The controversy over Rep. Anthony Weiner's wiener has come at a poor time for Democrats, but at the right time to provide some comic relief from economic woes.
On Friday, May 27, Gennette Cordova, a 21-year-old student at a community college near Seattle, received from the New York Democrat's Twitter feed a photo of an erection barely covered by a man's underwear. Mr. Weiner, who is 46 and married, said his Twitter account had been hacked, that he'd been the victim of a prank.
At first, journalists stayed away from the story -- which had been broken on the website of conservative media critic Andrew Breitbart -- and Democrats rallied around Mr. Weiner.
As more details emerged, journalistic curiosity was piqued and support from Democrats softened. Some found it odd that Mr. Weiner hired an attorney to investigate the alleged hacking instead of asking the police.
When the New York Post reported Mr. Weiner had traded private messages on Twitter with porn star Ginger Lee, interest in the story (and skepticism about Mr. Weiner's version of it) increased.
What turned this into a media feeding frenzy was a bizarre series of television interviews Mr. Weiner gave in which he dodged every direct question asked him by reporters, and insulted them for asking them.
CNN's Jack Cafferty said that watching Mr. Weiner's interview with Wolf Blitzer on that cable network "was sort of like watching one of those Buddhist monks set himself on fire. You feel bad for the guy, but it's impossible not to watch it."
While denying he sent the photo to Ms. Cordova, Mr. Weiner admitted to another interviewer that what was depicted in it might be him. If Mr. Weiner's goal was to stifle the controversy, this wasn't a good way to go about it.
"When you want to see an example of what may turn out to be the worst media tour in American political history, you will have it right here," said Brian Preston of Pajamas Media.
The story's been a wonderful opportunity for bad puns, like mine above. The cruelest was from conservative polemicist Ann Coulter, who said the case of Mr. Weiner's tweet would be settled "in small claims court." The congressman inadvertently contributed to the collection himself: "Forgive me, I was a little bit stiff yesterday," he told a female reporter.
Democrats fret the controversy has distracted journalists from talking about the Democratic victory May 24 in a special election for a Republican-leaning House seat in western New York. Ironically, that seat opened up when Rep. Christopher Lee resigned after it was disclosed that he had emailed a bare-chested photo of himself to a girl he'd met on Craigslist.
Leave it to a Democrat to strike below the belt.
"Watching Anthony Weiner's Twitter and press blitz is like watching a Charlie Sheen meltdown," an aide to the House Democratic leadership told Ben Smith of Politico. "If Weiner really wants to get beyond this, he'll shut up and let Democrats get back to their Medicare message."
Journalists who have been paying attention to the Democrats' Medicare message haven't had kind things to say about it. An Associated Press fact-checker wrote, "Democrats are distorting the fundamentals of a Republican plan to reshape Medicare."
The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler gave "three Pinocchios" to the charges made by Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, that the Medicare reform plan offered by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., would permit insurance companies "to deny you coverage and drop you for pre-existing conditions."
"Neither of those claims are true," Mr. Kessler said.
One of the experts Ms. Wasserman-Schultz said backed her up, Michael Cannon of the CATO institute, described her remarks as "high octane idiocy."
Politifact said the charges Ms. Wasserman-Schultz made last Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation" were "false."
"This mischaracterization of Ryan's plan has become a Democratic talking point -- one we wrote about when President Barack Obama made a similar inaccurate claim," said FactCheck.org.
Mr. Ryan confronted Mr. Obama about his "mischaracterization" during what Republicans described as a "frosty" meeting at the White House Wednesday.
"We're not going to make progress on reforming Medicare unless we cut through the demagoguery," he said.
Jack Kelly is a columnist for the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio ( firstname.lastname@example.org , 412 263-1476).