In the unfortunate message, he referred to his daughter as a "thoughtless pig." I ran into him at the U.S. Open that fall and the first thing I said to him was, "Didn't I teach you anything?" We had one of those knowing laughs, that we both suffered from being temporary idiots, afflicting terrible humiliation on our families and ourselves, but neither of us planned to go public with this stuff and so on. At the time, I said to whomever would listen that someday, something like this will happen to everybody. That day has nearly arrived.
A day doesn't go by now that a celebrity or a politician has to apologize or admit to a bad tweet or voicemail or photo. As I write this, Blake Lively is denying that viral naked pictures of her are authentic. I believe her, but who is going to in this environment? Sadly, not many.
Even though everybody with a cell phone and a computer has the technology to manufacture anything, they still buy into the theory: if it's on the Internet, it's true. If that's true, Sarah Palin has a LOT of explaining to do.
That brings me to the latest case, this one involving New York congressman Anthony Weiner (sounds like "wiener," a colloquial name for penis). As a now and again New York taxpayer and a liberal Democrat, I am a big fan of Congressman Weiner. I mean Bill Clinton officiated at his wedding! The guy has a big political future as maybe the next Mayor of New York, New York state senator, or maybe when Barack Obama is done, the sky is the limit.
But now we have this photograph that appeared on his Twitter account that suggests that it's a photo of Weiner's wiener. There's no face attached to the image, but it is a picture of a man in his underwear and yes, an outline of a man's penis. There's no other way to say this.
Anyway, Weiner immediately released a statement saying his account was "obviously hacked" but as the hours went by he made the whole thing worse by saying he can't say "with certitude" that it is, in fact, NOT his wiener. This prompted everybody from Jon Stewart (a close friend of Anthony's) to FOX's Shepard Smith to go viral themselves with Weinergate (a name based on the Watergate scandal, the central figure of which was a man named Dick). Stewart, who has camped out with Weiner, said the REAL wiener is "a lot more Anthony than wiener."
Ironically, one of the people stuck with reporting this story on MSNBC, my friend Thomas Roberts, was himself the subject of scandalous pictures on the Internet. Thomas dealt with this episode with great dignity and is reporting the news daily without scandal or collateral damage. Another news presenter on CNN was caught in Central Park with a rope tied around HIS wiener and kind of tossed it away as a bad night and his life goes on with seemingly no problems.
Congressman Weiner's problem is that he has yet to actually say "no, that's not me." He's actually making it worse by answering every question about it with something like "we're investigating the whole matter." His lack of denial and evasive answers will certainly, I can say with certitude, carry this story at least into the next week or so. He does say that he will remain an active member of Twitter.
The point of all this is NOT Congressman Weiner's wiener or Blake Lively's "photos" or somebody's voicemail. The point is that with 106 million accounts and 55 million tweets a day, Twitter has a bigger reach than King Kong. Between that and Facebook and the assumed privacy of tweeting behind closed doors, who knows what's on there? I'll tell you who knows: everybody.
As you read this, some teenager just tweeted something that will come up in his or her political campaign 20 years from now. Some poor kid is sending her boyfriend a picture of her new bikini look that Entertainment Tonight will "license" when that kid is a big star. She will then have no comment or idea of how it got "out there."
Dr. Benjamin Spock's Baby and Child Care, whose premise was that raising kids is about choices, raised most baby boomer parents. In this landmark book, he urged parents to understand that "you know more than you think you do." But there was no way that the good doctor could have predicted the choices we make in the viral world.
Vera and Joe O'Brien did teach me a couple things: that I'm responsible for my actions no matter what, and that if you're caught, you're caught. Or as Winston Churchill loved to say, "When you're walking through hell, keep walking."
Good luck, Congressman. Been there. And I got a book contract, too.