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Joan Vennochi

Tweet this: I resign

(Associated Press)
By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / June 9, 2011

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TWEETS HELPED topple Hosni Mubarak. Why did Anthony Weiner think he would outwit them?

The Democratic congressman from New York used Facebook and Twitter — the same social media tools that launched an Egyptian revolution — to send lewd pictures and conduct sexually explicit chats with young women he never met. That’s what’s called a death wish.

Weiner’s youthful Facebook friends understood his dangerous gamble. How did he know who was really at the receiving end of his lascivious overtures? After receiving a revealing photo from Weiner, 26-year-old Meagan Broussard of Texas told ABC News that she had this reaction: “I thought it was risky, real risky.’’

A now famous tweet of a photo of Weiner and his underwear launched the country’s latest political scandal. Weiner first claimed his Twitter account was hacked and repeatedly denied he was the sender of the photo. He eventually acknowledged that and more, exposing himself as a liar and a creep. A torrent of torrid exchanges between Weiner and a Facebook friend went public, and yesterday it only got worse for the embattled congressman. As the New York Post reported it, “Penis photo Weiner sent to online gal pal emerges.’’ Two radio DJs tweeted the picture, which was then published on Gawker.com.

During a tearful press conference earlier this week, Weiner said he broke no laws and did nothing to violate the Constitution or his oath of office. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called for an ethics investigation, to determine if he used government property or resources.

Democrats privately seethed, but it took until yesterday for some to start calling for his resignation. The whole mess raises questions about Weiner’s judgment, character, and overall truthfulness. When he left his press conference, Weiner should have left office, too.

Some commentators suggest that on a sliding scale of scandal, Weiner’s ranks low. Unlike other sex scandals, Weinergate involves sexy messages, not actual sex. But real sex might be less creepy than the crass, juvenile, and egomaniacal exchanges he initiated with young strangers in a virtual world.

His back-and-forth with Las Vegas blackjack dealer Lisa Weiss is filled with sexually explicit language. At times, Weiner sounds a lot like an overheated high school boy, and, at high schools across America, the “sexting’’ he engaged in would result in suspension or expulsion. Weiner’s defense is that all his Facebook and Twitter exchanges took place between consenting adults — and he should hope that contention holds up.

Broussard told TV interviewers that when she expressed uneasiness about the online relationship, Weiner replied, “You are not stalking me. I am stalking you.’’ Cyberstalking is a problem Weiner should well understand. In 2007, he sponsored legislation aimed at keeping the Internet devoid of sexual predators, noting at the time, “Sadly, the Internet is the predators’ venue of choice today. We need to update our strategies and our laws to stop these offenders who are a mere click away from our children.’’

Some exchanges illustrate Weiner’s media obsession and his eagerness to have his ego stroked, along with other things. She: “u are funny as hell on the daily show!’’ He: “I was on tv this morning. you check me out?’’ She: “you were amazing on parker/spitzer today!’’ He: “with me behind you, can’t we both watch daily show?’’

Of course, arrogance and ickiness do not make Weiner unique in Washington. Neither does risk-taking of a sexual nature. Political sex scandals are part of the fabric of American politics and play out in both political parties. Bill Clinton’s interludes with White House intern Monica Lewinsky famously brought sex, and all its embarrassing details, directly into the Oval Office. The scandal led to Clinton’s impeachment by the House for perjury. Weinergate also has a Clinton angle. Weiner’s wife works for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the former president officiated at their marriage. According to Politico, after Weiner explained himself to the country, he explained himself to Bill Clinton, who knows how to tough out a scandal.

But the ’90s were a political lifetime ago. It got hot for Clinton back then, but Twitter and Facebook are making it even hotter for Weiner today.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com.