Wiener's Choice

By | Friday, June 24, 2011 1 comment
or, What Anthony Wiener failed to learn from Lucille Ball

When I was a kid I watched a lot of sitcoms on TV. I Love Lucy, Gilligan's Island, Father Knows Best, The Flying Nun, and so forth. A common theme in this sort of sitcom, showing up over and over again, was the scenario in which the protagonist makes a mistake of some kind then spends the rest of the program attempting to cover it up. Generally the cover-up gets more and more complicated until finally the initial mistake is uncovered, everything is resolved, and life is back to normal. The moral of these stories was about as subtle as an enema: if you make a mistake, fess up, apologize, and correct the problem. If you are Lucille Ball working in a candy factory, and the conveyor belt is moving too quickly, stuffing the candies in your mouth won't work.


In 1998 I was very confused when Bill Clinton lied so audaciously to cover up the Monica Lewinsky affair. But President Clinton is considerably older than I am, and was an inveterate politician (used to perpetual lying,) so I chalked it up to that. Of course, in the end, he got exactly what the sitcoms said he would get. He was impeached for lying to Congress, not for having “sex with that woman."

However, Anthony Wiener is almost exactly the same age as I am. I'm sure he watched the same sitcoms that I did. He hasn't been a politician for nearly as long as Clinton was, and, in my experience of him, he had always seemed like a fairly upstanding and honest guy. When the Wiener scandal began I believed he was entirely innocent; he couldn't possibly be that stupid, and he should certainly know that the thing you do in such a circumstance is to fess up if it's true. But, as in any good episode of All In the Family or The Jefferson’s, he lied and obfuscated and covered up and made a mess of the thing, till finally at the end of the episode the truth came out.

I can't help wondering what the response of the public, the media, and Congress would have been if he had said, at the very beginning, "yes, that is a photo of me. I am having an extramarital affair with a consenting woman, and we have been exchanging photos and messages as a part of that affair. My relationship with her is consensual, it's between the two of us, and it is a private matter for me, my wife, and my paramour."

Following the exposure of the cover-up, instead of backing him up, the Democratic leadership called for Wiener to step down. I wonder what they would have done if he had owned up to it from the start? How would the media have handled it? Would they have praised him for his honesty? Would they have said "oh, well, okay then," and moved on to the next story? What would his constituents have said in that circumstance? "Step down, we don't want an adulterer as our representative!" Or, "er, um, ahhh, gee, well, okay, but keep it to yourself."

There is a third approach that Wiener could've taken when presented with the photos. He could have just said “no comment.” He could have refused to say anything about it at all - ever. Of course, in that case, everyone would have assumed that he was in fact guilty. But who cares? He wouldn't have lied, and with nothing for the media to feed upon it might have just gone away. If the full story had come out in the end, he wouldn't have had to face the accusations of lying, and could even have just continued saying "no comment."

Unfortunately, I don't have access to a set of parallel universes in which alternate versions of Representative Wiener chose these different approaches to the scandal. So, none of us can know how these other tactics would have played out. However, I have no doubt that some future congressperson will do something equally stupid. I will be curious to see if they follow the “do the right thing” morality that was spoon-fed to me in the sitcoms of my youth, or if they will follow Bill Clinton, Anthony Wiener, and the rest of them down the rat-hole of botched cover-ups.
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1 comment:

  1. I would also have added Fawlty Towers to the list. In nearly every episode, Basil lies and then frantically and unsuccessfully tries to cover it up.

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