Rep. Anthony Weiner's tearful apology for sending revealing pictures of his chest and underwear-covered genitalia at his press conference yesterday was agonizing.
Painful for him, sure, but much more so for what it reveals about us, a nation easily captivated by sexual peccadillos and yuck-yuck wiener jokes, but otherwise somnolent about real issues crying out for our attention, as I detail in my new book, Think.
Let's be clear. Weiner didn't cheat on his wife. He didn't touch another woman, as far as we know. He didn't rob or cheat or steal. Like millions of Americans, he got frisky and sent some photos and emails to other consenting adults. Some were after he got married. A no-no, surely, between his wife and him, but none of my business, even if I were his constituent. And even if I did consider other people's consensual sex lives my business, surely this would rank as about issue # 2,467,912 on my priority list.
If you're not sexting, you're in the minority
Our news stations all led their shows with the Weiner story tonight, dressing it up as a discussion of politics and trust when in reality it was journalists' hounding him for a week over his personal behavior that led to tonight's revelations. And what were they chasing? A silly story about a grown man having a little too much fun with his camera phone -- the kind of fun many of us are hypocrites to criticize.
Let he who has never gotten frisky online cast the first stone.
In a 2008 study, thirty-three percent of young adults admitted to sending or posting nude or semi-nude pictures or videos of themselves; 59 percent of young adults admitted to texting lewd messages. Those numbers are surely higher now that nearly everyone has a camera phone and with the explosion of Facebook and Twitter in the last three years. In an unscientific, informal poll of my middle aged women friends, married and single, 100% had engaged in "sexting."
In some parts of this country, kids as young as 15 have been prosecuted for kiddie porn for sending pictures of their own body parts to one another. One in five of them does it. They shouldn't, of course, mainly because other kids blast the photo around and humiliate them, and bullying results. But snapping photos of oneself should be no more a crime than mooning or cursing or fart jokes -- it's just dopey adolescent stuff. Is there is a bigger waste of prosecutorial time than investigating our own kids for being kids? Just as the Weiner story is a colossal waste of media time.
He's doing what most of us have done, kids to old folks, at one time or another, usually shortly after we discover how to hold our arm out and point the iPhone at ourselves. Why? Because we're dumb humans. Same reason we cheat on diets, cross on a red light, lose patience with our kids, smoke. We shouldn't do any of these things. But we do. And when we do, it doesn't undercut our life's work, and it doesn't merit reporting by our top journalists so breathless one might thing an asteroid is speeding towards earth.
"It's the cover-up" -- spare me
"Oh, but it's the lying!" some say. And I say journalists should aim higher than asking "is that your erection?" and "is that your underwear?" When they insist on answers to those questions, normal human beings are going to lie. And that doesn't make a non-story a story.
The fallout from our obsession with our leaders' private lives
How many imperfect but smart, qualified people decided today they could never run for public office?
How many worthy news stories got killed to make space for endless replays of Weiner's apology?
What is getting crowded out when we dumb down our news for the sex story du jour?
Networks have limited time for news, and we the public have even less attention for it. It's bad enough that most of the college women I surveyed recently can name more Kardashians than wars we're in. Libraries and battered women's shelters are closing; access to birth control is getting tightened; our kids' school years are getting cut shorter, as we get less competitive in the world. So let's cut to the chase on what really matters in our communities, our country, our planet.
If only our news networks led with what matters: the three million women and girls who are currently enslaved in third world brothels -- enslaved, literally, beaten, raped, drugged, not permitted to leave unless someone "buys" their freedom. The eight thousand children who died today largely of preventable diseases like malaria, and what's working to help them. The mounting scientific evidence that climate change is shaping up to be the worst ecological and humanitarian disaster in human history.
What would our news look like if we all woke up and decided we don't care about the sex lives of politicians and celebrities? That we were done with sanctimony? That we demanded our media focus on what matters?