Anthony Weiner was driven from office by a combination of his dumb behavior, bluenose political hypocrisy, and – most of all – media ridicule and ridiculously excessive coverage.
The TV media reshaped this narrative into a lurid soap opera complete with hectoring questions (from establishment news outfits) such as, “Where is your wife?” as though TV reporters expected – nay, demanded – that Huma Abedin appear at Weiner’s side as in a scene from The Good Wife, itself a piece of fiction rooted in real-life scandals. On Thursday, during Weiner’s resignation statement, a hooted “Bye, bye, pervert!” became a bigger sound-bite than anything Weiner said. Howard Stern writer Benjy Bronk once again took this strategy to its greatest extreme by yelling out things like, “Will you maintain your hot physique and smooth sexy chest?” As MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow put it this night, Bronk’s presence in the press pool offered “grossly appropriate, profane satire of what this controversy has become.” On Fox’s Hannity, guest Ann Coulter said, “Never have I loved Howard Stern more.”
When it comes to pinning blame for Weiner’s downfall, conservatives and liberals agreed on the primary source, although for different reasons. For Bill O’Reilly, “even though the American media tilts left, it will not tolerate being manipulated,” and thus, “the far-left Congressman was toast.” Rachel Maddow’s take was more trenchant. For her, Weiner was “not accused of corruption,” what he did was “not illegal” (it was “gross”), but the forced resignation had “less to do with his behavior than the media’s reaction to his behavior.”
Time-period competitors The O’Reilly Factor (Fox) and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell (MSNBC) both featured Benjy Bronk’s bellowed joke-questions prominently, even subtitling them onscreen to make sure viewers knew Bronk said, “Bye, bye pervert!” At a certain point in the news cycle on Thursday, Bronk himself became a news story, rating coverage in both The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times, among other outlets.
Bronk was almost a welcome relief – a blast of crude honesty – in comparison to the politicians who scrambled in front of TV cameras in recent days. Watching the nauseatingly pious calls for resignation by everyone from Democrat Nancy Pelosi to Republican John Boehner, one could not help thinking our TV screens might suddenly flicker and go dark, only to suddenly spring back to the bright light and images of TV spiritual charlatans such as Jim Bakker and Jerry Falwell.
Too bad The Daily Show was a rerun on Thursday night; the hanging judge Jon Stewart has yet to render his final verdict.