Is Weiner Worth Caring About?

by Jonah Goldberg

I’ve long been a fan of David Gerlernter but I think he’s wrong on several fronts. I’ll focus on a couple. He writes:

The biggest offense in this case is the dirtying of the public airwaves and news-waves with ugly, trivial junk; it’s an offense like the one that used to be popular a generation ago with “urban youths,” who would carry around giant boom boxes and play music (or whatever it was) at deafening volumes.

For my part I couldn’t care less what sort of pictures or messages Weiner has been sending around the Net, and it’s an imposition to be required to care; to be unable to avoid the topic. I find that I have no interest in Congressman Anthony Weiner’s sex life or virtual sex life whatsoever. And I’ve heard enough tearful on-camera contrition to last me the rest of my life. I don’t want to hear Weiner’s apology. It’s got nothing to do with me, tells me nothing I want to know; the cable news media, conservative and liberal, would do the public a favor if they would agreed to a blanket tearful-apologies ban effective this instant. And in the future, let Weiner and everyone else who has done some trivial stupid thing that no one actually gives a damn about keep his apologies to himself.

My biggest problem with this is that it is simply too detached from the world we live in. If the Weiner story never transpired, the aggregate level of ugly, trivial, junk on the news-waves would barely be much lower. Certainly over the course of the year, it will all average out. If not for Weiner, it might be Paris Hilton or Britney Spears or Lady Gaga. It might be a combination of things.

I have always said that I don’t think this story is a massive scandal, but a fairly narrow, albeit entertaining, one. But that doesn’t make it irrelevant or trivial nor devoid of news value. If you cannot see how this story raises legitimate questions about Weiner’s integrity and his own party’s consistency on issues of personal fidelity, it is not because such issues don’t exist.

At the end of the day, the press will cover something. Often it will be the sorts of stories they feel Americans need to know for their own good. Other times it will be stories that the American people want to hear. The mainstream media usually doesn’t have a problem with this so long as these stories are about children who fell down wells, murder trials, charismatic megafauna escaping from zoos and of course royal weddings and celebrity divorces — oh and hypocritical Republicans with their pants down. Only occasionally are there stories that the public wants to hear but the press doesn’t want to tell. The Weiner story threatened to be that at the beginning, with Howard Kurtz and others all too eager to take the man’s word as gold. Discovering who was credulous and who was not, has value. Discovering who was willing to carry water for the man and spin conspiracy theories has value. Discovering, as Mark Steyn notes below, that Anthony Weiner is a staggeringly good and brazen liar. That — and much more — is worth knowing, and it’s worth knowing more than the bulk of stuff taking up the airwaves David Gerlertner would reserve for more noble endeavors. 

Brian Williams initially said he wouldn’t cover Weinergate for reasons similar to those laid out by David Gerlernter here. Then his nightly news broadcast went on to cover the “scandal” over Sarah Palin’s entirely defensible comments about Paul Revere.

Watch the Today show for its full four hours on any given day. The first 12–18 minutes are about news (unless the news is about tornadoes or shark attacks or some such; then it’s a bit longer). The rest of the four hours are about recipes, Brangelina, heroic dogs, weather, some trial-lawyer-friendly segment (“pills that hurt you!” or some such) a musical act, a comedic actress struggling with a serious role, or bulimia, whatever and some tips for gardening on the cheap. Are we really better served when the Weiner story doesn’t intrude on all that?

Personally, I rather enjoy when the press is forced to cover things it feels are beneath them. Usually, I find it distracts them from stories I either don’t care about or find beneath me.

Last, you are not “required to care.” If someone doesn’t care, the way to show it is to not care or lecture others too strenuously about how they, too, should not care.

If you feel forced to care, that’s unfortunate. But it’s at least worth recognizing as a rank and tawdry partisan matter, that liberals would never, ever, consider forgiving this kind of behavior in a conservative. They simply have too much invested in the cause of elevating hypocrisy on moral matters to the central issue of our time. When you proclaim that you don’t care what cads like Weiner do in cases like this, it amounts to a kind of political surrender the next time the Republicans produce their own cad. Again, no one is demanding that you care. But one should at least recognize that not caring comes at a price, too.

All that said, I think it is entirely possible that conservatives and the GOP will now press this too hard, rather than let Weiner and the Democrats expose themselves for what they are. At this point everyone know what the deal is. I think he should resign. But I don’t think we need a steady drumbeat from the GOP leadership calling for his resignation.

Update: Oh, one more point I think is worth making. David says that Weiner should have said “Butt out” when asked about the “exposure reports.” But that’s simply not what he did. He said he was hacked by political opponents, fueling the controversy and inviting his de facto surrogates to go on the attack. Maybe he should have said butt out. Maybe not. But he didn’t and by doing what he actually did, he invited this scandal on himself.

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