Home > Uncategorized > Weiner’s Weiner and the Excess of the Media

Weiner’s Weiner and the Excess of the Media

The Anthony Weiner scandal characterizes everything that’s wrong with the media in America.  I’m not defending Weiner’s actions; obviously, a married man (or any man, for that matter) should not be engaging in that sort of behavior, nor should he have lied about it for a week before holding a tearful press conference confessing his deceit.  And yet, the media has, as is typical in America, blown the story out of proportion and laid the foundation for the scandal to play a larger role in public affairs than it ought to.  This not only contravenes the spirit of the media, it also jeopardizes the already-tenuous ability of our legislators and policy-makers to govern based on their moral convictions, rather than based on contrived populist rage.

The media certainly has a role to play in our society; it can serve as a check on governmental authority by holding the government to a high standard of transparency and accountability.  This, in a democratic republic such as ours, is essential, as it facilitates a level of information for voters that allows them to truly understand how their vote can impact their individual policy interests, thereby enhancing the efficacy of representative government.  The media can also, however, be incredibly destructive.  Andrew Breitbart, who broke the Weiner story via blog, is a perfect example of this.  Breitbart is a staunch, dogmatic conservative whose seeks, through his vast conglomerate of blogs, to bring down all aspects of the left (he even runs a website called BigHollywood).  He previously made headlines for releasing a video of USDA employee Shirley Sherrod that had been edited substantially to make it appear that Sherrod was making racist remarks again white farmers (in fact, she was telling an NAACP group how she overcome her own racism).  Breitbart not only broke the Weiner story, he also crashed Weiner’s press conference on June 6th, and has, over the past week, continued to magnify the story on talk shows and his blogs.

Breitbart’s actions do not, in any way, contribute to the democratic discourse that the media is supposed to engender.  Anthony Weiner’s actions are indefensible, but they do not affect his ability to govern (and he is, at least in the opinion of most liberals, a very effective legislator), in the same way that Bill Clinton’s sex scandal did not make him less effective as President.  I am a strong believer that our politicians should not be judged for their activity outside the public eye; rather, they should be evaluated only on the basis of those criteria that are relevant to their potential legislative efficacy.

Of course, are there those who will distrust Weiner enough to vote for somebody else in 2012?  Yes, and they have every right to do that.  Individual people, within a democracy, can vote on any basis that they chose.  The media, though, should contribute to the marketplace of ideas that our national policy debate ought to be, rather than the tabloid-driven, superficial gossip that is not materially relevant to our nation’s course.  People will always vote irrationally; it is their right to do so, and nobody ought to infringe upon that right.  And in some ways, I don’t blame the media: they are businesses, and they have an interest in producing a product that will be attractive to their consumers.  They also, though, have an obligation to the public interest, in the same way that a teacher has an obligation not to inject his or her own opinion into classroom lessons.  That obligation to the public, particularly in the modern age of the 24 hour news cycle and the Twitter/Facebook/blogosphere where news goes viral in minutes, ought to outweigh any profit motive; it is a moral obligation that ought not be compromised for the sake of economic interests.

Anthony Weiner should not resign; he is an effective politician and is the sort of individual that our country desperately needs in public office.  The media, over the past week, has characteristically inflated the story, defying its obligations to the public, and ultimately, harming the public interest in an untainted, robust discourse.

-Evan Goldstein ’12

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Danielle
    June 14, 2011 at 12:20 am

    First of all, I hope it’s OK to post on this if I’m not at all affiliated with your debate team. Or your school.
    But anyway: I completely agree… mostly. Sure, this scandal doesn’t accurately reflect his governing abilities. That being said I think you need to look at the fact that you’re giving the big OK to lying in politics. It’s sadly accepted, sure, I know that, but why distrust anyone with that much power, or, forgive him after he suddenly calls an afternoon press conference after thinking about whether or not he could get away with it for a week? If he had owned up to it immediately, then alright, a little less moronic judgement for him. But still, shame on him for engaging in that sort of pathetic pursuit of this internet-based sexual escapade. And on twitter? Come on. He even denied it with the excuse of a hacked Facebook account.
    Looking at Gingrich, Edwards, and Clinton (there are more, I’m just in a rut from studying for finals), I’ve become tired of looking on via TV or paper as politicians scramble and attempt to explain themselves, while their rivals capitalize on the scandal. The issue is no longer the fact that the people running our country are lying about this (and what else), it’s how amusing the scandal is. Lying has settled down in America as a mainstay of American politics that we, as citizens here, not only accept, but expect.
    So to the next election candidates: May the most sophisticated liar win!

  2. June 14, 2011 at 12:47 am

    Yeah, it’s totally fine! Part of the idea of this project is to have it be public and involve people from outside the school.
    Hmm well I definitely agree that his lying is morally reprehensible, but I’m not sure that it’s relevant from a political point of view. I think it’s a really open (and interesting) question whether we should actually care about the morality of our public officials. We don’t seem to in other areas; I don’t care if Lloyd Blankfein is a good person, if he’s a good banker, I’ll invest my money in Goldman Sachs.
    The line, though, is when Blankfein is found to be dishonest in his banking, and I think that’s the crucial distinction. Weiner didn’t lie about politics; he lied about his personal life. I’m not at all saying that it’s ok to lie in politics; if Weiner had lied about foreign policy or health care or law enforcement, or anything like that, I think there would be legitimate grounds for his dismissal. Politicians enter into an agreement with the public to be open and honest with us on policy issues, and he’s done that. I don’t believe that the same obligation exists for his personal life (morally, it’s another question, but that’s a question for Weiner and his family to decide, not the American media). I realize that we’re getting somewhat away from the topic, but I do think it’s interesting.
    In any case, even if certain people feel that Weiner has violated the trust of the American people, the media has an obligation to foster policy debate, not gossip, so what I was really trying to get at is the media’s role in a democracy. I personally don’t think Weiner should resign, but that’s my opinion, and people in democracies can have their own opinions. The media, though, should stay focused on policy; showing pictures of Anthony Weiner in his underwear doesn’t really further any sort of discourse on policy.

  3. June 14, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    On a far less serious note, I don’t know if you’ve seen this yet, but they’re making action figures! http://www.myfoxny.com/dpp/news/anthony-weiner-action-figure20110612-ncx Yes, this whole scandal may not be the most productive thing for the media to focus on, but I at least find it terribly amusing.

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