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Glenn Halbrooks

Will Social Media Ruin a Congressman's Career?

By June 7, 2011

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U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-New York) has now admitted what he first denied. At a news conference Monday, he confessed to sending a lewd photo of himself through Twitter to a woman he met online.

A photo of New York Congressman Anthony Weiner
A second New York Congressman faces a sex scandal involving the Internet in 2011.
Photo © Getty Images
If this story sounds familiar, it's because a similar situation already happened this year to another New York Congressman. U.S. Rep. Christopher Lee resigned from office after Gawker published a shirtless photo of Lee that the website said he sent to a woman on Craigslist.

Weiner, who is married to a top staffer for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, says he won't leave Capitol Hill. But that decision may not be totally his. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a fellow Democrat, wants an ethics investigation launched into Weiner's conduct.

You probably wonder what would lead Weiner and Lee to risk their careers through such reckless behavior. Both men apparently don't understand the Internet, the media outlets that seek scandalous stories or fail to realize they could be caught.

Weiner's admission of guilt is vindication for blogger Andrew Breitbart, who is credited for breaking the story. Breitbart himself took the microphone at Weiner's news conference before the Congressman's arrival to say he wanted an apology because he said he'd been accused of hacking Weiner's Twitter account. Weiner later publicly apologized to him.

These kind of titillating stories usually pose a problem for traditional media, which want to be above the lurid details but must cover the news that has people talking. Here's a contrast in coverage -- while CBS News anchor Scott Pelley waited nearly halfway through his debut broadcast to report the Weiner story, ABC News is touting an exclusive interview with a woman who says she has photos, emails and other evidence that proves she had an Internet relationship with Weiner.

Mainstream media will be sure to cover any government investigation into Weiner's actions, so his apology will not end the story. At the same time, comedians will pummel him with jokes about his conduct and his name, which has led to headlines such as "Weiner Exposed" from The New York Post.

This is yet another example of how social media and the Internet make it easy for people to connect. But it should also be painfully obvious that everyone, especially those in the public eye, should use restraint when using any electronic media because careers and families can be lost.

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