During the Labour campaign for government in 2015, leader Ed Miliband remarked to Russell Brand (on his short-lived The Trews) that the press don’t hold the sway they once had. Miliband lost the election and a front page on The Sun, mocking him for eating a bacon sandwich, is partly to blame.
So much for the powerless press then, especially when tabloids like The Daily Mail backed the ‘Leave’ stance and Brexit shockingly transpired. Weiner, a documentary on ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner running for Mayor in New York City, reveals how influential the press remains. If you’re in the public eye, one slip-up will end your career – negating everything you’ve done before.
“Weiner” is not commonly used in the UK. But anyone who’s seen Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery knows how “weiner”, “tallywhacker” and “schlong” are all terms to describe a man’s third leg. Early in his career, Anthony Weiner rose above the petty insults, and powerfully argued his political position in Washington. Footage of him passionately refusing to yield in congress as Republican’s stopped support for 9/11 rescue workers is inspiring, and an example of what we all expect of our representatives. A poster boy for the Democrats, he was a man of the people, defending issues in a fervent manner unlike so many stuffy politicians. A married man, Weiner was expecting his first child when everything fell apart. He sent a picture of his aroused crotch to thousands of followers on Twitter. Initially claiming it wasn’t his; he eventually backtracked and confessed, consequently resigning from congress. Weiner begins two years after this event. His marriage struggled but they got through it. His wife, Huma Abedin, a prominent aide of Hillary Clinton, stood by her man. Together they bravely decided to run a campaign for Anthony Weiner to become Mayor of New York City.
We all expect integrity and sincerity from our leaders. While we dream of MP’s and representatives who have led a perfect life, nobody’s perfect. David Cameron denied his own sordid history involving a pig, but there are demons in his closet. MP’s who refuse to vote for rent control in London houses are often landlords themselves, happy to make an extra buck from their position. You can shrug your shoulders and claim “that’s politics”, but Weiner’s act seems so small in comparison. He broke no law and, despite the enormous challenge he and his wife faced, he didn’t break the vows of marriage either. This is opposed to well-documented scandals that so many more get away with (Consider the history of MP John Whittingdale…). In one strange moment in Weiner, a New Yorker interview with Hillary Clinton claims Clinton told Huma to choose between her campaign and her husband. We don’t need to think too far back to recall the Lewinsky scandal at the heart of Washington – and Hillary’s personal decision to stand by her man. Crucially, it was much more than a picture that President Bill Clinton gave Lewinsky.
Despite Anthony’s shortcomings (and a narcissism that surely anyone in congress must have to be in office), he was an intelligent, bold and commanding force that deserved more than tabloid gossip. Nevertheless, directors Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg manage to tease how such a misdemeanour shakes the foundations of any relationship also. Rather than simply politics and press, Weiner doubles up also as a warning to married men who feel a little flirting never hurt anyone. Without crossing a defined line, Weiner broke a sacred bond of trust.
Trust is, of course, at the core of Weiner. But, that is a discussion between Weiner and his wife; it is not a discussion for us. Running campaigns and championing the middle-class resonated with New Yorkers. When Weiner is topping the polls for New York mayor, that’s when the twitter-pic re-emerges with vengeance. It’s as if someone was sitting on it until it was needed, ‘just in case’ Weiner started winning. In one unforgettable scene, Weiner has to sell his message to an audience who struggle to even clap when he arrives. A man confronts him about the photographs and Weiner’s response not only succinctly tackles his concerns but results in an enormous applause from the crowd. His message and desire to represent the people is part of him; he is an expert at this. In an era where Boris Johnson is Foreign Secretary and Donald Trump is nearly president, something seems odd when a figure like Weiner is robbed after a few thoughtless dick-pics.
But, I get it. I get that it’s a little creepy and perverted. We can never expect for something like this to not affect him. But I’ve always believed that, surely, if a rabble of reporters emerged at my door, rather than push my way though, I’d just wait for them to stop. Once I’ve answered the question, they’d have to stop. But they don’t. They will ask the same question multiple times, each one a slight variation from the other. Anthony Weiner is asked “one more question?”, and, exasperated, he’s explains how he’s answered 40 questions that are all the same so it’s probably worth stopping. The relentless, dogged pursuit of a sensational comment is difficult to imagine. The frustration, tiredness and anger that, while seeking to present an alternative vision for a city, you’re swamped with questions about your private life, is exhausting to even consider. But they want you weak; a mistake; a reveal of a little too much, and you’ll be buried by the media onslaught overnight. In Weiner, we see it happen again and again.
Sitting on a par with Client 9 and Citizen Four, Weiner is a vital documentary. While Eliot Spitzer and Ed Snowden may have taken on the banks and the CIA, Anthony Weiner wanted to represent the people. While other representatives and politicians manage to cover their sins in expert fashion, our knowledge of a single, thoughtless act, was enough for the press to ruin the chances of a decent man.
This was originally written for Culturefly in July 2016