Shame on Weiner, Congress and the Media

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director

New York Congressman Anthony Weiner’s pathetic Twitter scandal perfectly illustrates why Congress has just a 9 percent approval rating, according to a new Rasmussen  poll. Public approval of the news media is doubtless only slightly higher.   

Anthony WeinerRevelations that the House Judiciary Committee member Weiner, left, age 46, repeatedly sent lewd pictures of himself to young women both before and after his marriage last June exemplify also why our Justice Integrity Project expanded our focus last year beyond our original mission of documenting injustice around the nation. All too many officials in Congress, courts and the executive branch show that they care little about their actual duties, even though most of them are adept at bloviating about reform. The recent Weiner, John Edwards and John Ensign sex scandals are just tiny samples of the selfish behavior portrayed four decades ago in the movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” These problems -- portrayed in the movie as pervasive -- continue unabated (if not expanded) into our era. As indicated below, the crass self-interest of our governing institutions threatens our country. How can we address problems if Congress, supposedly the most responsive branch to the public in our constitutional system, performs so poorly in the view of the vast majority?

Glenn GreenwaldIt's not just public officials. During the rare occasions, as with Weiner, when a predatory official is exposed and wounded, we see media jackals suddenly becoming fearless as they pounce in packs. Two of our favorite media critics, Glenn Greenwald and Bob Somerby, on June 7 portrayed such scenes this week. Greenwald, right, summed up the Weiner travesty in his Salon column, “The joys of repressed voyeuristic titillation.” The former New York lawyer-turned-blogger began this way:

There are few things more sickening -- or revealing -- to behold than a D.C. sex scandal. Huge numbers of people prance around flamboyantly condemning behavior in which they themselves routinely engage. Media stars contrive all sorts of high-minded justifications for luxuriating in every last dirty detail, when nothing is more obvious than that their only real interest is vicarious titillation.

Reporters who would never dare challenge powerful political figures who torture, illegally eavesdrop, wage illegal wars or feed at the trough of sleazy legalized bribery suddenly walk upright -- like proud ostriches with their feathers extended -- pretending to be hard-core adversarial journalists as they collectively kick a sexually humiliated figure stripped of all importance. The ritual is as nauseating as it is predictable.

His entire column is worth reading. For the convenience of those too busy to do so, click here:

What makes the Anthony Weiner story somewhat unique and thus worth discussing for a moment is that, as Hendrick Hertzberg points out, the pretense of substantive relevance (which, lame though it was in prior scandals, was at least maintained) has been more or less brazenly dispensed with here....

This is just pure mucking around in the private, consensual, unquestionably legal private sexual affairs of someone for partisan gain, voyeuristic fun and the soothing fulfillment of judgmental condemnation.  And in that regard, it sets a new standard: the private sexual activities of public figures -- down to the most intimate details -- are now inherently newsworthy, without the need for any pretense of other relevance.

In “Crackpot Unbound” at the Daily Howler, Somerby names names in mocking two stars of MSNBC’s show Hardball for their lascivious carriage. He does so by quoting a female blogger, Digby, as follows:

Apparently this sending pictures of your dick to women thing is a common habit among men who see themselves as players, but it reveals that they don't understand women very well…But listening to Chris Matthews and Howard Fineman crow and strut about cornering [Weiner] into admitting his "crime" is far worse. This is the essence of the Village folks.

We are about to be treated to endless nauseating lectures about propriety from a bunch of wealthy, decadent, television celebrities who will be rending their garments over the allegedly shocking sexual behavior of politicians as if they are the elders of a small American town circa 1957—as they pore over every. single. detail. Nothing could be more revolting, not even unpleasant pictures of a politician's erect member.

Somerby is a Baltimore-based comedian by profession and former schoolteacher. He became one of the nation’s pioneering political bloggers in the 1990s because of his horror at what “professional” political coverage was doing to informed discourse of vital issues. There's no indication that he gains any significant income from his five-day-a-week Howler critiques. But perhaps that's all the more reason to present his words here:

I honestly haven't seen a Hardball this turgid and throbbing since some time in 1998. Matthews is positively beaming. Digby found an excellent word—“decadent”—for what was occurring on yesterday’s Hardball. She was right about something else; Matthews was in a truly remarkable state on yesterday’s ludicrous program. Most disgustingly, he tried to drag Weiner’s wife into the stew, suggesting several times that she too might be culpable in this ridiculous mess. This ugly suggestion produced that rarest of Hardball moments. Instantaneously, two of Matthews’ famous trained seals rejected his line of attack.

And so forth. Weiner, a Democrat representing a district in Queens and Brooklyn, is likely finished as a serious politician for a long time to come, although that doesn't mean he'll need to resign, given the power of incumbents to withstand vastly greater scandals. As summer reading, however, he should consider Joseph Conrad's powerful Lord Jim novel about shame, community service and redemption long ago in an Asian jungle. Another worthwhile book, about the Washington jungle, is The Hunting of the President by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons. It documents the netherworld of Washington operatives who selectively manipulate some transgressions into major events, and use their black arts to help similar ones fade away with barely a trace.

Meanwhile, the fast-growing conservative website Newsmax reported as a lead story the new Rasmussen poll showing near-historic lows of public approval for congress. Whatever the precise numbers, there’s scant reason to believe that the public has much confidence in a congress that consistently fails to act on jobs, war and other issues in ways congruent with the public’s oft-stated desires.

Listed below is a Daily Beast chart that, somewhat subjectively, seeks to categorize and rank recent sex scandals by party affiliation. These scandals and their consequences are just the tip of the iceberg. More important, as we expect to continue showing here, is that corruption in sex scandal is just one part of Washington's disgraceful sellout of the public interest.     

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Below are significant articles on legal reform and related political, security and media factors. The articles, including a strong representation from independent blogs and other media, contain a sample of news. See the full article by cvisting the home page, and visiting News Reports.

June 7

Salon /Unclaimed Territory, The joys of repressed voyeuristic titillation, Glenn Greenwald, June 7, 2011. There are few things more sickening -- or revealing -- to behold than a D.C. sex scandal.

Daily Howler, Crackpot Unbound, Bob Somerby, June 7, 2011. Chris Matthews was speaking with Republican strategist John Feehery and Democratic strategist Steve McMahon. It’s a rare event when Matthews’ trained seals reject his insinuations this way. Matthews has been paid to be “ridiculous” on cable TV since the mid-1990s. In this case, the repellent fellow went so far that both his strategists instantly forsook him.

Newsmax, Rasmussen Poll: Disgusted Voters' Approval of Congress Plunges to 9%, David A. Patten, June 7, 2011. Just when it seemed as if voters’ antipathy toward Congress couldn’t get any worse, a Rasmussen survey reports that the approval rating of Congress has slipped into single digits. It now stands at just 9 percent, tying an all-time low.  A lackluster economy, high unemployment, high gas prices, and the ongoing stalemate over raising the federal debt are among the factors contributing to the abysmal ratings.  “Congress is totally discredited as an institution,” Democratic pollster and Fox News commentator Doug Schoen tells Newsmax. “I never thought it could go this low."

DLarry Craigaily Beast, Which Political Party Has the Most Sex Scandals? SodaHead Politics, June 7, 2011.  On the one hand, Republicans seem to be the reigning champs. From former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's secret love child to former New York Rep. Chris Lee's Craiglist topless pics and flirtations, foot-tapper Larry Craig {left], eight-term Indiana Rep Mark Souder's resignation after an admission of an affair with a staffer (not to mention Sen. John Ensign's similar indiscretion) and notorious tickle-loving Rep. Eric Massa [sic]. [Editor's note: Massa was a Democrat].  Democrats are no slouches, either, counting among their ranks former Pres. Bill Clinton, two-time White House washout John Edwards and his secret baby, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's sext bomb and former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer's hooker-gate.

Wall Street Journal, Too Big to Prosecute? Not in His Office, Says Preet Bharara, Michael Rothfeld, June 7, 2011. As we’ve seen, there are some corporate giants the U.S. government believes are too big to fail. But are they also too big to prosecute? Not so, says Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan, right, whose district encompasses Wall Street. “In my view, we should not be telling any institution that it is too big to prosecute,” Bharara said in remarks at the New York Financial Writers’ Association in midtown Manhattan Monday evening. “There should never be a presumption of immunity based on size.” The question of too-big-to-prosecute has been raised of late in the context of Goldman Sachs in the wake of a 639-page report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations that criticized the investment bank’s bets against the housing market. The committee referred its findings to the Department of Justice. Goldman intends to push back at the committee, citing inaccuracies and saying it overstated Goldman’s bets against the housing market and minimized those the bank made in favor of it., Goldman Undervalued EToys' $178M IPO: Atty, Eric Hornbeck, June 7, 2011. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. undervalued a $178 million initial public offering at the height of the dot-com bubble so its other clients could cash in, an attorney for a now-defunct online retailer told a New York state appeals court Tuesday. The investment bank undervalued the stock when it served as the underwriter for the IPO of eToys Inc., an online retailer that went bankrupt after the dot-com bust and is now owned by Toys “R” Us Inc.,  according to Stanley M. Grossman of Pomerantz Haudek Grossman.

LJim Tressellegal Schnauzer, Ohio State Football and Our Broken Justice System Have a Lot in Common, Roger Shuler, June 7, 2011.  Enough sleaze already has surfaced in the Ohio State University football program to force long-time coach Jim Tressel to resign. Tressel won championships at Ohio State, and in his previous stop at Youngstown State, so administrators were happy to look the other way, ignoring clear signs that the coach's programs were built on a foundation of non-compliance with NCAA rules. In that respect, and several others, the Ohio State football story reminds me of the U.S. justice system -- another mammoth enterprise that chugs along, while those in authority ignore obvious signs of decay.

June 6

Michaek CollinsOpEd News, The Edwards Prosecution -- They have better things to do, Michael Collins, left, June 6, 2011. The Edwards prosecution is a mockery of justice.  The cast of characters consists of people who should have recused themselves rather than bringing a prosecution. Like the nonstop assault on Don Siegelman, it suggests other motives.  Why don't they go after the Wall Streeters and big banks?

Legal Schnauzer, Bush-Era U.S. Attorney Is the Target of a Federal Investigation, Roger Shuler, June 6, 2011. Leura Canary, the notorious Bush-appointed prosecutor who was at the heart of the Don Siegelman case, is the focus of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation, sources tell Legal Schnauzer.  Canary announced her retirement as U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama on May 26. But sources say the ongoing federal investigation is the real reason Canary stepped down, even though Obama nominee George Beck has not been confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Louis Franklin will serve as acting U.S. attorney for the Middle District, pending Beck's confirmation. A long-awaited Alabama federal bingo prosecution, featuring gambling magnate Milton McGregor and a number of state legislators, begins today in Montgomery. It is expected to last about two months and figures to be the biggest story of the summer in Alabama. But the investigation of Canary could prove to be the far bigger story, with potentially major ramifications on the national stage.

Salon / Unclaimed Territory, Is a bipartisan coalition emerging to oppose the National Security State? Glenn Greenwald, June 6, 2011. When Dennis Kucinich earlier this month introduced a bill to compel the withdrawal of all American troops from Libya within 15 days, the leadership of both parties and the political class treated it the way they do most of Kucinich's challenges to establishment political orthodoxy:  they ignored it except to mock its unSeriousness.  But a funny thing happened: numerous liberal House Democrats were joined by dozens of conservative GOP members to express support for his bill, and the White House and GOP House leadership became jointly alarmed that the bill could actually pass; that's why GOP House Speaker John Boehner introduced a Resolution purporting to rebuke Obama for failing to comply with the War Powers Resolution, but which, in fact, was designed to be an utterly inconsequential act.  Its purpose was to protect Obama's war by ensuring that Kucinich's bill failed; the point of Boehner's alternative was to provide a symbolic though meaningless outlet for those House members angry over Obama's failure to get Congressional support.

June 5

Washington Post, Political sex scandals: Who survives, who crashes and burns? Roxanne Roberts, Amy Artslinger, June 5, 2011. How is it that some political sex scandals are so ruinous — and others are magically survivable? Surely we can craft a formula.  Adultery, money and legal probes: The common denominators in the career-ending sex scandals of former Sens. John Edwards (love child coverup) and John Ensign (affair with aide), former N.Y. Gov. Eliot Spitzer (high-priced call girls), and former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros (lied about payments to mistress).

Washington Post, Recipient of lewd tweet criticizes New York Post story via Twitter, Paul Farhi, June 5, 2011. Gennette Cordova tried, really tried, to hold her tongue when the news media began stampeding her way last week. After word broke that she was the recipient of a now-infamous photo from Rep. Anthony Weiner’s Twitter account, Cordova was suddenly in demand. No interviews, said the 21-year-old college student. No comments about congressmen’s crotches, either. Stop asking and go away, she said. Only the media wouldn’t. The New York Post apparently found a way around Cordova’s defenses: One of its reporters, Reuven Fenton, apparently tagged along on what Cordova thought was a student photo shoot and casually chatted her up while a photographer snapped away.

June 4

OpEd News, Warning: This Message Contains Democracy, Susan Lindauer, June 4, 2011. No great civilization is ever destroyed or conquered by external forces, until it first destroys itself from within. America's leaders should have considered this before voting to extend the Patriot Act last week. The Patriot Act is more dangerous to our way of life than any foreign enemy. Most ominously, entire sections of the Patriot Act are verbatim identical to two of the most frightening laws in World History: The 1929 Bolshevik Communist Criminal Act established Communist control in the age of Joseph Stalin. It's hard to say if that's worse than Germany's Enabling Act in 1933. Despite the comforting words, "the Enabling Act" established the legal framework for Nazi Fascism. According to historian Alan Batterman, the German word for "Gestapo " is an acronym of GEheim STAadt POlezi. Translation: "Homeland Security." Sadly, Batterman is correct. Paragraph for paragraph, clause for clause, laws establishing fascist control over the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany are replicated in the Patriot Act today.

John EdwardsAssociated Press / Huffington Post, John Edwards Case: Pitfalls Abound For Prosecutors, Mike Baker and Nedra Pickler, June 4, 2011. The daring indictment of two-time presidential candidate John Edwards, left, has pitfalls at every turn for federal prosecutors, adding strain to a Justice Department section still trying to recover after botching its last major political case. Government attorneys are relying on an untested legal theory to argue that money used to tangentially help a candidate – in this case, by keeping Edwards' pregnant mistress private during his 2008 presidential run – should have been considered a campaign contribution. Edwards' attorneys counter with an argument that's reprehensible but could raise reasonable doubts with a jury: He was only interested in hiding the affair from his cancer-stricken wife, who died in December.