” arguing “Perry, Bachmann, and Paul show screwballs’ strength.”

Up front, Newsweek acknowledged the end of Weinergate with a two-page photo and about 150 words on Weiner, but they gave a page to fashion writer Robin Givhan to prattle on about how Mrs. Weiner “says much with her wardrobe.” I think people would rather hear her speak. First question: "You really know how to pick 'em, huh?" Abedin drew nothing but coos and back-pats from the media in this whole thing.

The pull quote: “In slim trousers and a pop of neon, Huma Abedin exudes calm and control amid chaos.” Who needs a press coneference when your "neon pop" will do the talking? She gushed:

Fashion, used wisely, is a declaration of relevance. When Abedin posed for Vogue in 2007, she established herself as a Washington power personality. Last year, she made a return appearance in her wedding gown: a succinct pronouncement that her social currency had only risen in value.

Time magazine was actually worse than that. It had no picture, no summary of the resignation or career of Weiner They only published a column on page 62 headlined “No Pictures, Please! The scandals that stick aren’t always the worst. They’re just the ones we can see.” Nancy Gibbs, who was a Clinton stalwart during Monicagate, barely mentioned Weiner as she discussed the weight of the Pentagon Papers and the Watergate scandal for Nixon:

Could he have survived Watergate if we had just read about his actions rather than heard them unfold in all their greasy glory? There's no way to know, but when it comes to Weiner, we can hazard a guess. A new Pew poll found that most respondents thought the recent rash of sex scandals reflects not lower standards among lawmakers, just higher scrutiny. Had we not seen the crotch shots and read the sexts but merely heard that Weiner was communicating inappropriately with his fans, it's hard to believe he would have been judged unfit for congressional service by his peers.

This is the lawmaking body that was content to censure Gerry Studds for inviting a 16-year-old page to his apartment, getting him drunk and seducing him. Barney Frank put a prostitute on his personal payroll who proceeded to run his business out of Frank's Capitol Hill apartment; Frank was reprimanded for fixing his parking tickets. Senator Larry Craig considered resigning after he was arrested in a sex sting in an airport men's room but thought better of it and served out his term. Last year Senator David Vitter was re-elected in a landslide despite having his name turn up in the phone records of the D.C. Madam.

And that's just the sex. FBI agents found $90,000 in bribe money in Congressman William Jefferson's freezer; he was defended by colleagues and re-elected by voters before being sentenced to 13 years in prison. Charlie Rangel was writing laws on our taxes as chair of the Ways and Means Committee while somehow neglecting to pay his own. He lost the chairmanship but keeps his seat, from which he now defends Weiner.

Then came the argument that Weiner’s scandal wasn’t really scandalous at all and Weiner was done in by “pitiless prurience” in our culture:

But defends him from what? No accusations of crime or abuse or outright adultery — not that that has proved disqualifying in the past (though a new Tennessee law makes it a crime to transmit online an image that might "frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress," so who knows what is illegal anymore?). Boiled down, the charges against Weiner amount to being epically stupid and deeply creepy and to having few friends in Congress. In the end, the calls for his resignation aren't a moral judgment but a political one: his presence costs too much and distracts Democrats from defending Medicare to the death, and in any case, New York needs to sacrifice two congressional seats to redistricting, so Weiner's might conveniently dissolve in 2012.

As for the rest of us, the political-media-industrial complex has found Weinerpalooza an irresistible distraction from other disturbing news. The days of the Pentagon Papers debates seem long past, when a sudden transparency yielded insight into fights over war and peace and freedom and security; the transparency afforded by Twitter and Facebook yields insights that extend no further than a lawmaker's boundless narcissism and a culture's pitiless prurience.

"Weinerpalooza" was an "irresistible distraction"? Obviously, Time magazine found it very resistible.

But Gibbs was quite right about how Weiner's judgment by fellow Democrats wasn't moral, just political: they were willing to defend Weiner and stiff-arm the press if his online "activism" was limited to a few news cycles, but since TMZ seemed to keep finding more embarrassing images, he had to go. Democrats proved in the Lewinsky scandal that they will preserve their power and fudge the morals (Broaddrick rape, schmape) if it's really important.

So did Time magazine.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis