What Weinergate says about us

By Gail Shister 

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Only in America would an elected official call a press conference to confirm the identity of his penis.

And then have that penis knock Katie Couric off the news cycle.

After 10 consecutive days of ‘Weinergate’ coverage, I am convinced that its importance lies not with what it says about Rep. Anthony Weiner’s genitals but with what is says about us.

When the Democrat from New York yesterday manned up and admitted it was his underwear-encased, tumescent penis pictured in the notorious tweet, it gave new meaning to the phrase “member of Congress.” As he walks softly through those corridors of power, he carries a big stick.

Shooting fish in a barrel, I admit. But has there ever been such an unfortunate pairing of surname and scandal? How could anyone not gorge on double-entendres when the perp’s name is a euphemism for the very source of the imbroglio?

Simple answer: You can’t.

Weiner’s fall from grace, while titillating, reeks of pathos. Was anything noble rescued from the

rubble? Truth, for one thing, in a surreal mea culpa that was carried live on the cable news networks. Having been lied to for 10 days, the media was after blood.

Why else would a reporter (I assume) have yelled out, “Were you erect?” after Weiner confessed to having had “inappropriate” cyber-relationships with at least six different women over the last three years. Sarah Palin couldn’t have scripted a more ludicrous “question.” No wonder the public despises us. We’ve earned it.

It cannot be overstated how clumsily Weiner had sealed his own fate, however. Channeling political horndogs like John Edwards, Bill Clinton and Gary Hart, among legions of others, he repeatedly told anyone who would listen that he “couldn’t say with certainty” whether the penis in question was his.

For pundits and late-night hosts, this was manna from heaven. How difficult was it to recognize one’s own gonads? They’re like snowflakes – no two are exactly alike. As Bill Maher says: “I can remember all the pictures I ever took of my dick.”

Even when Weiner got a free ride with a liberal host such as Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, he shot himself in the groin. When asked if the emailed photograph of the party-size organ was his, Weiner joked that he “wished” it were. Even his close bud Jon Stewart gave up on him.

Given the traction of this story, one thing is clear: Our level of common discourse has sunk even deeper into the morass.

Remember the uproar in 1994 over a high-school student’s asking candidate Bill Clinton “boxers or briefs?” during a nationally-televised MTV forum? (Clinton answered “usually briefs.” Little did we know it was just the beginning of the public’s fascination with his crotch.)

Today, that question would be laughably quaint.

The concept of anatomical media boundaries for elected public officials disappeared with Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress. Once again, whether we liked it or not, a man’s penis became fodder for national debate. And naturally, ratings soared.

This is far from over, of course. With House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi calling for an Ethics Committee investigation, Rep. Weiner’s manhood will stay in the spotlight for a while. And if Weinergate should reach the point of televised hearings, they’ll make Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court confirmation process look like a nursery rhyme.

We will make sure of it.