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From the PDF Archives: Anthony Weiner, Digital Prophet

BY Nick Judd | Thursday, May 23 2013

Before former Congressman Anthony Weiner announced his candidacy for mayor of New York City in a web video released Tuesday night, before his Twitter habits with young women ended his career in the House, he was an online media skeptic — and, in a way, he prophesied exactly the role that media would play in the end of his first act on the political stage.

In video from our archive of Personal Democracy Forum 2004, the first PDF conference, Weiner dismisses blogs as unnecessary in his district because there was "no lack of intimacy" between him and his constituents. The then-lawmaker was a panelist with columnist Eric Alterman, blogger Jason Calacanis, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington, media consultant Jeff Jarvis, independent journalist Chris Nolan, and Micah Sifry, now techPresident and PDF's editorial director.

Here's a clip:

"Some people complain I'm around too much," the famously self-confident politician also said. "They want to get rid of me after a while."

But Weiner, who resigned in disgrace in 2011, also explained how, as he saw it, blogs could pose a threat to a lawmaker in a certain type of pickle. And he foretold in broad terms a sequence of events strikingly similar to the way conservative provocateur and media savant Andrew Breitbart would catalyze his ignominious exit from Congress beginning almost exactly two years ago this week.

Weiner did not return an email requesting comment.

By the time he resigned, the Brooklyn-born Democrat had accrued a reputation as something of an early adopter, a prolific Twitter user who mixed it up on the platform himself rather than relying on staffers. But in 2004, when he appeared at Personal Democracy Forum in a panel on politicians, politics and the press, he was more circumspect — a cautious and cynical observer of the media that would define the collapse of his career and serve as his vehicle to revive it.

Way back then, from the PDF stage, Weiner said that blogs were largely irrelevant to him because they didn't represent the views and opinions of his district. They were, he said, part of a conversation had not yet made it "over the transom" and into public view.

"The real challenge that blogs pose is a bank shot challenge to politicians," he said, "is where the blog reaches the Times, reaches the public debate, that is the question."

This is exactly how Weiner's congressional career came to an end. In 2011, Breitbart spotted an errant retweet from the lawmaker's account that included what looked like a boxers-clad man's turgid member. A row ensued as a team of conservative bloggers in Breitbart's online empire pursued the story. Weiner insisted he had been hacked. As more information came to light, mainstream outlets picked it up. The story unfolded, day by day, until Weiner, emotional before a bank of TV cameras and news photographers, announced his resignation from Congress.

The hockey-loving former lawmaker gets a lot of credit in New York circles for his political acumen and grief for a swagger that critics say extends to egotism, even narcissism. Perhaps that explains how Weiner was able to predict exactly how the new media landscape could threaten a personality like his — even in 2004 — but be completely unable to protect himself.

He also professed some hope: Not now, he said, but perhaps some time in the future, the Internet would offer an opportunity for politicians who, like him, "hunger for a much broader, more nuanced debate." (At the time, he said blogs reached too small an audience to accomplish this.) Years later, he would bank on that hope by prefacing his campaign launch by compiling a 64-page policy book and publishing it online, and releasing a YouTube video — late at night, too late for newspapers to pick it up the next day — in which he entreats New Yorkers to look beyond his mistakes at the substantive things he says he can do for the city.

His high self-regard was certainly on display in in the video from PDF, one moment among many in our archive that seem, in retrospect, a few years ahead of their time. (The video also has a few gems from the other panelists — Jason Calacanis debuting his famously Panglossian view of race in the technology industry! Arianna Huffington back when bloggers loved her rather than hated her! Eric Alterman arguing with Weiner about Howard Dean's impact on the Democratic Party! Jeff Jarvis name-checking Google! How far the Internet has come in nine years, with PDF 2013 just around the corner.)

"I don't want to get anyone's knickers in a twist here," Weiner said, after interrupting fellow panelist Chris Nolan, then the proprietor of the blog Politics from Left to Right, "but I think that you've got to a little bit get out into the world where I'm kind of seeing where the input is coming from and it's I read this story in the newspaper and it ticked me off or I got this petition and I'm voting yes. It is not the type of discussion that I think has yet reached, it hasn't fermented enough."

"I think that you have a great future as a blogger if you can use terms like 'getting your knickers in a twist,'" interjected Arianna Huffington, also a panelist. "That bodes very well for your blogging future."

Jason Calacanis wryly added, "gettingyourknickersinatwist dot blogspot dot com."

"Just think," said Weiner, before a twist in his own knickers deflated his rising political career, "of how pun-worthy Weiner is going to be."

The full, hour-long panel is available here.