The Five Leading Theories of What Happened in Weinergate

Anthony Weiner's confusing explanation has let speculation run rampant

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As Weinergate's lifespan nears the one-week mark, the betting pool over how a crotch shot addressed to a college student briefly appeared on Anthony Weiner's Twitter feed is thick with the sludge of conspiracy. Scandals like this--complete with Twitpic of the evidence, cryptic public statements, clueless college girls in Seattle--only come so often for the political press, and so every detail has been scrutinized to the hilt in an effort to solve the curious case of Anthony's underpants. Anthony Weiner told reporters outside his office this morning that he wouldn't answer any more questions about the affiar. Rudy Giuliani, whose former job as New York City mayor looked like it may be on Weiner's list of ambitions, wonders why there's not an FBI investigation yet. Whether the Bureau decides to pursue the case or not the internet cadres of Watson-wannabes has already done a decent amount of work for them.

We've done our best to pull together the facts collected so far and parsed out some of the loopy theories, from the most plausible to the most impossible, in an effort to separate the news from the gossip. But at this point what's the difference?

Theory #1: Anthony Weiner Was Sending a College Girl a Picture of His Crotch

Proponent: Publius, an anonymous blogger on Andrew Breitbart's Big Government

Supporting Evidence: This is the original version of this scandal. Publius posted a series of screenshots allegedly from Anthony Wiener's Twitter and Yfrog accounts. The tip-off tweet, shown not as a screenshot from Twitter's website but rather from a Twitter client, appeared as at @ reply to a then-unnamed user--it's since been revealed that the user is a 21-year-old college student in Seattle--and included a link to a photo of an underwear-clad erection on Anthony Weiner's Yfrog account. The screenshot of the photo on Weiner's Yfrog account is accompanied by a shot of a tweet from Weiner dated Saturday that says "Tivo shot. FB hacked. Is my blender gonna attack me next? #TheToasterIsVeryLoyal."

Counter Evidence: On the matter of sending crotch shots to college girls, Weiner has been the most forceful in his denials. At a press conference at the Capitol the one point-blank thing he said was: “We know for sure I didn’t send this photograph."

Theory #2: A Hacker Sent a Fake Weiner Pic to a College Girl as a Prank

Proponent: Anthony Weiner
Supporting Evidence: Not long after the crotch shot posted by Weiner's account went live, the congressman claimed that a hacker had burrowed into his account. The photo of course was deleted almost immediately, and the follow-up tweet sounded playfully defensive. It's not technically that difficult to break into anybody's Twitter or Facebook account. Weiner's camp also claims that a week ago he received an email alerting him that his Facebook account had been compromised. The Twitter invasion could have been the obvious next step for the prankster. By Monday, the congressman had hired an attorney in order to investigate how the hack happened and explore “what civil or criminal actions should be taken.” A spokesperson for Weiner echoed hope that it had been a prank and said, "We are loath to treat it as more, but we are relying on professional advice."
Counter Evidence: This sounds like an obvious deflection of blame--Slate's Christopher Beam wondered if "somebody hacked my account" was the new "the dog ate my homework." There's also Weiner himself who's curiously refused to say whether the photo in question is a picture of his crotch or someone else's, which leads to...

Theory #3: A Hacker Sent a Real Weiner Pic to a College Girl as a Better Prank

Proponent: Anthony Weiner (apparently)
Supporting Evidence: In his many, many appearances about the scandal, Weiner refused to say flat out that the crotch in the picture is not his. Weiner fumbled recent interviews, insisting that he couldn't say "with certitude" that the crotch in the photo circulating is not his. On the Rachel Maddow Show last night, he sort of admitted that pictures of his crotch existed on the internet. "Stuff gets manipulated,” he told Maddow. "Maybe it started out being a photograph of mine, [but it] was taken out of context,” referring to a connection drawn to the alleged teenage recipient of the tweet in Seattle.
Counter Evidence: Weiner's former roommate Jon Stewart's testimony, "My memory is this cat had a lot more Anthony and a lot less weiner."

Theory #4: There Was No Hack, but Weiner Is Still the Victim of a Conservative Smear Campaign

Proponent: Joseph Cannon, blogger

Supporting Evidence: This is a little more complicated, so bear with us. As Weiner maintained his innocence in the face of the lewd tweeting accusations, blogger Joseph Cannon rose to his defense with an explanation of how no hacking would be required to pull of a Yfrog prank like this and even names Dan Wolfe as the prankster. Wolfe, a self-described "Conservative Reagan Republican" retweeted the original tweet from Weiner's account along with the caption "Anthony Weiner tweets X RATED PIC TO FOLLOWER!" According to Cannon, Wolfe is "pathologically" obsessed with Weiner and was somehow able to access the email address for uploading photos to Weiner's account. (Yfrog provides unique addresses to each user for uploading and tweeting photos via email.) As Weiner's original tweet didn't include any content besides the photo, characteristic of an emailed post, this is a possible scenario. As Mediaite notes, the screenshot of the photo being passed around originates from the Publius post, a scenario that also hints the work of one saboteur.

Counter Evidence: It's a pretty elaborate scheme. In Cannon's scenario Wolfe would have discovered the email address to upload and tweet a photo from Weiner's Yfrog account, grab the screenshot on Yfrog, retweet the tweet from Weiner's account and possibly tip off Publius at Big Government all within a few minutes. Weiner admitted to deleting the tweet which some may say proves his involvement, but as Cannon points out, anyone who pays attention to their stream would have deleted the seemingly spammy tweet.

Theory #5: This Is All Just a Dirty Trick to Repeal Health Care Reform

Proponent: The Daily Kos Community

Supporting Evidence:  This is definitely reaching. According to a couple of bloggers in The Daily Kos community, this "distraction" came at the same time that Weiner was reigniting his campaign against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. After all, it was Friday when Weiner lambasted Thomas over Twitter for not recusing himself of potential challenges to Obama's health care reform legislation. Since Thomas's wife runs tea party organization Liberty Central and founded an anti-health care reform consulting group, he's clearly partial in any health care case, some argue. The tweet that launched the entire scandal came from Weiner's account that night. So in a (very) roundabout way, this is some rogue rightwing attempt to kill Obamacare.

Counter Evidence: The timing is all wrong. Harvard Law Professor Charles Fried told The Atlantic Wire that any attempt to force a recusal from Clarence Thomas was akin to "getting fired from a job you never had." Of course, as attempts to declare Obamacare unconstitutional bubble up in federal courts, a conflict of interest may force Thomas to make a decision. But it will be months until the Supreme Court hears anything health care related.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.