Is Weiner making his Twitter troubles worse?

Jun 02, 2011

Rep. Anthony Weiner's attempt to play down the picture that was Tweeted from his account to a 21-year-old Seattle area student may have only added fuel to the fire. Democratic crisis-management specialist Chris Lehane chatted about how Weiner is trying to manage this situation, and whether or not he is handling it correctly.

What do you think? Ask Lehane your questions about Weiner's Twitter troubles and submit your thoughts about it now!

Related: Anthony Weiner's plan to cool Twitter photo furor backfires

Hey there... I am here and look forward to discussing how to manage one's way through a political crisis... as I like to say, there are two kinds of pols in this day and age -- those who have faced a crisis and those who are brand new to the game...

I don't understand his thinking on this. I am assuming the picture is a genuine picture of Rep Weiner. What does he lose by simply saying, "that's not me."? How would anyone--other than whoever is the poster and the person who took the original photo--prove otherwise? I think the person who posted it won't come forward, and whoever took the photo, well presumably there is some level of trust between that person and Rep. Weiner. Am I missing something?

Good question... I think in making clear yesterday on CNN that he did NOT send the photo to the woman he did answer a critical question (assuming the answer is accurate, which it would appear to be)... With regards to the actual photo, I am guessing that there is a concern that there may be private photos on his computer or photos that have "doctored" or manipulated in some way (ie photo shop) -- and that he is concerned about flatly denying that these are photos of him and then having it come out that it is indeed a real photo... Thus, trying to protect his credibility... I do think he would be better off to say (1) I did not send any photos; (2) Have concerns that my system may have been hacked; and (3) I have brought in this former DA or AG (and name the person) to conduct a comprehensive forensic review so we can get to the bottom of all of this... and thus, answer the key public question while creating a process to deal with the rest...

How did the press find out about the whole thing anyway? I think the Press didn't have anything else to report on over the holiday weekend so they went overboard on him. Why does Mr. Weiner feel he is compelled to answer any of their questions? It's none of their business! By the way, I don't know how to tweet but if I did I'd definitely get on his tweet list. His opinions are always straight forward. I love the way he spoke during the health care debate. Hang in there, Mr. Weiner. Kathy Jeffers, CNM. PhD Charleston, SC

Smart analysis... The Congressman happened to have the challenges of this falling in a slow news cycle, the novelty of the social media dynamic and the fact he his based in the epicenter of the new and mainstream media capital of the world -- NYC... The key in these situations is to try to get ahead of the story so that you douse the flames being created by the bad information out there, with good information... On CNN yesterday, he did definitively made clear that he did NOT send any photos... In my view, that is the key issue... He can now say he has answered the money question -- and not anything else to the story (I do think it would have helped to have said with some specificity that he has retained a named law firm or man/woman of impeccable credentials to determine how his system may have been hacked or who actually sent the photos)... But strategically, he has now answered the key question... Of course, by not providing this answer a day or two ago, he probably (as he himself made clear yesterday) turned what is probably a mole hill into a mountain... long term, the story will rise and fall on the facts and he appeared pretty convincing on CNN yesterday.

I just can't take this whole thing seriously because every time I think of that particular picture associated with "Weiner", I giggle. I swear that's why it's getting press - we're all in touch with our inner 12 year old.

LOL... With the qualifier that there are far, far, far more serious issues confronting the country and the world -- this is the proverbial perfect storm of issues -- a hard not to resist story line; NYC and DC media; photos to push it on to tv; slow news cycle when it first broke... Again, I think with a specific answer at the front end that he did not send the photo followed by a very specific outline of what he was going to do to figure out what happened would have quickly made this story about being a victim of a host -- as opposed to questions about him... 

The student says she doesn't know the Congressman, so either he is sending it out randomly, which sounds very unlikely, or he didn't do it. And regarding his not answering, why would he lie? If he doesn't know it isn't him, why lie?

In a crisis situation, one always has to protect one's credibility... You are never going to put the genie back in the bottle... whatever has happened, has happened and people judge you by whether you are honest and credible going forward... In his defense, I think he was so cognizant of not misrepresenting anything -- he answered the initial questions like a hostile witness responding to a badgering lawyer... My guess is that he didn't want to provide a more definitive answer because he simply did not know whether someone had hacked his system in a way that it would have made it look like he was in fact sending the photos -- when in fact he did not... All that said, since he knew he did not send them, he should have just been very straight forward and head held high from day one -- Here is what I know -- I did not send the photo to this young woman in Wash State... It would appear as if someone has hacked into my system... I am have asked person x or law enforcement agency y to get to the bottom of this...    Thus -- right from the beginning take the story head on... At end of the day -- it is not  a question of "if" something comes out, but "how" and "when" it comes out -- and putting the info out on your terms is always the better route... you are seen as honest; you protect your credibility; and people give you the benefit of the doubt... 

just couldn't resist

I think for all of us -- and all of those high profile folks who engage in social media they will want to establish internal protocols and practices so when issues emerge in the future they can point to their specific policy approach... What happens on twitter clearly does not stay on only twitter...

How useful would it be to bring up the fact that Andrew Breitbart, a known conservative who has shown a willingness to post doctored anti-liberal material, posted the Weiner picture first?

If accurate, I believe that would be extremely relevant -- as it would provide some information that would at least lead to folks beginning to consider how and who may have hacked into the Congressman's systems... As a general rule, and in homage to Pat Riley and the Miami Heat, there should be no free lay-ups... if there is information that raises questions or suggests shenanigans are afoot -- they should be pointed out.... 

If you were acting as a crisis manager in this situation, would you want to know the truth behind any involvement on Weiner's part (sorry) so that you can tailor a response, or it is better to be in the dark?

You almost always want to know the facts so that you can best advise a client... In some cases, and I am not discussing the current situation directly, a client may have an issue that could have issues beyond just a public image issue -- for example a legal exposure problem... In such a situation, they may be constrained or limited in what they can or should say -- and you would want to know this... Similarly, since you want to protect a client's credibility at all costs, you will want to know the fully monty of the story so that they are not putting themselves in a position where they allow their emotions to take over and provide information and answers that turn out not to be accurate... In this day and age where info will travel around the world multiple times before you have a chance to take a breath -- it is often better to take a little time and really ascertain the facts and have a complete answer... of course, that doesn't mean you should put out a little here and a little there.... it means getting your answer nailed down, and then putting it all out so that you are effectively limiting the damage...

I am stunned at how badly Rep. Weiner handled this. I would like to believe him, but his exchange with Dana Bash had me cringing. Does he not listen to anyone? This was crisis management 101. I am still not clear if he answered THE question. I must have missed that in the mess.

Your insights are on the spot -- typically you want to get the answer right out of the box... you certainly don't want to keep digging a deeper hole... it is well worth it to take a day or two and make sure you have an answer that is accurate and sustainable... oftentimes, people will make the mistake of responding to the news cycles and rushing out an answer that is not fully baked or thought out... Obviously, there is a great deal of pressure when one is in the media vortex and feeling all kinds of pressure.... but take your time and get your answer right and effectively contain the story... in this case, the story got away from him and then he seemed to try to catch up without being fully prepared.... and it was not until yesterday he directly addressed a key question...

As a crisis manager, what would you say Rep. Weiner's next step should be? Shut up about it like he said? He now needs a plan moving forward to save his political scalp as they say. Also, if he does run for NY Mayor, how, or would, you address this in the campaign?

If I were advising him, I would suggest the following:

(1) Do not add more info to the story from you.

(2) Announce the specific name of the law firm and/or high profile entity you have retained to do an analysis -- and make clear that a report will be released down the road.

(3) Your ongoing position becomes: "I did not send the photo to the woman; we don't know how the photo was sent or whether my systems were compromised; and we have hired Lawyer X to conduct a comprehensive review and issue a reports as to the findings. (period).

(4) No matter what -- this is the answer going forward.

(5) As I believe he is being straight about not having sent the photo and presuming there are not other items out there that would feed into the current narrative, this will eventually become a blip and he will move on with his political career (0bviously, he comes from a safe district) and there are pols all over the country who have faced far worse and went on to have extremely successful careers...

Isn't this getting to be a perfect example of almost too much access? I mean if he can't, for legal or technical reasons, fully explain this issue than I wonder if he's making a mistake going everywhere, talking to everyone, essentially feeding the whole sordid tale.

This will be a lesson to politicians, to biz leaders and to celebrity figures about the perils of social media... But, at the end of the day, these are enormously powerful tools that promote small d democracy (see the Arab spring)... and as they are developed and people use them, systems and protocols will need to be established to protect folks like a Cong. Weiner who may have been the victim of a hoax... Unfortunately for him, he is the test case...

I have to jump off to some meetings... I very much enjoyed the great questions... My parting words are that at the end of the day -- whether you are high profile official in a scandal, a fortune 500 company being investigated or a local restaurant dealing with a bad Yelp review -- credibility is the coin of the realm and consider every word you say, every move you make, every action you take through the prism of protecting one's credibility...

In This Chat
Chris Lehane
Christopher Lehane, a partner in the California-based company Fabiani & Lehane, has since 2001 provided strategic advice and tactical execution to corporate, entertainment, political and professional sports clients facing complex financial, communications, government affairs, electoral and legal challenges. In the 1990s, Lehane served in various positions in the Clinton-Gore Administration. From 1998-2000, he was the Press Secretary for former Vice President Al Gore both at the White House and on the 2000 presidential campaign. From 1995 through 1997, Lehane was Special Assistant Counsel to President Bill Clinton, providing legal, communications and political counsel to the President and First Lady of the United States. In 1997, Lehane was Counselor to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo where he was involved with various economic and community development projects.

Lehane graduated from Harvard Law School in 1994 and from Amherst College in 1990. Lehane serves on numerous advisory boards, including the Board of Trustees of Amherst College, Common Sense Media and San Francisco’s ChinaSF Committee. Currently, Lehane is the co-writer of Knife Fight, a political thriller scheduled for release in 2012 that stars Rob Lowe as a fixer dealing with a series of "October surprises" and which explores the relationship between whether the ends of electing noble people justify the means it takes to get elected. Lehane lives in San Francisco with his wife, Andrea, and two sons, Dominic and Quincy.
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