Weiner vs. Ensign

I haven’t said much of anything about Rep. Anthony Weiner’s (D-N.Y.) week-long controversy, in large part because I’m having trouble figuring out why anyone cares. That said, John Cole said something the other day that got me thinking.

Remember when John Ensign paying off his mistress was the lead story for six straight days?

And Weiner is offering increasingly bizarre and unconvincing responses to the media.

John, of course, was being sarcastic about Ensign. It wasn’t the lead story anywhere, ever, at least until the Senate ethics committee’s report. And even then, he was quickly forgotten by the mainstream.

Regular readers know I found the Ensign sex scandal pretty interesting. It was, after all, the most significant scandal facing a sitting senator in about two decades, and involved all of elements that the media should have loved: sex, corruption, an FBI probe, lobbyists, hush money, breathtaking hypocrisy, etc. Much to my chagrin, most major media outlets just didn’t care, and barely bothered to mention the Ensign story until fairly recently.

Weiner, meanwhile, is accused of briefly tweeting a picture of his underwear-covered crotch. The media has found this endlessly fascinating.

So, what are the larger lessons to be learned? I think there are a handful of things to keep in mind.

* Pictures sell: Visual media has more power than text. Chris Lee was forced to resign because there was a topless picture he sent to a woman via Craigslist. The Weiner photo is similarly damaging. David Vitter got away unscathed after hiring prostitutes, and Ensign’s scandal generated very little coverage, because there were no compromising photos of either.

* Don’t be from New York: Weiner represents the media capital; Ensign was from Nevada. Former Gov. Jim Gibbons’ (R) sex scandal wasn’t much better than former Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s (D), but the latter got much more attention because New York isn’t Nevada.

* Keep it simple: Ensign’s scandal needed reporters to keep several relevant details in mind. For those who are lazy, that’s far too much work. “Crotch shot on Twitter” is easy to remember, so if you’re going to get caught up in a mess, remember to make it as complicated as possible.

* Party matters: Republicans get away with sex-related scandals much more easily than Democrats do. Moral of the story: if you’re going to screw around, be part of the GOP.

Any other reasons that might explain the disparate coverage? I thought I’d open the floor to some discussion on this.