Special nominee for the Darwin Awards, handed out each year to exceptionally un-evolved members of the human species: Florida House Rep. Richard L. Steinberg, a Miami Beach Democrat, in whose primitive cranium the following idea was hatched:
“Hey, I know what would be really fun! I’ll get on the Internet and send suggestive text messages to a married woman who just had a baby and also happens to be a federal prosecutor. To be clever, I’ll use a fake screen name so she’ll never, ever figure out at that it’s me.”
Gosh, what could possibly go wrong?
Everything, of course, and it did.
Steinberg initiated his slick cyber-seduction efforts by writing, “Sexxxy mama.”
“How do I know you?” replied his victim, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marlene Fernandez-Karavetsos.
Ever coy, Steinberg refused to identify himself.
“Leave me alone,” shot back Fernandez-Karavestos.
“Is that any way to treat a friend? LOL,” the mystery admirer wrote.
Steinberg thought he was safe hiding behind the Yahoo! screen name “itsjustme24680,” which might as well have been “itsjustme — thathornymoron- withtheroomtemperatureIQ.”
The texts continued, even referring by name to the victim’s new infant. Fernandez-Karavetsos was so alarmed that she notified a sharp little outfit known as the Secret Service, which takes seriously the harassing of federal prosecutors.
Agents were able to trace the texter’s puerile screen name to a phone and home Internet account registered to Steinberg, 39. The search warrant, filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, says the former Miami Beach commissioner and current House member is suspected of engaging in stalking, a first-degree misdemeanor.
In an email to the Miami Herald last week, Steinberg admitted he was the texter and he apologized to Fernandez-Karavetsos, whom he said he has known for 15 years. He described his messages as “inappropriate and unsolicited.”
The prosecutor told investigators that she’s known Steinberg only in a “professional non-intimate way” and said that his texting caused her “substantial emotional distress.”
Steinberg is married and has a child of his own. Fernandez-Karavetsos is married to another U.S. prosecutor, which gives Steinberg bonus stupidity points in his bid for a Darwin.
There’s nothing funny about the damage done to these two families, but Steinberg’s scummy behavior is worth examining in an anthropological — or even neurological — way.
Read a story like this and your instant natural reaction, in the abbreviated vernacular of texting, is “WTF?”
It’s quite amazing how a brain belonging to a public person makes such idiotic decisions, especially in the light of recent misconduct.
Only last spring the headlines were filled with the antics of Anthony Weiner, then a Democratic congressman from New York. Weiner, who’d obviously dozed off during the Brett Favre scandal, was texting photographs of his junk to women who had no particular interest in seeing his junk.
He apologized profusely to all concerned, and later resigned. Steinberg did the same thing on Friday.
Did he imagine himself to be craftier than Weiner because he invented a fake name? Or — and this is no less stupefying — did he not make the Weiner connection at all?
Blaming it on sleazy lust is too easy. When the history of modern American scandal is written, experts must address the question of whether it’s ego, arrogance or some self-destructive neural impulse that steers the male mind to risk everything in a dumbass way.
It seems incomprehensible that Tiger Woods really believed that all those Vegas party girls and porn stars wouldn’t tell a soul they were boffing the most famous athlete in the world, and that all his lurid texts and voicemails would remain a secret between him and his many bed partners.
Yet, maybe that’s what he truly thought. Maybe his brain is that different.
In politics, the phenomenon crosses party lines. Bill Clinton thought Monica Lewinsky would never let it slip that she was fellating the president. John Edwards imagined he could carry on a torrid affair while running for the White House.
Sen. Larry Craig, staunch Republican, had no reservations about hitting on strangers in an airport restroom. Rep. Mark Foley perkily sexted with former male pages on the floor of the U.S. House.
All these actions defied rationality and wreaked havoc on the lives of those involved, yet no lessons were manifest to the likes of Steinberg, Weiner and still others to come.
Traditionally, the Darwin Awards are won posthumously by knuckleheads who’ve given their lives in an accident of spectacular stupidity, thereby upgrading the human gene pool.
But I’d argue for a new category that honors living examples, whose brains might be scanned and scoped to help unlock the mystery of their ruinous imbecility.
• Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald.