By now, most of us are familiar with Anthony Weiner‘s personal behavioral lapses in his Twitter sex scandal. However, Weiner’s public messaging failures in this case were also epic. Weiner adopted a strange strategy of denying part of the story, i.e., that he had sent photos of his underwear-clad crotch to a woman via Twitter, but then saying that he could not state “with certitude” whether the picture in question was of him. This vague answer struck many reporters as suspicious, and they continued their media feeding frenzy that, within a few days, led to Weiner’s press conference where he did an about-face and admitted that the picture in question was of him, that he sent the photo, and that he had sent similar photos and/or had similar online exchanges with approximately six other women. Now Weiner’s political career hangs by a thread.
So what could, and should, Weiner have done differently, messaging-wise, once the initial stories about him were publicized?
1. Weiner could have shut up.
Weiner could have replied “no comment” or “I’m not going to comment on a personal matter” to every question fired at him from the beginning. And Weiner could have refused to do interviews, instead of appearing on camera for numerous interviews that only made his situation worse. This messaging strategy could have had the advantage of not getting Weiner into more trouble over his statements about the events in question. In politics, as they say, it is often not the crime but the cover-up that gets people into trouble.
Would the strategy of silence have worked for Weiner? Probably not. As it turned out, Andrew Breitbart and others had more photographs, emails, and evidence of further shenanigans by Weiner, and it would have looked silly for Wiener to remain silent amidst a mounting media scandal. Which leaves …
2. Weiner could have admitted everything and apologized from the get-go.
Political consultants James Carville and Paul Begala, famous for their successful management of Bill Clinton‘s 1992 Presidential campaign, published a book in 2003 entitled “Buck Up, Suck Up … and Come Back When You Foul Up”. The book’s title, and some of its content, refers to the type of post-scandal groveling that several politicians — including Clinton and Congressmen Barney Frank and Gerry Studds of Massachusetts — have engaged in and then managed to keep their jobs.
However, the sooner the apology comes (after being caught, of course), the better. In this case, Weiner has very belatedly taken the admit-and-apologize route, answering a blizzard of questions and apologizing to Andrew Breitbart, the voters of Weiner’s district, Weiner’s colleagues, and just about everyone else only after inventing and sticking to a false cover story that Weiner presented to the press and the American people. American voters are said to be a forgiving people, especially if they think the scandal-plagued politician representing them is otherwise doing a good job and that his improper behavior does not directly affect his job. However, it remains to be seen whether Weiner’s apologies, following his out-and-out lies in this case, will suffice.