In what appeared to be an endless series of attempts to explain what he has termed a “prank,” Rep. Anthony Weiner “made it worse for himself,” says an expert in crisis communications.
The New York Democrat has spent much of the week alternatively coming off as defensive and combative over a controversy that arose when a picture of a man’s underwear-clad torso appeared to have been sent from his Twitter account over the weekend.
Weiner first released several press statements, then told reporters that he would no longer talk about the subject, going so far as to call one CNN producer a “jackass” on camera when pressed. He then reversed field, spending much of the day Wednesday granting lengthy interviews to news outlets about the matter.
Thursday, Weiner was back to telling reporters he wouldn’t talk about the incident any further.
Chris Giglio, head of the corporate crisis practice at HL Group in New York, said Weiner made a tactical error, one that just kept growing larger as he continued to speak and speak and speak. Weiner could have contained the story, he said. Instead, it became a "mushroom cloud."
“It would have made much more sense to just put out a statement, or better yet, just sit for one interview,” said Giglio, a former NBC News producer. “You either say nothing, or you say you’re saying it once and not saying anything else. But you can’t say I’m not talking about it and then just keep giving interviews.”
And Giglio said Weiner’s failure to be clear and concise in his explanation -- on one hand firmly denying that he sent the photo over Twitter and at the same time not confirming or denying that the picture was of him -- sent a confusing message to the public.
“I’m going to say that I can’t say with certitude it’s me or it’s not,” Weiner said in an interview Wednesday night on Rachel Maddow's show on MSNBC, capping off a long day of offering similar equivocations. He claims that his Twitter account and BlackBerry were hacked by an outsider.
“Most Americans understand that a politician can be hacked,” Giglio said, “but most Americans can recognize their underwear. That's where there is a disconnect.”
Weiner is widely considered to be a candidate to succeed Michael Bloomberg as mayor of New York in 2013, but Giglio said this week’s events won’t make that any easier.
“If he can’t handle a CNN producer,” he said, “what’s he going to do as mayor of New York City when the snow isn’t getting plowed?”
While Republicans have largely avoiding talking about the matter, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia finally went there Thursday in an interview onFox News, suggesting that Weiner has something to hide. He urged Weiner to “come clean and clear it up.”
“There’s a lot of explaining going on without a lot of clarity,” Cantor said.
House Speaker John Boehner, however, had no interest in talking about what has been dubbed in Washington as "Weinergate." At his weekly press conference Thursday, he referred all questions about the incident to Weiner's office.