The Tickle Fight Heard Round The World

The meaning of Eric Massa's implosion

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In the week since he announced his retirement, Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY) has undergone a gradual and highly publicized implosion the likes of which have not been seen since former Rep. Mark Foley resigned in 2006. Massa, depending on the day of the week and who asks him, is retiring due to his serious lymphoma, due to ethical violations involving sexual comments to a staffer, due to undue pressure from the White House, or due to a misunderstood "tickle fight" with male staffers. Adding to the drama is Massa's claim that White House Chief of Staff angrily confronted him while both were nude in the Congressional showers, leading Massa to call Emanuel "son of the devil's spawn."

Tuesday night, Massa sat for lengthy interviews with Glenn Beck and Larry King. Both interviews have been described as a "meltdown." (See the Beck interview and commentary about its significance.) Here's what Massa said, what's being said about him, and what his tragic flame-out means for actual governance.

  • How Dems & GOP Will Play It The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza prognosticates, "For Democrats, Massa's seeming unwillingness to go quietly into that good night means a week filled with distractions as the party attempts to rally behind President Obama's health care plan. For Republicans, the short-term danger is in overplaying their hand on the scandal -- either by casting themselves in a sort-of holier-than-thou pose that has been a recipe for disaster for both parties in recent years on ethics issues, or by embracing (bad word choice) Massa too closely given that there appear to be more revelations to come."
  • Massa Explains Speaking to Glenn Beck, Massa sighed, "Now they are saying I groped a male staffer." He conceded, "Yeah I did. Not only did I grope him. I tickled him until he couldn't breathe and then four guys jumped on top of me. It was my 50th birthday. It was kill the old guy. You can take anything out of context."
  • Larry King: Is Massa Gay? Many have wondered, and Larry King asked Massa directly. "I'm not going to answer that," he responded. "Why don't you ask my wife, ask my friends, ask the 10,000 sailors I served with in the Navy?" Such a question, "insults every gay American." Is the Congressman's personal sexuality relevant to the story? Or does Massa have a point about political pundits who seem to consider homosexuality in itself a scandal?
  • 'Tickleboarding' Is Illegal Former Daily Show correspondent Mo Rocca coins a new term, "Tickling someone until they can't breathe -- aka Tickleboarding." He scoffs, "To be clear, the Tickleboarding of captives IS legal, under the Elmo Conventions of 1996. Look it up, Massa."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.