Congressman Anthony Weiner's "Bulge" Photo Crisis

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky…and I need to go back to work for the American people.” – Bill Clinton, January 26, 1998

“I’m going to get back to work today.” – Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), May 31, 2011

New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, a liberal firebrand whose fiery rhetoric earns him endless cable airtime, suddenly hates television cameras.

Here’s the story. Late last week, Rep. Weiner appeared to Tweet a photo of his “bulge” in a tight pair of underwear to a college student in Washington State. Rep. Weiner, who is married, claimed his account was hacked (he later called it a “prank.”) Conservative activists who claimed to see the Tweet say he’s lying. 

It’s possible that Mr. Weiner didn’t send the tweet himself. But his crisis communications response thus far has been to borrow from two dreadful examples – Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky speech and Gary Condit’s stonewalling silence – and as a result, he looks guilty.

Here are a few of things Mr. Weiner is doing wrong:

1. Refusing to Answer Basic Questions: Did Weiner send the tweet or not? He refuses to say, opting instead to take a tone of supercilious sanctimony with the media. His tone is totally inappropriate given the ease with which he could end this story by answering the direct question.

2. He’s Obviously Obfuscating: Instead of answering a direct question, he directs people to an incomplete statement that doesn’t answer the key question.

3. Attacking The Media: In the above clip, Mr. Weiner calls a reporter a “jackass.”

“The Bulge.” Photo Credit: The Daily Caller website

If Weiner is innocent, no crisis communications coach in the world would advise him to employ this strategy. His response leaves the unmistakable impression that he did, indeed, send the picture to a young woman – and that more damaging parts of the story may yet emerge. If not, why not just admit the infraction and move on?

Instead, Weiner, a likely contender for New York City Mayor in 2013, is acting like a man whose mayoral aspirations just went up in smoke.

Update (June 1, 2011, 2:35pm): In an interview with MSNBC this afternoon, Rep. Weiner finally denied that he sent out the tweet, but could not say “with certitude” that the tweet wasn’t of him in his underwear. He appeared defenisve and evasive, confirming my impression that there’s more to this story than the public knows right now. Worse, he made an erection joke (“I’m not sure it rises to the level, no pun intended.”). The interview is below:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Like this blog? Sign up for free monthly email tips to help you become a better media spokesperson and public speaker. Sign up box is in the upper right hand of the blog.

Click here to hear my interview about Anthony Weiner’s crisis on Washington, D.C.’s WTOP.

You Might Also Enjoy: The 10 Worst Media Disasters of 2010