Through no apparent fault of her own, Gennette Cordova has become a character in a scandal that could damage a politician she admired — unless, as Democratic New York Congressman Anthony Weiner's defenders contend, it is proven to be a partisan hoax set up by his enemies.
As of last week, Gennette Cordova was a 21-year-old student at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, whose public profile was largely limited to articles she’d written for the student newspaper.
That all changed over the weekend when Cordova was caught up in a national media frenzy as the recipient of a lewd photo sent from Democratic New York Congressman Anthony Weiner’s Twitter account.
Through no apparent fault of her own, Cordova has become a character in a scandal that could damage a politician she admired — unless, as Weiner’s defenders contend, it is proven to be a partisan hoax set up by his enemies.
Weiner, 46, saying his social-media accounts were hacked, has denied sending the photo, which shows a man’s bulging underpants. But the seven-term congressman did little to calm the media storm Wednesday when he said he couldn’t say “with certitude” that the man in the photo wasn’t him.
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Meanwhile, Cordova and her friends and family have been hounded by interview requests from national and local media. A freelancer for “Good Morning America” and other reporters showed up looking for her at the offices of the student paper, The Horizon. But Cordova told the paper she has quit and won’t be returning to classes, according to newspaper’s adviser, Toby Sonneman.
Cordova has reacted with apparent confusion and disgust as her name became embroiled in a stew of partisan insults and rumormongering from those eager to damage Weiner, a high-profile Democrat considered a possible front-runner candidate for mayor of New York City in 2013.
In a statement to the New York Daily News over the weekend, Cordova said she first saw the offending photo called to her attention by a person who had “harassed me many times after the congressman followed me on Twitter a month or so ago.” Cordova added that there had “never been any inappropriate exchanges” between her and the congressman and believed the incident was an effort by Weiner’s enemies to defame him.
“The last 36 hours have been the most confusing, anxiety-ridden hours of my life,” Cordova said in her statement. “I’ve watched in sheer disbelief as my name, age, location, links to any social-networking sites I’ve ever used, my old phone numbers and pictures have been passed along from stranger to stranger.”
Cordova added that the situation was so outlandish she didn’t know whether to be angry or amused. She also mocked those who’d made sinister references to a tweet where she’d jokingly referred to Weiner as her “boyfriend.”
“Nor am I the wife, girlfriend or mistress of Barack Obama, Ray Allen or Cristiano Ronaldo, despite the fact that I have made similar references about them via Twitter,” she wrote in the statement to The New York Daily News.
Cordova said friends have received calls from unknown people pretending to be old acquaintances and seeking contact information.
As the controversy erupted, Cordova tried to erase some of her online profile — taking down her Twitter feed and Facebook page over the weekend, and asking The Horizon to remove articles she’d written from its website. (The paper initially removed her bylines from the articles but restored them once Cordova issued her public statement, said the editor-in-chief )
But Cordova was back on Twitter this week, scolding some media coverage and rumors spread by right-wing commentators about her and Weiner.
“Thank you, to the writer of the article I just read, for posting my height and weight online. You disgust me,” she wrote in one message.
In another, she stated her dilemma with becoming an unwilling target of the media: “If u recede from the public, youre accused of hiding something. If u face down your accusers, youre accused of being an attention whore.”
Some Democrats suspect Weiner was the victim of a hoax, noting that the offensive photo was first reported by BigGovernment.com, the website run by conservative commentator Andrew Breitbart. That report came after the photo was noticed by a conservative online activist who had been obsessively tracking Weiner and hinted weeks ago that a “top right wing blog” would soon break a sex scandal about the Democrat.
But questions continue to dog Weiner, who quickly deleted the offending photo. He has testily refused to answer some questions about his contacts with Cordova, who was one of just 198 people whose Twitter feeds he’d been following. More than 50,000 people follow him on Twitter.
Pressed by reporters in Washington, D.C., Wednesday about whether it was he in the offending photo, Weiner said: “We don’t know where the photograph came from. We don’t know for sure what’s on it.”
And then the colorful congressman couldn’t resist several double entendres, explaining why he didn’t report the alleged hacking to Capitol Police.
“I’m not sure I want to put national, federal resources into trying to figure out who posted a picture on Weiner’s website, uh, whatever. I’m not really sure it rises, no pun intended, to that level.”
Weiner said he had hired a private security firm to investigate the alleged hacking and an attorney to advise him on what civil or criminal actions should be taken. “If it turns out there’s something larger going on here, we’ll take the requisite steps,” he told reporters when asked why he hadn’t asked for a police probe.
Meanwhile, throughout the day Wednesday, Cordova monitored an active stream of chatter about her on Twitter — from harassing personal comments, to respectful pleas for media interviews, to supportive comments from afar.
“I think if I had something to hide I might be more freaked out. This really is a nightmare though,” she wrote in response to a complimentary Twitter message from one national political reporter.
Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org