June 8th, 2011
One Way to Stop the Weiner Jokes: An Open Letter to Anthony Weiner
Dear Representative Weiner,
I have lived in New York City for the last eight years. I’ve watched your political career grow in my time as a resident, and I believe that you love New York and want the best for its people, so of course I am disappointed about facts that have emerged in the last couple of weeks about your actions over Twitter and the way you handled it in the press. However, I still think it would be a major loss for you to step down from your career of public service. As you reflect on how your most recent actions, I want you to know that the cloud following you lately might have a silver lining.
Now is the perfect time for you to advocate for media literacy. No really, I’m serious. You got into trouble because you, like thousands of others, sent compromising photos of yourself and private messages using email and social media. As I understand it, this was all shared with people you didn’t even know personally, and this is also fairly common in sexting. The revelation of your activity has threatened everything you worked for since your election to the New York City Council back in 1991, and while most people don’t have as much to lose when they send a topless picture of themselves, you are a great example that sexting can have grave and unpredictable consequences.
Furthermore, you lied about your actions to the press, even when journalists were doing exactly what they should be doing by asking you frank and direct questions, and continued pushing the story even when you responded with vague non-answers. As you have seen, this only made things worse. Your cagey interviews showed that you were hiding something, so the media continued to push, and eventually, you had to tell the truth to the people who pay your salary and vote for you. Particularly in the wake of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case, we know what can happen when journalists don’t hold public servants accountable for what at first glance may seem to be strictly private business. The problem only gets bigger, and people get hurt.
Media literacy is the ability to think critically about the media and technologies we engage with every day, and for all your brightness, this recent scandal indicates that you’re not media literate. Even though you knew better, you were sexting, and even though you’ve been in the public eye for decades, you disregarded one of the primary obligations of the press. Why not stand up so that millions of other Americans can learn to question media and make smart choices online? Healthy digital relationships are a cornerstone of media literacy, and your digital relationships have been…well, let’s say not healthy.
My organization, The LAMP (Learning About Multimedia Project) brings these basic skills to youth, parents and educators throughout New York City. We actually just finished doing a news literacy workshop for elementary school students, and this summer we will be running a summer camp at two locations in Brooklyn, including the Prospect Park Y in your old neighborhood of Park Slope. We’ve also worked with your high school alma mater, Brooklyn Tech, and won a grant earlier this year from Verizon to run free workshops in Queens about–wait for it–healthy digital relationships.
I do hope you haven’t found this message too rambling, because the importance of media literacy in a media-saturated environment cannot be understated. All of us working to promote a media literate culture need people like you to bring the issue mainstream and support organizations which work hard to address it every day. You have a perfect chance to stand up and help others not make the same mistakes you made. Since you’re not resigning, and even though you’re being investigated, you’re still here to work for your constituents.
Plus, we’re done with weiner jokes. Let’s change the conversation to something more helpful.
Follow me on Twitter: @emlong (because I think you’ve learned your lesson)