Anthony Weiner’s comeback and subsequent mayoral run kicked off in April Jonathan Van Meter’s cover story in The New York Times Magazine profile.
Unfortunately, Mr. Van Meter–like the rest of the city’s press corps–made a seemingly reasonably assumption about when the former congressman ceased sending crotch-shots to young women around the internet.
“Never even occurred to me to ask! I just assumed it had stopped when he got caught, lost his job and started therapy to save his marriage,” Mr. Van Meter admitted to the Washington Post‘s Erik Wemple today.
Times Magazine editor in chief Hugo Lindgren further told Mr. Wemple that the question about when Mr. Weiner actually stopped sexting “should have been asked.”
But hey, why ask actual questions when you can play the liberal fanboy? Plus, it’s not as if he was pressed for time.
I tend to spend a lot of time with people to do long-form profiles, and it’s almost like a competitive sport now: journalists trying to outdo one another in terms of who can spend the most time. In this instance, I transcribed 15 or 16 hours of tapes. What was unusual about this was, normally you hang out with people and follow them around, but Anthony Weiner’s life is very circumscribed. There were no events to go to, nothing to really follow him to. We sat around and talked. That was novel. I really felt like I was his analyst. Our sessions lasted for a particular amount of time, we would bring up things with a certain repetition, start to recognize patterns. As someone who has had a standing appointment with my therapist for many years, the rhythms were familiar. Interviews normally don’t involve such thoughtfulness and searching.
Thoughtfulness and soul-searching, yet not a second to think to ask the psychopath “Hey, when did you actually stop sending dick picks to random strangers?” Even the most casual observer of Weiner knew you were dealing with an unhinged, arrogant, pathological personality, yet this tool still never thought to ask the most obvious question. It’s quite clear nobody at the Times thought it was even worth asking? Where are the layers of fact checkers and editors?
We now know via hindsight that immersion was not the key to the piece. Skepticism was. Reading through the story, it’s clear that Van Meter’s piece was premised on the notion that Weiner’s self-destructive online activities had long, long since ceased. Had he pushed the politico on just when he gave up his lewd relationships with other women on the Internet, Van Meter’s recorder would have scored some precious words from Weiner. Or perhaps even a prolonged period of silence. When asked about that point, Van Meter replied via Facebook message: “Never even occurred to me to ask! I just assumed it had stopped when he got caught, lost his job and started therapy to save his marriage.”
Admirable candor right there. Naivete too: In his congressional meltdown, Weiner showed two traits — mendacity and compulsiveness — that should put any reporter on guard when it comes to accepting anything he says. It’s that dynamic that looks certain to doom his mayoral campaign. Now would be a great time for journalists to ask all disgraced politicians whether they’ve relapsed into the conduct that got them into trouble in the past, as did CNN’s Jake Tapper in an interview with comeback-trail politician Eliot Spitzer.
So along with Weiner’s megalomania we have journalistic negligence to blame for the ongoing fiasco we watch with morbid curiosity. We now know it’s only a matter of time before Weiner announces his withdrawal from the Democratic primary for Mayor of New York City. Now a logical question to ask is, is he so narcissistic as to actually hold a press conference when a simple announcement will suffice?