The adage that those who fail to study history are destined to repeat it apparently hasn’t reached the Twittersphere.
British Cabinet minister Brooks Newmark tendered his resignation over the weekend after learning that the Sunday Mirror tabloid was publishing a story about his having been lured by a fake temptress into sending sexually explicit photographs of himself to a male journalist via Twitter.
The Conservative Party member serving as minister for civil society in Prime Minister David Cameron’s government tweeted revealing photos of himself in response to a message from a Twitter user claiming to be “Sophie Wittams,” described as a “twentysomething Tory PR girl” alleged to be depicted in an attached photo of a bikini-clad torso and another of a beautiful young blond’s visage.
The profile was actually set up by a freelance journalist for the Sunday Mirror, which defended its “investigation” against accusations of entrapment with claims that exposing Newmark’s lewd behavior was a public service.
The career-wrecking incident was almost identical to the scandal that ensued after U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat, tweeted links to images of his private parts to a 21-year-old college student in Seattle three years ago. Weiner was forced to resign his congressional seat in May 2011 and failed in a quixotic bid last year to win the New York City mayor’s office.
Newmark’s self-inflicted downfall triggered an avalanche of lampooning in the British press as well as an investigation into the propriety, or lack thereof, of the tabloid newspaper’s use of photos of two young women without their knowledge or consent.
“Sending naked photos on Twitter is the modern-day equivalent of not looking both ways before crossing the road,” observed Telegraph columnist Helena Kealey in a commentary titled “How not to do a Brooks Newmark: a Twitter guide for hapless 50-somethings.”
Guardian columnist Zoe Williams suggested the 56-year-old Newmark’s resignation might not have been necessary if the married father of five had been brave enough to concede he’d been duped and moved on. But the case raised concerns about his political acuity, she said.
“If I were the (Conservative) party leader, I would worry about Newmark’s intelligence. Someone who will gaily embark on a sexting adventure — believing that a 26-year-old wants to see him naked, even though she plainly knows what he looks like clothed — does not have a very strategic mind,” Williams wrote. “Newmark should have had some basic procedure for establishing the veracity of his correspondents. Let’s call it ‘the sense he was born with.’ ”
Some Conservative Party colleagues came to Newmark’s defense, accusing the Sunday Mirror and the unidentified male freelancer who created the fake “Sophie” profile of violating fair press standards.
Member of Parliament Mark Pritchard, who was also contacted by Conservative Party hanger-on “Sophie,” appealed to Britain’s Independent Press Standards Organisation to investigate the newspaper’s behavior.
The Independent newspaper also took the position that “the real scandal” wasn’t Newmark’s sexting but the Sunday Mirror exploiting a young woman whose image was used to entrap the politician. The facial image allegedly depicting “Sophie” was that of a 22-year-old Swedish model.
Lloyd Embley, editor in chief of the Mirror news titles, defended the story about Newmark’s online flirtation by saying it had a “nailed-on public interest defense,” the Guardian reported.