If Anthony Weiner never met his online girlfriends in the flesh, does that mean he didn't cheat?
Weiner's concession was more than semantic. When a reporter accused him of sexting complete strangers, the congressman replied: "I didn't have the sense that they were complete strangers. These were people that I had developed relationships with online, and I believed that we had become friends. But that was clearly a mistake."
So if the question is whether Weiner sent naughty pictures to strangers, the answer is no, he sent them to people—not women, but "people"—whom he had met and with whom he had relationships. But if the question is whether he cheated on his wife, the answer is no, because he never met these women, and he had only "communications" with them, not relationships.
Sorry, but that story doesn't add up. And it doesn't square with the emerging details of Weiner's online behavior. According to ABC News, Meagan Broussard, a 26-year-old woman armed with documentation, says the congressman "almost immediately" friended her on Facebook after she called one of his political videos "hottttt." They went on to exchange "hundreds of messages," many of which were sexual. On some occasions, she recalls him asking, "What are you wearing? What do you like? You know, in the bedroom…" In another message, he supposedly joked, "I am stalking you." Broussard also says Weiner phoned her and mentioned her daughter's name, which "kind of freaked me out because you had to pilfer through my Facebook to find out her name." And then there were the photos of his bare chest and thinly clothed erection.
In the annals of lust and sin, Weiner is just another straying husband. But in the unfolding story of information technology, he's a milestone worth thinking about. The trajectory of political sex scandals—Clinton, Mark Foley, Kwame Kilpatrick, Mark Sanford, and now Weiner—has taken us from phone sex to chat rooms to sexting to email to Facebook and Twitter. We're finding new realms in which to wander, meet people, and flirt. You can call these adventures whatever you want to. But we all know what they are. They're relationships.
(Readings I recommend: Sexual revelations probably won't bring Weiner down, but new details about his cover-up attempts might. Hendrik Hertzberg at the New Yorker calls Weinergate " the first entirely virtual political sex scandal, the first to have been conducted entirely via e-mail, and online social media." Dave Weigel points out that cybersex is often physical: Anyone who has dealt with Weiner online may now wonder, " What the hell was he doing as we talked?" Andrew Sullivan asks " if online flirting is unforgivable, why isn't off-line flirting unforgivable?" Having previously ripped Andrew Breitbart for misrepresenting Shirley Sherrod, I owe him a nod for being right about Weiner even when Weiner was misrepresenting him.)
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.