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Anthony Weiner scandal: Leave the poor guy alone

June 16, 2011 |  7:06 am

Anthony Weiner Anthony Weiner's scandal should have simmered down after he checked into rehab, but his not-so-trusty confidante Ginger Lee stirred the pot Wednesday by telling the media he'd asked her to lie for him.

It makes you want scold Weiner for being such a jerk. And you can imagine how the skeptics reacted, the ones like the Washington Post's Ruth Marcu who think his stint in rehab is a quick-fix PR stunt to clean up his image. "[Weiner's] episode underscores how rehab has become an all-purpose laundromat for irresponsible behavior, an infuriatingly easy substitute for accepting blame and living with consequences," she wrote.

And it's true: We've seen this face of shame, described (and illustrated) in a New York Times City Room post by Andy Newman and Elissa Gootman, so many times before.

But are the media being too hard on Weiner? It might start to look that way, said the Daily Beast's Eric Alterman: "Weiner may have solved everybody's problem with his 'treatment' gambit. It makes those who continue to milk the story look like heartless vultures for harassing a sick man (with a pregnant wife)." And yet, people continue to brush off a pattern of behavior associated with addiction.

Is it unfair to roll our eyes at a guy with genuine problem? That's the case Susan Cheever made on The Fix, an addiction and recovery website. Here's an excerpt from an excellent article that describes the psychology of addiction:

This seemingly irrational behavior on the part of very rational men and women is at the heart of addiction -- and at the heart of the case of onetime rising star Anthony Weiner, the New York congressman whose bizarre twitter escapades have made world wide news. [...]

[F]or those whose behavior appears both compulsive and inexplicable, where the risks far outweigh the benefits, a diagnosis of sex addiction is a good bet. [...]

Men who are unable to control their sexual urges at any cost need help, just like drug addicts and alcoholics.

Meghan Daum also showed some sensitivity and understanding for the disgraced politician in her Thursday Op-Ed article. In it, she wonders "whether his penchant for erotic self-portraiture reveals not confidence or excessive vanity but an ingrained self-loathing." This guy could be seriously screwed up.

When you consider the context for Weiner's indiscretions -- the slam-book-cum-mosh pit that is Twitter, the way Facebook has turned exhibitionism into "sharing" and voyeurism into a pastime as quotidian as checking the weather forecast -- one thing seems clear: Weiner was using social networking less as a means of communication than as a mirror. Apparently unable to rely on his own judgment when gazing at his reflection, he sought outside appraisers who were guaranteed to issue the approval he couldn't muster for himself.

And, of course, you can't forget the possibility that a "Type T" personality could be at the root of his troubles. It's hard to like someone like Weiner, but given all that could be wrong, it's also hard to see him crucified.

[Update: Bowing to pressure from his own party, Rep. Anthony Weiner plans to resign today, according to Democratic sources. He told Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday.]

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The psychology of Weiner's scandal and what it says about us

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) pauses during a news conference in New York after acknowledging inappropriate online communications with women. Credit: Jin Lee / Bloomberg

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