Sex, Bias, and Weinergate

For several days, NewsBusters readers have been asking why we haven't commented on the growing controversy surrounding Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) and an indecent picture sent from his Twitter account to a 21-year-old girl in Seattle, Washington.

As there seem to have been far more questions concerning this sensitive matter than answers, we have been observing the press reaction trying to assess how a media that is typically protective of Democrats handled the scandal.

Our conclusion at this time?

All things considered, the coverage has been surprisingly good.

The story first broke Saturday at various conservative blogs including Andrew Breitbart's Big Government as well as Gawker. The only mainstream coverage that day came in a short piece at Politico.

By Sunday, the Associated Press and UPI jumped on the story with the former publishing seven articles and the latter two. The only newspaper to cover the issue was the New York Post. Still nothing on national television although not everything gets transcribed on weekends.

Things really picked up Monday with coverage by New York's Daily News, the New York Times, the New York Post, the Washington Post, and the Washington Times. CNN did reports on the 5PM and 6PM installments of "The Situation Room" as well as "John King, USA."

As the long holiday weekend ended, and folks got back to work Tuesday, the reporting on this scandal rose even further. AP did 25 stories on its various state, local, and national wires. The New York papers continued with their coverage, and there were articles at the Chicago Tribune and the Orlando Sentinel.

For its part, CNN through 4PM had filed reports during ten different hourly segments Tuesday. As Fox News and MSNBC only transcribe their prime time programming, it's unknown what their respective coverage has been.

Add it up, and there's been in excess of 90 reports on a story with more questions than answers.

To be sure, many of these seemed to give Weiner the benefit of the doubt while ignoring key elements that further implicate him. However, in this kind of a situation, the best way for media to protect a politician they like is by reporting nothing at all.

It took the press nine months to pay attention to the John Edwards sex scandal after it was first revealed by the National Enquirer. By that time, the junior senator from Illinois had already been nominated by his Party.

Newsweek's Michael Isikoff had the Monica Lewinsky affair ready for publishing only to have folks at the top of the magazine decide not to. Maybe we never would have heard about what was going on in the Oval Office if someone at Newsweek hadn't leaked it to Matt Drudge.

But this kind of censorship surprisingly isn't just employed for Democrats.

Although the media's coverage of Congressman Mark Foley's (R-Fla.) sex scandal in 2006 was absolutely deplorable, what many forget is that it took ten months for his electronic messages to male pages to come to light after the first news outlets were made aware of them.

The St. Petersburg Times, the Miami Herald and Fox News all had copies of some of these messages in November 2005 and decided not to run the story. Harper's magazine got possession of them in May 2006 but also chose not to publish anything.

ABC's Brian Ross, the national media representative that finally broke the story in September 2006, sat on these communications for over a month because he was working on something else.

As such, despite numerous outlets having these email messages, it took ten months before the first report on this sex scandal.

By contrast, we're only four days into this one - assuming there even is a scandal - and there's already been at least 90 reports on the subject.

Does that mean they've all been good?

Hardly. We've certainly witnessed sides being taken.

But we've also seen Weiner get grilled by press representatives in the following report aired by CNN Tuesday:

Seem like softballs to you?

I particularly liked the question, "Could you tell us why you were following a 21-year-old college student [on Twitter]?" As Weiner only follows 198 people on this social networking site, and this was the girl the indecent picture was allegedly sent to, this seems particularly valid.

I'd also like someone to ask Weiner why he was also following a high school girl with a thing for married men as well as a porn star. Such was reported by Verum Serum whose work on this scandal has been exhaustive. 

Gateway Pundit, who has also been on top of this story from day one, observed Monday that Weiner follows a lot of very young, very attractive women at Twitter. When they get around to it, members of the press should ask the Congressman why that's the case.

Those still not thrilled with the mainstream media's coverage on this matter should also review what Big Government has been reporting the past four days as well as Ace of Spaces and Mediaite. They're all to be commended for delving into aspects of this matter that the national press haven't.

But there's more to media bias than lack of detail. As previously stated, if the liberal press wanted to protect this Democrat, they would have done so far more effectively by just not divulging this suspicious tweet.

Every report now - even the ones that appear to be defending Weiner - keep the story going and force the Congressman to have to talk about this extremely sensitive subject.

As Ed Morrissey noted Tuesday in his first article on this issue:

I wanted to wait for a response from Weiner, and given the fact that this happened over a holiday weekend, I kept an open mind about the possibilities.

Weiner’s response seems odd under the circumstances. It might be that Weiner is still telling the truth and just believes this will blow over with the “hacking” explanation and a stonewall strategy from him, but if so, it’s not a safe bet that it will work. The mainstream press seems to be getting pretty curious about Weiner’s Twitter habits, and that may or may not go away with a lack of response from Weiner.

That seemed quite evident during the questioning aired by CNN, and leads one to believe that even a Democrat-loving media have more questions than answers. What this means is that any coverage of this issue by the national media has the potential of shedding more light on it.

We are therefore pleased to see the Weiner story get the quantity of reporting it deserves. There is something serious to be pursued here regardless of the origin of the mysterious picture sent to the Washington college student.

If Weiner was the victim of someone trying to embarrass him, that raises critical issues about Twitter and its security procedures as well as whether or not U.S. government officials should be using it so extensively. If Weiner is the source and he's lying to cover up an embarrassing error that is worth knowing.

Americans don't like our governmental figures lying to us regardless of the nature of the thing they're lying about. Weiner's defensive and rather odd behavior of late is worth exploring.

Here's to hoping we are able to get a fuller understanding of the situation. Conservatives may not like the slant to all these reports, but at least this story is getting national exposure.

It took nine months for that to happen to a presidential candidate with a mistress, a love child, and a very popular wife who was dying of cancer.

*****Update: I previously expressed the hope that media would ask Weiner why he follows so many young, attractive women on Twitter. In the following highly contentious Q&A aired on CNN, somebody does.

Also of note, Weiner got so angered with questions being asked by CNN's Ted Barrett that the Congressman eventually called him a "jackass":

As you can see, the press are getting more and more frustrated by Weiner's evasions. That means this story has legs.

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Noel Sheppard's picture