There is no doubt that Anthony Weiner, a former congressman and candidate for mayor of New York City, is a public figure. He’s courted attention even after resigning from Congress with magazine profiles and a feature-length documentary.
And the fact that Weiner was again involved in sexting women over the internet, including one picture that included his child, is news. It’s the type of news that makes for great tabloid covers and easy cable news segments.
— New York Post (@nypost) August 29, 2016
But this story about a former congressman engaged in more unseemly conduct over the internet is not campaign news.
Other than his spouse, Clinton adviser Huma Abedin, Weiner has no connection to the Clinton campaign. And it is Weiner, not Abedin, who is responsible for his conduct. (In a statement released today, Abedin announced she is separating from Weiner.)
Nonetheless, that didn’t stop some members of the media from immediately treating it as news related to the presidential election.
The problem for Clinton team – after Democrats repeatedly pointed to Bannon personal past, going to be hard to argue Weiner is off limits
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) August 29, 2016
Weiner is not “off limits.” But is his situation, as this tweet implies, comparable to Steve Bannon?
Bannon, who ran the alt-right website Breitbart, was appointed CEO of the Trump campaign. Weiner has no role with the Clinton campaign.
Weiner sent some racy texts. While this is not upstanding behavior for a married man, it is also not illegal.
Despite the fact that Weiner has no position with the Clinton campaign, there was someone else eager to make this a campaign issue: Donald Trump.
— Nick Corasaniti (@NYTnickc) August 29, 2016
Trump’s argument here appears to be premised on the idea that a wife is subservient to the husband so, if she were to learn about classified information, she would immediately tell him. Despite the best efforts of the right, there is no evidence that Abedin is anything other than a loyal public servant.
Trump’s argument, taken to its logical conclusion, would make him personally responsible for the marital fidelity of the spouse of every aide on his campaign. (There is also considerably irony in his assertion that Hillary having aide whose husband engaged in extramarital sexual relationships demonstrates “bad judgment.” Trump himself has been married three times and openly cheated on his first wife.)
But Trump’s statement succeeded in giving the media an even stronger pretext to treat the Weiner story as a campaign story.
Suggesting that Weiner’s conduct reflects poorly on Abedin and, by extension, Clinton, involves embracing a longstanding sexist trope — that a husband who cheats is a reflection of some deficiency in their spouse.
No one needs to feel bad for covering or reading about Anthony Weiner’s latest sexting scandal. But we should recognize it for what it is: The story of a man who is no longer in political power and who has exceptionally poor judgment.
It is not, at its heart, a story about any woman — either Abedin or her boss, who happens to be running for president, Hillary Clinton.