Stop Trying to Make Anthony Weiner’s Sexting a Political Issue

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Photo: Getty Images

On Monday, the New York Post published a tasteful cover (“Pop Goes the Weiner!”) that forced millions of New Yorkers to once again have to think, momentarily, “Wait, where’s Anthony Weiner’s penis? … Oh, there’s Anthony Weiner’s penis” before focusing on the pixelated form next to him and shrieking “Is that his CHILD?!?” and then vomiting into a trashcan.

Former New York congressman Anthony Weiner, caught sexting again, this time (actually last year) with a self-described Trump and NRA supporter who shared the full details with the always-eager New York tabloid.

It seems to have been the final straw for Abedin, whose tolerance for public humiliation has thus far exceeded every possible human expectation. She had released a statement by midday in which she said that “after long and painful consideration and work on my marriage, I have made the decision to separate from my husband.” (Politico soon reported that Abedin and Weiner have been estranged for some time, a fact they hadn’t announced yet in part because they didn’t want to distract from the campaign.) In her statement, Abedin noted that she and her ex plan to do what’s best for their son, and asked for “respect for our privacy.”

Ha, that’s a good one, Huma Abedin.

Soon came news that Weiner had also lost his gigs at NY1 and the Daily News; he took down his Twitter account (really, this might have been a good idea some time ago but whatever, bygones); the right wing got their rocks off and lots of people on social media enjoyed some laughs.

Fair enough. This story counts as celebrity news. Weiner has long been a grandstanding narcissist who has welcomed media attention; Huma Abedin chose to marry him. They were stars (reports suggest she, perhaps unwillingly) of the recent documentary Weiner. Which brings us to: His name is “Weiner.” And he has spent recent years sending pictures of his dick on just-barely-private channels. It’s pathetic. It’s sad. It’s funny. And it totally counts as diverting entertainment news.

Here’s what it’s not: political news.

And yet, on what was surely one of the dumbest days of this whole campaign season — a high bar! — some in the media tried to fluff it into a scandal that has something to do with the American presidency. Which again: It does not.

Trump, of course, dove right in with a falsely congratulatory statement about how Abedin would be better off without Weiner. This was before he suggested that he was worried “for the country in that Hillary Clinton was careless and negligent in allowing Weiner to have such close proximity to highly classified information … Who knows what he learned and who he told? It’s just another example of Hillary Clinton’s bad judgment. It is possible that our country and its security have been greatly compromised by this.”

Rush Limbaugh then took off on a predictably grotesque tirade, wondering to his listeners, “Did Huma Abedin Weiner” — a name she does not use, which of course is exactly what Limbaugh is trying to point out, while also having an excuse to say the word weiner again — “really not know she had a deviant taking care of her child?”

It was a hearty tug on the lady-shame lever, the unsubtle suggestion being that Abedin’s heavy travel schedule on the presidential campaign trail had caused her to shirk her responsibilities as a mother and endanger “her” child by leaving him with his father. I guess Rush Limbaugh has forgotten he thinks mothers treating their exes as co-parents is a good idea, at least according to his rant from earlier this year in which he argued that the rise of Donald Trump was a response in part to feminists who made sure that “Fathers became known as predators, they were not allowed to even see their own children in many cases. They were never granted custody.” So just to recap: Rush is pro-fathers taking care of their kids, as long as their mothers don’t think it’s a good idea. But if the mother does leave a child with its father because, say, she has to work, then she should be held responsible for anything he does in her absence.

But it wasn’t just Rush Limbaugh making this Paleolithic point. It was the Washington Post! The Post ran a piece noting that Weiner is “facing questions about his parenting skills” and that “his questionable decisions are ensnaring his wife, one of Hillary Clinton’s top aides, by raising questions about her decision to leave their son alone with her husband while she’s on the campaign trail.”

Yeah, this is raising some questions for me. One of my questions is about the decisions made by literally thousands of men who have been presidents and senators and governors or who have worked on the campaigns of those presidents and senators and governors and who have decided to leave their sons and daughters with their wives while they have gone off on the campaign trail.

Oh, it’s a wife who’s working for another wife who wants to be president? Never mind!

Facing a good deal of Twitter critique, the Post revised the story, inexplicably changing the wording so that Weiner was now ensnaring Abedin “by raising questions about her decision to leave their son in a potentially dangerous situation.” Super-dumb and gross sexting dads, once a questionable child-care choice for professionally preoccupied moms, are now potentially dangerous. Fixed it!

Also, is the Washington Post really sure it wants to go down the road of suggesting that every dad who’s ever violated the oath of his marital bond is a dangerous caretaker of his own child? Really? Every parent who’s ever been surprised in bed by a child while aroused? None of those guys get to be custodial parents anymore? Because next time someone tells me feminists are vilifying men, I’m going to give them the Washington Post’s number …

Meanwhile, at the New York Times, the story of the Abedin-Weiner split dutifully swallowed Trump’s security-breach concern-trolling whole, and included a report that “Mrs. Clinton received her first intelligence briefing as the Democratic presidential nominee on Saturday at the F.B.I. field … No aides accompanied her to the briefing, according to a campaign official.” Well thank goodness, because if Abedin had been with Clinton on Saturday, who knows what secrets she might have spilled to her sexting swain before her marriage ended on Sunday

But wait, that wasn’t all! On MSNBC, purveyor of formerly left-leaning political commentary, reporter Andrea Mitchell was interviewing Clinton surrogate and former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm, about the Abedin-Weiner split, which Mitchell called “more than a small distraction.” She then asked Granholm to respond to Trump’s suggestion that Weiner had a dangerous level of access to classified information through his wife. “That’s ridiculous,” Granholm replied correctly, before launching into a defense of Abedin’s right to privacy. “How do you explain this?” Mitchell went on, detailing the history of Weiner’s inane sexting. “Are you asking me to get into his head?” Granholm asked in disbelief.

“But there is a political fall-out from this,” Mitchell insisted.

Here’s the thing: There is no reason for there to be political fall-out from this. There is an increased likelihood of TMZ coverage and fantastic tabloid headline puns. But nothing in this silly, sad story has any bearing on the presidential campaign. The fact that we are talking about it like it does is a result of the hungry media’s attempt to maintain the fantasy that there is any equivalence between Hillary Clinton, a competent candidate whose politics you can love or hate, and Donald Trump, a man best summed up by some of his Scottish critics as a “weapons-grade plum.” New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman tweeted Monday morning that the Weiner story is a “problem for Clinton team” since after Trump’s recent hire of Steve Bannon “Democrats repeatedly pointed to Bannon’s personal past” making it “hard to argue Weiner is off limits.” But Bannon, a white nationalist media entrepreneur, is in the employ of the Trump campaign, and the personal past Haberman was referring to involved divorce proceedings in which his ex wife claimed he had violently assaulted her and also made anti-Semitic comments, Haberman later tried to clarify that her tweet was meant in reference to the Bannon divorce and was not “equating a police report with the Weiner situation.” But as with the Washington Post, this clarification didn’t help much. We are still in the fairyland of false equivalence.

Consider the contrasting situations: Donald Trump, who wants to be the president, recently hired a purveyor of white ethno-nationalism who had been accused by his wife of assault and who is alleged to have fired a woman suffering from MS while she was on maternity leave, as the CEO of his campaign. Hillary Clinton, who wants to be the president, has employed since the 1990s a woman who in 2010 married a guy who turns out to be really skeezy.

The fact that anyone is suggesting even mild political concern about the impact of this story of Clinton’s campaign is ludicrous. Hundreds of the most powerful men in this country, including a number of presidents, have been just as skeezy as Anthony Weiner. Roger Ailes built a cable news network that helped prop up several Republican presidential administrations, all while using his network’s money to help him cover up his record of serial sexual harassment; he just got paid $40 million to walk away from his job and sign on as an adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Anthony Weiner, so far as we know, is a putz who’s way too enamored of his own putz, and has until recently been married to a woman who works for a woman who is running for president. End of story.

So to everyone desperate to mount some kind of cogent comparison between Donald Trump’s hate-fueled campaign and the bad taste in men evident on his opponent’s team, I just want to say what Huma finally said to Anthony: GTFOH.