Politicians Gone Wild: Weiner’s “Walk of Shame” Resignation in Era of Sexting
Last week we were treated to the finale of another installment of the on-going reality show, “Politicians Gone Wild.” In this episode, the star, New York Congressman, Anthony Weiner (D-NY), announced due to “the distraction that I have created…I am announcing my resignation from Congress.”
In this two-weeks mini-series, proudly sponsored by Twitter, we watched Weiner’s rapid descent from popular, albeit outspoken, representative moving up the ranks on Capitol Hill, to being outed for sending sexually charged text messages and semi-clothed pictures of himself to at least six women.
Not that “sexting” is illegal between two consenting adults, but Weiner, who also happens to be married, first lied about it. Then he tried to cover it up, saying his Twitter account had been hacked. Next, according to one of his Twitter pals, former porn actress Ginger Lee, he asked her to lie about their correspondence. And, because he is an elected official, there is also that little line in the Congressional Code of Conduct that states, “I will not act in any way to dishonor my office or my country,” to be considered.
While many political figures have committed worse offenses, voters are getting fed up and saying, “Enough is enough!” So, probably to ensure their own reelection bids, his colleagues publically turned against him and last Thursday, amid growing pressure and no peer support, Weiner held a news conference and resigned.
Walk of Shame or Stump Speech? Overall Grade: B
If you had been living under a rock the past couple of week and knew nothing of the sexting scandal, you would have thought the opening of Weiner’s dialogue was a campaign speech. Wearing a tailor-fitted, blue suit, complete with an American flag pinned on the left lapel, Weiner looked confident and strong as he took the podium. Flanked by two American flags, he looked like the perfect candidate seeking reelection. He occasionally smiled as he reminisced about his first run for city council 20 years ago, and then looked proud, recalling his run for Congress. He mentioned his humble beginnings, his hard-working parents and his great respect for the people living in his New York district. All good things I, as a media coach, would encourage a political client to do—if he were running for office, not from office.
After about a minute-and- a-half, Weiner did get around to apologizing for his “personal mistakes and the embarrassment I have caused.” But, in these circumstances, taking a minute-and-a-half to finally mention the 700-hundred pound gorilla in the room is an eternity.
What He Did Well
Hecklers are a challenge to anyone speaking in a public setting, and those at Weiner’s news conference were about as obnoxious as they come. But, Weiner remained composed and delivered his remarks without allowing them to throw him off message.
He took full responsibility for his bad behavior. He didn’t offer up, or imply, any excuses, something couched in most all public apologies.
And, I was especially glad that his wife was not dragged in to pose as the “good wife” symbol of support. Give me a break! American’s do not fall for that staged imagery any more than we believe pictures of Elvis hanging out with extra extraterrestrials on the cover of tabloids in the supermarket.
Media Coaching Advice
Facing the public and admitting shameful behavior is humiliating, but it is best to get to the ugly point immediately. Weiner’s opening remarks sounded too much like he was trying to soften his actions by reminding his constituents that he is still that good guy they voted for in the early days. It was sort of a, “Don’t hate me because I’ve been bad,” introduction.
It is better to acknowledge the wrong-doing straight-away, using language that conveys sincere remorse. Next, apologize to everyone affected. Closing remarks should simply reiterate your sorrow and what you are doing in restitution. Bottom-line: Keep it short and to the point.
Then, there is vocal delivery and body language. When people are admitting to having done something wrong, the public wants to see genuine remorse in the offenders face and general demeanor. And, they want to hear it in the tone of their voice. Weiner took the stage looking poised and confident, not looking humble. He read his prepared statement with the same vocal inflections he would have used if presenting a bill before Congress. The words said, “I’m sorry,” but the vocal tone did not support it. And, on the subject of reciting a speech, the public’s vote on the sincerity meter take a nose dive anytime anyone reads prepared remarks verbatim.
The Irony of It All
On March 30th, Weiner was the hands-down highlight of the annual Congressional Correspondents Dinner in Washington, DC. This is an annual event where members of congress and reporters put aside their differences and roast each other.
Weiner gave a funny, self-effacing speech, about his name, his confrontational encounters with reporters, and joked about his colleagues. In that speech, he also talked about how he has embraced new media, and that Time Magazine recently named him one of the top 140 Twitter’s in America. He even got laughs showing a slide of his Twitter home page, which features his high school photo, and bragged that he has more than 18,000 followers, “even with a 1970s Jewfro.”
That is the power of the new media. Out of Antony Weiner’s 18,000 followers, it only took six to take him from being respected to being reprehensible. The lesson learned: You are what you Tweet.