The power of yes or no

Say what you will about David Letterman. Many friends of mine see him as a sleaze ever since the news came out about his sleeping with several members of his staff. But at least give him credit for knowing how to make sure the story didn’t linger for months and months. He discussed the story in some detail, admitted he was wrong, apologized to those he had harmed – including his wife and family – begged for forgiveness, and pressed on.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., needs to learn the Letterman lesson. Weiner has found himself in the middle of a controversy about a lewd photo posted on his Twitter account. He maintains the account was hacked and that someone else sent the photo to a 21-year-old college student. When he conducted a news conference yesterday to talk about voting on the debt limit, he was deluged with questions about the incident. The conference spun out of control, culminating in Weiner’s calling a reporter a jackass.

I’m not drawing any conclusions about whether or not Weiner tweeted the photo in question, a shot of a man’s torso covered in boxer briefs. (It’s been deleted from Weiner’s Twitter stream.) But it’s easy to conclude that he didn’t handle himself well, and that’s unusual because he’s normally well spoken and composed in media interviews.

Some answers other than “I’m not going to speak about that anymore” could have put him back in control of the news conference. What would be wrong with, “As I’ve said before, my account was hacked, and I didn’t do it.” That would work, assuming it was true and assuming you have a good answer for followup questions, like, “Why aren’t you asking the U.S. Capitol Police to investigate?” And, “What exactly did you do to regain control of your account?” (I’ve been hacked. It’s no fun, but it’s not particularly difficult to take control again.)

Or how about, “That was a picture of me, and it was stupid of me to send it, especially in a public stream addressed to a college student I don’t even know.” Of course, that would raise more questions that would have to be addressed. Like why was she one of the few people he reportedly followed (she doesn’t show up in his “Following” list now) and why she’s not following him anymore either. And what exactly is this all about? That might be tough for Weiner to do right now, especially when he considers the fate of former congressman Chris Lee, who had to resign earlier this year after an incident in which he sent a photo of himself to a woman he had been corresponding with through Craigslist.

The only thing I’m sure of at the moment is that the truth will out, and Weiner’s fate will be determined by it. He’ll either be shown to be lousy at handling this crisis (when he normally conducts himself well in public), or he’ll be shown to have done it. What do you think?

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