Weiner—In case you’re wondering whether the title of this documentary about the Anthony Weiner scandal has a double meaning, the filmmakers open it with a quote from Marshall McLuhan: “The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers.”
For the whole first decade of this century, Anthony Weiner was the Congressman from New York’s 9th District, after a couple of terms on the New York City Council, to which he was first elected at just 27. He had what looked like a hugely promising future as the sort of Democrat that Democrats often pray for—passionate and flamboyantly combative, possessed of the common touch, smart without seeming feckless or elitist. Put simply, he wasn’t a wussy.
How far Weiner would, or should, have gone in national politics is debatable—the short fuse that helped make him popular with New Yorkers could have been a problem for him in Iowa or Wisconsin. It’s also a moot point, as Weiner resigned from Congress in 2011 over a scandal that arose from “sexting”—he tweeted a picture of his…well, you know, to a woman not his wife, along with other sexually explicit messages, and some of these were leaked to the media.
Then he ran for Mayor of New York in 2013, and for a while was in the lead in the Democratic primary. But more dirty tweets from him showed up in the media, dating, insanely, from after the initial scandal. As far as anyone can tell, Weiner never had any actual contact with the recipients of these messages, nor were any laws broken, but two times was one time too many for New York voters. Weiner doggedly stayed in the race, but was crushed, and Bill De Blasio went on to be elected Mayor.
The film, directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, mostly focuses on the Mayoral race. Weiner and his wife, Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, gave the filmmakers extraordinary, reality-TV-like access to their lives. In private, Weiner shows little of the swagger and bravado he does in his public appearances. Padding around his apartment in shorts, under the disapproving stare of Abedin, his face a mask of sheepish chagrin, he looks like a prematurely old man—when he’s playing with his baby son, he looks like he’s playing with his grandson.
There’s an inevitable comic edge to much of Weiner, and I wish I could have found the movie funnier. Mostly it made me furious, at a variety of targets.
The first, most obvious and perhaps most deserving is the title character himself. However outrageously hypocritical you may find the prudish response to Weiner’s tweets, however much you may think it was nobody’s business but his and his wife’s, he, like Bill Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal, should simply have known better. The movie raises, without offering an answer, the question of the judgment of powerful men when it comes to sex. It also offers no insight into the urge so many men seem to feel to send women pictures of their junk.
Having said that, and without minimizing Weiner’s disgraceful recklessness in the least, there are plenty of other directions toward whom the film arouses anger. Where, for instance, is the pressure on the current Republican front runner to drop out of the race, in light of public statements about women compared to which sending a picture of your dick seems almost sweet?
But the scene in Weiner that most infuriated me takes place at a campaign event. A large contingent of media is there, and Weiner begins by asking if anyone has an “on-topic question”; that is, a question about the relevant issue he’s there to discuss. Tense silence. A few seconds later, of course, they’re all babbling dick-picture questions at him simultaneously.
Really? Not one? Not one of those assholes who call themselves journalists could muster one on-topic question? If you asked them separately, I bet many if not most of them would bemoan the state of contemporary journalism, but it didn’t seem to occur to them that they had a clear shot at practicing real journalism, and declined. Maybe, just maybe, if somebody had started with a question or two about an actual issue, it would at least have made the first guy to ask a dick-picture question feel a little stupid.