Weinergate explained

Anthony Weiner's crotch-shots weren't a moment of madness - it actually takes a lot of thought to do

The "Weinergate" scandal finally came to a close yesterday as high profile New York Democrat Anthony D. Weiner resigned from Congress. It came to light that he'd sent a young woman pictures of himself wearing tight pants on the internet, as well as admitting to the sending of lewd messages to six other women. A full-blown penis shot emerged later too.

As far as high profile prurience goes, which in international news circles is quite some distance, this is a particularly amusing story. There're none of the harrowing marriage ending affairs or secret children of the Schwarzenegger case and none of the creepiness of the Strauss-Khan scandal. In fact, there wasn't even any real attempt at shagging at all.

What's amazing is the chain of thought Weiner must have gone through in order to take these pictures of himself, and publish them without thinking he'd be found out. Did he put the camera on a timer, pull down his trousers, and waddle back in front of the lens? Or did he just hold the camera at arms length and point it at his groin?

Having taken these photographs, this 46-year-old married man and mayoral candidate, obviously decided that they were pretty damn good, because he would then have had to upload them from his camera, evaluate them on the screen and save them onto his computer, before sending them to a girl he'd never met, trusting her not to tell anybody.

Incredibly, none other than notorious White House philanderer Bill Clinton stepped in to hastily condemn Weiner, claiming that he is "livid", and extracting an apology from the shamed Weiner.

In a further twist to the tale, Weiner happens to be friends with Ben Affleck, having met him while the actor was researching his role for the film State of Play in 2009. Affleck plays a young congressman who gets involved in a sex-scandal that eventually destroys his political career.

Update: For those unaware of the phenomenon of "sexting" - essentially sending pictures of your junk over the internet - this helpful video explains the dangers and offers a warning. A warning that Weiner ignored.

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The toxic new right-wing media will outlast Trump even if he’s impeached

Fox News and a network of smaller outlets have created an alternative version of reality. That ecosystem might prove more durable than the US president. 

An early end to Donald Trump’s presidency looks more feasible than at any time in the 117 days since his inauguration.

The New York Times revealed on Tuesday that FBI director James Comey – who was fired by Trump a week ago – wrote a memo recording the President’s request he “let go” an investigation into links between Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick for national security advisor, and Russia.

Already there is talk of impeachment, not least because the crime Trump is accused of - obstructing justice - is the same one that ended Richard Nixon's presidency.

But with a Republican-controlled Congress the impeachment process would be long and fraught, and is only likely to succeed if public opinion, and particularly the opinion of the Republican voters, swings decisively against Trump.

In another era, the rolling coverage of the president's chaotic, incompetent and potentially corrupt administration might have pushed the needle far enough. But many of those Republican voters will make their decision about whether or not to stick with Trump based not on investigative reporting in the NYT or Washington Post, but based on reading a right-wing media ecosystem filled with distortions, distractions and fabrications.

That ecosystem – which spans new and (relatively) old media - will be going into overdrive to protect a president it helped elect, and who in turn has nourished it with praise and access.

On Monday, BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel took a forensic look at how a new breed of hyper-partisan right wing sites – what he calls the "Upside Down media" – tried to undermine and discredit claims that Trump disclosed sensitive security information to Russian officials.

The same tactics can already be seen just 24 hours later. Notorious conspiracist site Infowars talks of “saboteurs” and “turncoats” undermining the administration with leaks, mirroring an email from Trump’s campaign team sent late on Tuesday. Newsmax, another right-leaning sight with links to Trump, attacks the source of the story, asking in its web splash “Why did Comey wait so long?”. GatewayPundit, which published several false stories about Hillary Clinton during the election campaign, appears to have ignored the story altogether. 

As Warzel points out, these new sites work in concert with older media, in particular Rupert Murdoch’s ratings-topping cable news channel Fox News.

Fox initially underplayed the Comey memo’s significance, switching later to projecting the story as a media-led attack on Trump. At the time of publication, the Fox homepage led with a splash headlined: “THE SHOW MUST GO ON Lawmakers vow to focus on Trump agenda despite WH controversies.”

Fox acts as a source of validation for the newly established right-wing sites. Once Fox has covered a story, smaller sites can push further and faster, knowing that they aren't going too far from at least one outlet considered respectable and mainstream. If anything should make the UK value the impartiality rules, however imperfect, which govern its broadcast news, it’s Fox’s central role in enabling this toxic mix of misinformation.

These new media sites have another weapon, however. They understand and exploit the way internet platforms - in particular Facebook - are designed to maximise attention. They have found that playing on very human desires for stories that confirm our biases and trigger emotional responses is the best way to build audiences and win fans, and they have little compulsion abusing that knowledge.

This isn’t just a Trump or Fox-related phenomenon. It’s not even just a right-wing one. In both the US and the UK left-wing hyper-partisan sites with a tenuous relationship with the truth have sprung up. They have followed the same playbook, and in most cases the same advertising-based funding model, which has worked so well for the right. Emotive headlines, spun stories, outright fabrications and an insistence that “the corrupt mainstream media won’t report this” work just as well in generating clicks and shares for both ends of the political spectrum.

The main difference between the two political poles is that the right has benefited from an ideologically and temperamentally suited president, and a facilitator in Fox News. 

Of course the combined efforts of this new media and the Fox-led old may still fail. Trump’s recent transgressions appear so severe that they could break through to even his diehard supporters.

But if Trump does fall, the new right wing media ecosystem is unlikely to fall with him. 

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