I’ve always said that Wolf Blitzer can twist the knife in someone during an interview and make them love him for it. What he did to Congressman Anthony Weiner during his June 1st interview was nothing short of magnificent. For those of you who remember the movie Highlander, just imagine Wolf as Sean Connery and Weiner as Christopher Lambert. (ten coolness points for each of you who get the reference)
1. Wolf asks: “Did you send that picture to that college student in Washington state?”
How does Weiner reply? “I did not. She says she never got it.”
Excuse me, but that sounds like a qualifier if I ever heard one. (“she never got it”) What is a qualifier, you might ask? It’s a way of admitting guilt without actually saying that you’re guilty. When someone is on the record and wants to address questions of wrong doing without telling a lie, they can try to answer with a qualifier.
Imagine that someone has baked cookies. You’re not allowed to eat these cookies, but you do anyway. The person has baked 36 cookies, and you have eaten a cookie from the first dozen. They catch you eating the cookie and ask you if you are eating from the aforementioned forbidden stockpile. You answer: “I am not eating those cookies you just baked.”
The implication is that you are free of guilt, but the truth is that you simply did not eat a cookie from the most recent batch that was baked. “…those cookies you just baked” is the qualifier. This is a common tactic used to admit guilt without confessing guilt.
***It should be noted that in a later part of the interview (and in subsequent interviews), Congressman Weiner starts to deny sending the picture without including qualifiers. I just find it interesting that he chose to include one at the start of this interview.
2.(a) Wolf says: “You would know if this was your underpants, for example…”
Weiner’s response to this was golden. “But you know, I just want to caution you – and you understand this, you’re a pro – that photographs can be manipulated. Photographs can be taken up from one place and put in another place, photos they can be doctored.”
Weiner skipped right past using qualifiers in his answers to not answering at all. Have you ever seen a kid come within half an inch of getting hit with a dodge ball? You know when they jump and shift their gravity, pull their arms across their chest and make that face like someone’s about to punch them? That’s what Congressman Weiner did to that question. It was as if Wolf almost took his face off with a 70mph dodge ball. And it was glorious.
Instead of saying “No. That was not me.”, Representative Weiner started explaining Photoshop. Let that sink in for a moment. He did not deny the photo was of him; he started talking about how pictures can be altered.
That right there sounds like an admission that the Grey Underweared Bandit might indeed be Anthony Weiner.
2.(b) Weiner also replied with this gem that you’ve surely heard about by now: “It certainly doesn’t look familiar to me, but I don’t want to say with certitude to you something that I don’t know to be the certain truth.”
I’m not going to dwell on this one, because you’ve heard a lot about it already, but “certitude” is probably going to be the new definition of “is”.
2.(c) Another interesting choice of phrasing is when he claims he was hacked: “Hundreds and thousands of times, just about every week, people have spam and hacking that goes on. It seems like I was a victim of that…”
Now Weiner is back to qualifying things again. If he says “I was hacked!” and he wasn’t , then he is telling a lie. If he says “It seems like I was a victim of that…”, then he’s not lying at all. Wording matters in these instances.
“Seems” is a very forgiving word. Try these two sentences on for size:
(1) Jose Canseco seems like the type of guy who would want to marry Lady Gaga.
(2) Jose Canseco wants to marry Lady Gaga.
The deciding factor in the two sentences above is the word “seems”. The first sentence is a murky, ambiguous statement, while the other is a declaration. Declarations can either be true or false, while ambiguous statements can be anything you want them to be. Congressman Weiner chose to use an ambiguous statement rather than simply declaring that he WAS hacked.
3. BLITZER: “Have you ever taken a picture of yourself like this?”
WEINER: “I can tell you this, that there are – I have photographs. I don’t know what photographs are out there in the world of me. I don’t know what things have been manipulated and doctored, and we’re going to try to find out what happened.”
Again, Anthony Weiner transitions into that kid who is dodging the big, red ball. And again, he tries to explain the existence of Photoshop.
4. Wolf then moves on and inquires as to whether or not the Congressman has involved the authorities in tracking down this hacker: “So the questions is, have you asked Capitol Hill Police or New York Police or FBI or law enforcement authority to investigate?”
At this point, Mr. Weiner deflects with some tricky wording: “Have I called – have I called the cops or the FBI because someone sent spam?”
Now we’re not even talking about a prank or hacking anymore. He’s changed the charge to being just “spam”.
If we use the “cookie” example again from earlier, it would be like someone asking you if you are eating cookies from the forbidden stockpile, and you reply: “Am I indulging in sweets I might not ought to be indulging?”
Congressman Weiner chose wording that made it seem like he was answering Wolf’s question, but in reality he was not. He was reframing the question and then providing an answer to the new question he had created. In other words, he chose to answer his own question rather than the one the interviewer had provided. This is an advanced level of deflection the casual listener might not be able to point out.
5. And finally, Weiner says this at the conclusion of part one of his interview with Wolf Blitzer:
“Just because it happened to Congressman Weiner on his personal account doesn’t mean the taxpayers should pay for some investigation of this that winds up going on and on for years and years to find out who – wait for it – who sent a picture of someone in shorts on the Internet on the account of a guy named Weiner.”
The congressman did THREE things in that short statement.
Thing one: He downplayed the importance of the “hacking” by saying it was just his personal account. But that sentiment is somewhat disingenuous when you consider that the account is a “Twitter Verified” account of a “Member of Congress, 9th District, New York City”. (the exact phrasing at this time of Congressman Weiner’s twitter bio)
Thing two: He tries to sound like he’s saving the tax payers the burden of an expensive investigation. While it’s true that some money may be saved, it’s also true that tax payers want to know that their representatives are immune to hackings or identity fraud. If he genuinely was hacked, the congressman is dangerously cavalier about how seemingly easy it is to impersonate him.
This is more a plea to the viewers sensibilities than anything else. “You shouldn’t waste your resources investigating this minor crime that was committed against me. There are more important things in the world to look into.”
Thing Three: In one more effort to downplay the seriousness of the event, Weiner (again) resorts reframing the argument. He describes the allegedly hacked image as being “someone in shorts”.
This phrasing does a couple of things:
By saying “someone”, Weiner is now not even admitting that the photo is of a man. By saying “shorts”, he is making the image seem far less inappropriate that it is. “Underwear” sounds somewhat damning. “Shorts” sounds like much is being made of nothing.
Every step of this (shorter than four minute) segment is designed to downplay the events. Whether it’s an attempt to make the photo sound harmless or if he’s trying to make it sound like it’s just the twitter account that he “discusses hockey” from, Congressman Weiner is being willfully deceptive the entire time.
Some people feel like Wolf was too easy on Weiner and let him steer the conversation too much, but I feel like Wolf gave him just enough rope to hang himself. I feel like Congressman Weiner got Blitzered, and it was magnificent.