New Huffington Post Column

The Biggest Crime in the Anthony Weiner Scandal

The Anthony Weiner situation, as with any political sex scandal, is a multiheaded hydra of awfulness.

Among the casualties of the congressman’s hubristic online grabass sessions, it appears as though the progressive movement will lose a smart, tough-talking champion. A rarity in the Democratic Party. If he doesn’t resign, Congressman Weiner will never again enjoy the trust and admiration of the left, much less the press. If he does, he’s going to have to work damn hard to reacquire it. Meanwhile, conservatives like Rush Limbaugh have been gifted another massive excuse to dust off out their ridiculously hypocritical family values attack against the left, even though the thrice-married, drug addicted, alleged sex tourist Limbaugh is far from being a family values action hero.

Of course, there are the non-crime crimes: the lying, the virtual infidelity and the sheer stupidity of a high-profile elected official being reckless and predatory with his online behavior. Honestly, Weiner’s actions were more indicative of a horny slow-witted pubescent teenager with a fraction of the intelligence and quadruple the modesty than it was the behavior of a six term member of Congress.

But due to his irresponsible Twitter flirting and sexting, the worst non-crime crime committed by Anthony Weiner is that he’s successfully fed a dangerous Mobius Loop involving the news media and those of us who consume its mostly nonsensical content.

In spite of our Puritanical origins and hopeless contradictions regarding sexuality, Americans love sex scandals more than we love our big cars, our big guns, our bubble-gum reality television and our gigantic competing heaps of beef and Lipitor. I’m not breaking any news when I write that sex scandals sell more papers, and they attract more viewers to the internet and television, than just about anything else, regardless of whether they originate in Hollywood, Washington, D.C., or the supermarket checkout line.

And the for-profit news media has a corporate/financial mandate to deliver whatever the people want.

So when Anthony Weiner, John Ensign and others unfurl their penises in public, they supercharge the Underpants-Media-Consumer Complex. The news media reports it because thousands of us watch it — tsk-tsking and tee-heeing. Why? Because the news media has been reporting it, so we watch it, and on and on and on. The circle of underpants. We blame the news media for being prurient and the news media blames us for forcing them to air it.

Now, that’s not to say this topic should be ignored. Certainly whenever there’s news of a politician behaving badly, it should be reported. But certainly not with the wall-to-wall coverage it receives now, irrespective of how explosive or titillating it might be. Maybe these stories are better suited as kickers next to the water-skiing squirrel and the nacho chip shaped like President Taft. Definitely not the lede. But there it is — every time. Because we watch it in record numbers.

This is precisely why oracles like Paddy Chayefsky warned us about mixing news and entertainment programming. When networks and publications married together the news with ratings and made news programming dependent upon corporate advertising and profit in support of mega-corporate parents (fewer and fewer by the day as they consolidate and as monopolies strengthen), the important-yet-comparatively-less-sexy stories began to recede from the headlines and popular sensationalism took on greater importance.

Yes, sexy stories have always been part of the news, but they were generally counterbalanced with wonk because once upon a time journalists took seriously the fact that the press is the only industry specifically protected by the Bill of Rights.

The press was never a huge money-making venture because important stories — the stories crucial to the proper functioning of constitutional democracy — weren’t always the popular stories. Featuring the best reporting ought to be the centerpiece in keeping TV and print news solvent, but it’s easier and more profitable to simply talk about political underpants parties than to report on the finer points of critical topics. Why? Again, because we love it.

Remove or reduce the corporate ratings/profit motive from the press and I assure you, there will be more substance and less underpants.

So while we were all gawking at Weiner’s meltdown, what have we missed? Here are two randomly selected items that have received almost zero coverage anywhere. The Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan has actually released twice the amount of radiation originally reported, and it’s currently ranked at the same disaster level as Chernobyl. Elsewhere, scientists following the climate crisis have determined that the Arctic ice cap will disappear by 2030. Weather conditions are already becoming exponentially more unpredictable, dangerous and, dare I say, cinematic. Now imagine the weather without a one of our polar ice caps to reflect the sun’s heat, and imagine where all of that water might go. But Anthony Weiner’s penis is more fun and therefore a ratings bonanza, so whatever.

Okay. What needs to happen? How do we fix this?

Don’t laugh, but the corporations that own the news media would have to collectively agree to allow the news to become non-profit or significantly less profitable.

This would allow news divisions to give hard news more attention and to usher the bubble gum to its rightful place with the water-skiing squirrels. But for this to work, the entire news media would have to agree to do it. Fox News, the Washington Times, MSNBC, The Huffington Post — every news outlet.

And that would be impossible. Obviously.

If just one source held out and became the go-to hub for silly stories, viewers would flock there and the other agencies would disintegrate or fall off the wagon. Plus, corporate owners, investors and boards of directors would never in a millions years agree to allow hard news to supplant ratings and ad revenues unless, of course, advertisers could be convinced that their investment in hard news was good for their bottom line. Perhaps bosses could position the news as a matter of overall corporate prestige while profits could be ascertained via other programming.

Realistically speaking, it’s not impossible, but it’s highly unlikely.

The other solution, naturally, is for us to make an effort to reverse our viewing and reading preferences. In other words, if profit and ratings determine content, why don’t we, as a movement of news consumers, deliberately give the wonky stories massive ratings and traffic, while simultaneously ignoring the crapola? Go to the hard news sections of blogs and give those posts big traffic and comment en masse with the same gusto of a Weiner or celebrity scandal post. Facebook those posts. Tweet those posts. Email links to everyone. Make it profitable to host hard news. Make them do it. Likewise, instead of picking up a copy of US Weekly at the checkout counter, subscribe to The Nation or pick up a copy of The Economist. Generate social media buzz for cable news shows that focus on wonk, and boycott the shows featuring nonsense and manufactured outrage. News agencies would have no choice but to adjust. Without our support, hard news will become gradually marginalized.

Again, realistically speaking, it’s not impossible, but it’s unlikely. However, as social media strengthens, it’s not outside the realm of possibility to generate a decentralized grassroots movement. It’s been done before.

At the very least, we shouldn’t hesitate to loudly villainize any public character who, through his or her reckless stupidity, fuels this dangerous circle of crap. Not necessarily for the crotch shot or the recklessness itself, but for giving the for-profit press an excuse to ignore real information.

Information is the life blood of democracy. The democratic process depends upon our active participation, and whenever real information is replaced with nonsense, democracy suffers due to an ignorant public. If we’re not sufficiently informed about the difficult (yet sometimes boring) realities facing our world, we’re less likely to participate in efforts to ameliorate them. If we’re not sufficiently informed about the positive (yet sometimes boring) realities that make our world better, we’re less likely to participate in efforts to reward and reinforce them.

So when you’re finished reading this item, make an effort to read or view some hard news. If you spend 30 minutes every day on the blogs, allocate a third of that time to serious reading. Comment about it. Share it on your Facebook wall. Make hard news as popular and as desirable as the cheap underpants scandals. Sabotage the loop.

Listen to the Bubble Genius Bob & Elvis Show, with Bob Cesca and Elvis Dingeldein, on iTunes.
Bob Cesca’s Awesome Blog! Go!

Print Friendly
This entry was posted in Huffington Post and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • mikecz

    You said hard…

    Dude, if ratings weren’t an issue, no one would watch it. You are talking about forcing people news they don’t want to watch. Maybe we need a room in everyone’s house that people have to sit and watch the news everyday for 30 minutes, of course news that Bob agrees with.

    While I don’t see Weiner’s story as “hard” news, you have to say the greater whole, what people demand with their time/money is what has to be delivered. If it wasn’t, it won’t work/be viewed/ be sustainable. People, as we all know, in the whole are good. Forcing people to do things in general is a bad and unsustainable idea.

    • Robert Scalzi

      you are absolutely deficient in your critique of the piece …. you totally missed the point. maybe you should read it again w/o you teafarter glasses on

      • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

        x2

    • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

      Yeah, by all means, lets just encourage more ignorance amongst the ignorant masses.

      FYI, the corporations have a dog in this fight. It is in THEIR best interests to keep you and I, and everyone else, ignorant.

      Think about that.

    • http://phydeauxpseaks.blogspot.com Bob Rutledge

      So true, mikecz, because back in the days of Cronkite, and Huntley/Brinkley, and Chancellor none of us ever watched the news.

      Wanker.

      For the Record, one of my earliest memories is of the casualty count graphic from the Vietnam War that would be on the news broadcast daily. Hardly fluff.

  • tangles

    AW did a stupid, WTF-were-you-thinking thing. But he’s human and humans do assholish things every day. I’m sick to death of this subject and haven’t watched a minute of news all week. Jezus, enough with Weiner,weiner,weiner. Gain some perspective, America.

    I expect it of the media. What really chaps my ass are the Dem leaders now pissing all over him, perpetuating the rightwing belief, IOKIYR. Bullshit. After years of ignoring the DCCC, with Steve Israel in charge I had finally considered donating in abundance to help get the House back. F that. Allyson Schwartz couldn’t wait to run off her mouth telling AW to resign. Now it’s Tim Kaine. I’ll wait to see if Wasserman-Schultz weighs in before sending another dime to OFA/DNC. Spiteful, perhaps. Obama doesn’t really need my couple hunnerd bucks and I’ll just have to do some homework and donate directly to worthy House candidates.

    • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

      Tangles, I agree wholeheartedly. I was screaming at the TV last night because no matter where I turned the channel to watch the news this is all they were talking about. And the circular firing squad going on with the Dems. WTF is that about! I mean you have Ensign and Vitter on the Republican side and no one on the Rethugs were calling for him to resign and the COMMITTED f*cking CRIMESSSSSS

      I really am just overwrought with this bs right now.

  • http://twitter.com/mikecalma Mike Calma

    Totally. And if it’s not Weiner’s weiner it’s more Palin bus tour non-news. Where’s the meat? Where’s the real news? Network news viewers are getting less and less hard thought-provoking news and more and more pap. And we wonder why people are so uninformed when it comes time to vote.

  • Zasta_Krockett

    Glad to see the HuffPost column return.

  • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

    Glad to see you aren’t giving HuffPo exclusive rights on your articles anymore, Bob.

    Information is the life blood of democracy. The democratic process depends upon our active participation, and whenever real information is replaced with nonsense, democracy suffers due to an ignorant public.

    This is the crux of the matter.

    Our corporate overseers have an overwhelming interest in keeping the general populace ignorant of what’s happening in this country.

    I would go so far as to say that if it were not for online, non-traditional media, Paul Ryan would very likely get his damn budget with out much in the way of pushback from traditional media.

    The state of our media is one of the most important issues facing us in our time.

  • snowbird42

    Salacious always sells and gets marketshare…thus the Weiner story.
    But I was wondering if there is another side to this. I think there is an addiction problem here. Didnt he tell his wife he’d stop. What if he cant just stop?
    Just wondering although Im not sure that changes anything.

    • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

      Ed Rendell said something about Weiner needing in-patient treatment last night and I was flabbergasted. We really know so very little about what’s going on internally there and an addict can be the ONLY one who decides they are an addict. Only they know the full story. I think it’s horrible that we’re all speculating at what should be a private matter. I think its equally horrible that the rest of the Dems have turned on him. That little turd Breitbart purposely released the new photo that he said he wouldn’t release to extend the controversy and force Weiner out. It was completely gratuitous and unnecessary. And all the Dems turning on him is the typical Democratic circular firing squad.

      • muselet

        Speculation about whether Anthony Weiner suffers from some sort of addiction is pointless, since all we know is whatever juicy details our wonderful news media choose to provide us. More specifically, unless Ed Rendell has a license to practice medicine that I don’t know about, he should put a cork in it.

        –alopecia

  • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

    Hear, Hear Bob! Break the underpants focus loop, definitely. I put a comic up on my website regarding this distraction from what REALLY matters. And it isn’t just the underpants loop. It’s also what I call the “ooga booga” loop–i.e., scaring people with fake or sensationalist stories. Keep em ignorant and keep em scared, that’s how you keep em under control.

    http://drangedinaz.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/roadtoobscurity1.jpg

    • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

      Keep em ignorant and keep em scared, that’s how you keep em under control.

      Precisely.

  • http://twitter.com/gbeaudette Grant Beaudette

    Sadly, news is a lot like food. The stuff that’s bad for you is not only more palatable to the masses; it’s also far cheaper to produce and consume.

    I’d get The Economist if it didn’t cost $130/year. Compare that to Entertainment Weekly, which is $15.00/year.

  • muselet

    I couldn’t agree more, and I’m happy to say the story has fallen off the front pages of both the LA Dog Trainer and the Local Fishwrap. That could change in a heartbeat, of course, and there are still stories on the inside pages, but it gives me a little hope.

    –alopecia

    • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

      You should check out Twitter. search on #weinergate

      It is incredibly pathetic. This guy’s life is falling apart in front of our eyes, and it all seems to be viewed as a great big joke.

      And, his pregnant wife……..I feel so badly for her. I can not understand why people just don’t seem to have any empathy. If they did, they would just let this go now.

      Adding……and the bitches who played along with him and are now drinking up the publicity……they just make me sick.

      Adding again…..why would anyone even want that kind of publicity??!

      • http://drangedinaz.wordpress.com/ IrishGrrrl

        I just saw this in an article

        According to ABC’s Democratic source, Weiner is telling colleagues that his pregnant wife Huma Abedin “wants him to stay and fight.”

        If this is true…..How tough is his wife!! And she either loves him a whole lot or she really loves her party.

        • http://www.politicalruminations.com/ nicole

          She has guts, no doubt about it!!

  • http://twitter.com/bubblegenius Bubble Genius

    Yeah, and we should’ve gotten Ted Kennedy to resign after Chappaquiddick, because we thought he’d never be effective after such a scandal.

    • http://profiles.google.com/wavydavy2000 David Hendrickson

      Yes, and who can forget how little Bill Clinton did after Monica Lewinsky.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RKQVAG36IH552PAO2GWQ3E6ZJ4 lace face

    I’d like to say thanks Bob, for posting your entire article here, instead of just a link like before. I’ll be damned if I visit Huff Po for a nanosecond. Even if it’s to view your article.