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Understanding Weinergate

How social media felled a rising star, and how his Jewishness was involved

Marc Tracy
June 07, 2011
Anthony Weiner at his press conference yesterday.(Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Anthony Weiner at his press conference yesterday.(Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Last October, sportswriter Bill Simmons tweeted the following message: “Moss Vikings.” Having not meant to send this to the world—having, rather, meant to send it as a private “direct message” to just one person—he deleted that tweet, and then, realizing that at least one of his literally more than one million followers may have seen it, he tweeted a mea culpa: “Sorry that last tweet was supposed to be a DM [direct message]. Rumors swirling about a Pats-Minny trade for Randy Moss.” Everybody quickly began reporting on what would have made for the blockbuster trade of the football season. The following day, the New England Patriots traded Moss to the Minnesota Vikings.

For those of us who remembered this story, it was not shocking at all when Rep. Anthony Weiner, Democrat from New York and heretofore one of the brightest rising Jewish political stars, yesterday admitted that racy photos seemingly from him, which appeared on his Twitter account, all stemmed from a single instance in which he had, yes, meant to send a direct message to one follower and had instead tweeted the picture to the world. Which meant he has been lying for the past several days in saying vague things about his account having been “hacked.” He added that he had had similar exchanges with roughly six women, mostly before he was married (to Hillary Clinton adviser Huma Abedin, who is, notably to some in the Jewish community, a Muslim woman), some after.

Weiner is 46; Simmons is 41. Both lie in the sweet spot that makes them unusually prone to this sort of Social Media Age gaffe: Too young not to be fully engaged in this hyper-fast, hyper-linked world, but too old to fully, intuitively understand its hazards. Those like former President Clinton, whose extramarital dalliances were likely more prolific and certainly more severe than Weiner’s (the congressman actually had no sexual relations with these women, he claims), would never find themselves in this position because they do not tweet, and if they did, would never get remotely as advanced as Weiner (direct messages? uploading photos? meeting strangers? these are complicated Internet maneuvers!). And those of us younger than Weiner, even the ones who might want to send photos of their crotch to women not their wives, would be more careful than to even leave the chance of this sort of exposure. Those of us who grew up turning on a computer and surfing the Internet with the same familiarity with which our parents operated a television (as their parents fumbled with the dial) understand, in a way Weiner and his generation don’t, that the Internet is a place like any other, not some make-believe, less consequential virtual reality—understand this not just intellectually but instinctively. (People in this older group will ask, “Did you get my email?” People in this younger group never do, because of course you got their email.) While politicians have fallen into sexual scandal many times before, this was the first scandal that could only have occurred, or at least play out the way it did, in the past three or five years. That is its significance—that, and the fact that Weiner just postponed his hopes for Gracie Mansion, and probably foreclosed on those for the White House. Er, Russ Feingold for president?

There is one more thing to discuss, though if my mom wanted to stop reading this post now, I wouldn’t mind. A Nevada woman Weiner flirted with on Facebook told him that she understood herself to be good at giving oral sex and added, “i love doing it.” To which the congressman from Queens responded: “Wow a jewish girl who sucks []! this thing is ready to do damage.”

I’ll pause for your laughter. But this is also, believe it or not, yet another manifestation of a generation gap! Weiner is old enough to be of the generation that, brought up on Portnoy’s Complaint and its spawn, generalizes Jewish women as sexually cold, and specifically unwilling to perform blow jobs and inept at them when they can be reluctantly coaxed. But a younger generation has almost the exact opposite conception of Jewish women: They (again generalizing) see Jewish women as more willing than the average woman to give blow jobs and as especially skilled at the task. Contributing editor Rachel Shukert has written the definitive article about this (she discusses it here); the new stereotype became especially pronounced in the public consciousness, she argues, thanks to Monica Lewinsky. When that scandal broke, Weiner was almost 30.

Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that the single journalist most responsible for forcing this scandal into the open—who briefly hijacked Weiner’s press conference yesterday demanding an apology—is the conservative impresario Andrew Breitbart, who, yeah. Can you imagine if they had had Twitter in the shtetls?

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.