Why Anthony Weiner Is Right to Avoid Legal Action

Calling in the cops may only drag out his scandal


Over the past few days, Anthony Weiner has gone from being a mildly interesting Brooklyn congressman to the center of a very 21st century scandal involving a West Coast college student, dick pics, allegations of hacking, and (what else?) Twitter. As various reporters (and gossip columnists) have dissected the aptly named Weinergate, many have expressed confusion over the fact that Rep. Weiner (D) has declined to launch an investigation into an alleged hacking of his Twitter account -- some even suggesting that Weiner's hesitancy to pursue legal action might be an indication of his complicity in the naughty direct message. But I don't think that refusing to pursue legal action is an admission of some sort of guilt. Quite the contrary: I think it's the smartest move Weiner has made so far.

Americans tend to view legal action as the solution to all of life's little problems -- as though bringing a case before a judge is a panacea that will make all bad things shrivel up and disappear. Would that that were so, but the truth is that involving courts in a situation like this one means transforming a molehill of one leaked, barely viewed johnson shot into a mountain of a (likely lengthy) legal battle -- complete with fact finding, depositions, and plenty of opportunities for Weiner to have to answer embarrassing questions while under oath. And that's not even getting into the fact that taking this story to court means extending the story's press cycle: something I can guarantee that Congressman Weiner does not want to do.

It's a perfect example of what's known as the Streisand Effect: the more one tries to cover up information that has been leaked to the public, the more attention one brings to the very information one is seeking to protect. Countless celebrities have seen this effect in action: the more cease and desists you send out, the more fascinated people get by the very photos you're trying to pull from the internet; even engaging in a costly (and lengthy) legal battle isn't guaranteed to wipe the internet free of one's sexy photos or sex tape. As long as one person retains a copy of it (which, in the digital age, is relatively easy to do), it's always possible for a photo (and story) to resurface.

Even the best case scenario wouldn't be that great an outcome for Weiner: consider what happened when Sarah Palin pursued legal action against David Kernell, the college student who hacked her email account in 2008. Yes, justice was eventually served in the form of a one year and one day prison sentence, and three years probation, but that verdict wasn't handed down until a full two years after the original incident. Does anyone really think Weiner wants to be thinking about, ahem, Weinergate in 2013? (I'd hope that he has much better things to be concerning himself with -- like, for instance, helping to govern the U.S. and serve the people of Brooklyn.)

Of course, that's not to say that that Weiner has handled things flawlessly. Though his decision to eschew legal action has done a great deal to shorten the Weinergate news cycle, there is one other thing he needs to do to help finish the story off: namely, stop equivocating about the source of the picture, and just admit that he's taken some crotch shots (even if the picture in question isn't necessarily his). Discussions about "certitude" aren't going to shut people up, they're just going to provide more fodder for the rumor mill. Actually admitting that -- just like the rest of us -- he's taken some photos of his package, and that it's not a big deal? That's a much stronger statement than any lawsuit could make.

Image credit: Susan Walsh (Associated Press)