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Soul-searching Weiner seeks forgiveness

By Howard Kurtz, CNN
April 11, 2013 -- Updated 1648 GMT (0048 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Howard Kurtz: NYT article shows Anthony Weiner positioning for comeback
  • But piece is more: A raw catharsis for Weiner and wife, Huma Abedin, over his downfall
  • He says his recounting confession to wife includes intense soul-searching
  • Kurtz: It seems Weiner wants more than political viability; he wants forgiveness

Editor's note: Howard Kurtz is the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources" and is Newsweek's Washington bureau chief. He is also a contributor to the website Daily Download.

(CNN) -- In his anguished, rambling and excruciatingly candid therapy session with The New York Times Magazine this week, Anthony Weiner was nominally engaged in damage control to clear the way for a political comeback.

But it was so much more -- it was a catharsis, for the former congressman and his wife Huma Abedin, that was both hard to read and impossible to put down.

On some fundamental level, he had a need to tell the story -- the entire story -- of what an "idiot" he had been to send pictures of his private parts to random women, which cost him his job and came close to costing him his marriage.

Howard Kurtz
Howard Kurtz

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Weiner could have gone the standard route of sitting down for a television interview, Huma holding his hand, and tearing up at the right moment as he described how truly sorry he was for his bad behavior. Having checked that box, he could have run for New York mayor or some lesser office.

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But he chose to, well, expose himself more fully. As Weiner recounted his original Twitter deception to writer Jonathan Van Meter:

"It reached this point where I just sat down with Huma and said, 'Listen, I can't. ... I don't want to lie.' ... I just didn't want to lie anymore to her."

Here, his voice cracks and tears well up in his eyes.

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"I have a choppy memory of it, but she was devastated. She immediately said, 'Well you've got to stop lying to everyone else too.' And basically we drove back to the city, and she said: 'You've just got to tell everyone the truth. Telling me doesn't help any.'

"It was brutal. It was completely out of control. There was the crime, there was the cover-up, there was harm I had done to her. And there's no one who deserved this less than Huma. That's really the bottom line. No one deserved to have a dope like me do that less than she did."

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WATCH: How did Anthony Weiner handle his newspaper therapy session?

But it wasn't just a colorful tick-tock. Weiner engaged in such deep soul-searching -- even suggesting a troubled relationship with his father -- that at one point Van Meter told him that perhaps they should stop for now. Here, for instance, is Weiner describing his motivation in texting and tweeting these women:

"And there just wasn't much of me who was smart enough, sensitive enough, in touch with my own things, understanding enough about the disrespect and how dishonorable it was to be doing that. It didn't seem to occupy a real space in my feelings. ... I wasn't really thinking. What does this mean that I'm doing this? Is this risky behavior? Is this smart behavior? To me, it was just another way to feed this notion that I want to be liked and admired."

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2011: Breitbart talked Weiner scandal

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Several subplots also emerged in this melodrama.

Abedin worked for Hillary Clinton, who was famously wronged by her man and who helped support her friend Huma during the ordeal.

Jon Stewart, a longtime friend of the New York Democrat, said he would have faced comedy "impeachment" had he not joked about Weinergate, but also recalls telling him: "As low as you are, please understand that what's happening to you right now isn't really happening to you, it's happening to whatever caricature we've all created of you."

The political press will judge the article based on whether Weiner can convince voters that he should be given, as he put it, a "second chance." And why shouldn't they?

While Weiner made a terrible mistake in initially lying about what happened, his is a sex scandal that involved no actual sex. If Mark Sanford, who snuck off to his Argentinian lover, can win the GOP nomination for his old House seat in South Carolina and if Bill Clinton can be a revered elder statesman, is Weiner beyond redemption?

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But it seems to me that Weiner, in putting himself and his intensely private wife through this grueling process, wants more than political viability. He is seeking forgiveness.

"A big part of himself wants to cleanse himself of this scandal," Van Meter told CNN's Jake Tapper.

The reporter was well aware that Weiner was using him and the Times to salvage his political career. But Van Meter nonetheless produced a remarkable piece of journalism. Can the movie version be far behind?

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard Kurtz

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