“Weiner”: What’s in a name?


Anthony Weiner Huma Abedine 2013

Anthony Weiner: the name that launched 10,000 puns.

If you’re like me, you haven’t heard or thought much about the disgraced former congressman recently. He sort of disappeared from political conversation after his shellacking in New York City’s 2013 democratic mayoral primary.

But fear not, rubberneckers! Anthony Weiner — aka Carlos Danger – is making a return, of sorts, in a documentary directed and produced by Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman.

Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedine, People Magazine, 2012Weiner was originally intended to record the potential comeback of a one-time political pariah, and late-night punchline. Filming began in spring 2013, when Weiner announced his candidacy for mayor — and one year after a lengthy People magazine interview, in which he and wife Huma Abedin shared how their marriage had withstood his 2011 sexting scandal, and subsequent resignation from Congress.

The documentary crew had unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to the candidate, his staff and his family. Remarkably, this continued even after a new batch of more explicit Weiner “selfies” — taken around the time of the People interview – came to light.

Weiner is riveting, like a crime scene or train wreck, if you don’t focus on the human toll. It follows a delusional career politician who revises history and weaves elaborate lies about the present, unwilling to acknowledge that violating public trust is a legitimate campaign issue. I felt a strong urge to shower by the end of it.

Two scenes in particular sent chills down my spine:

  • First, Weiner is riding with his campaign communications director. She’s reading questions from the media aloud, diplomatically asking her boss to be sure he’s comfortable with his answers, so that she isn’t forced to revise or contradict herself later. (She doesn’t specifically ask for candor, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. It’s probably pretty hard to come right out, and ask your boss not to lie.)

There’s a saying about lying – that the hardest part is keeping all the lies straight, and not tripping up. Anthony Weiner does not have that problem. It’s like he has a Rolodex in his head, containing every detail he’s provided to the media on the subject of his inappropriate behavior. (A Rolodex is a non-digital piece of office equipment, millennial readers. Stick with me.)

Weiner formulates his answers by whizzing through this mental Rolodex, deciding how many women he’s sexted based on what he’s previously told the New York Times vs. the New York Post vs. TV interviewers — but doesn’t search his memory for what ACTUALLY happened. He never once references the need (or intention) to be truthful. It’s disturbing.

  • Next, near the end of the film, Abedin declines to accompany Weiner to the polls on primary day. So, he weaves an implausible, easily disproved yarn about his polling place losing his name, thus creating a delay and forcing Huma to vote on her own later. Weiner races down the street, dictating the story rapid-fire to his staff, like someone in the throes of a manic episode – oblivious to the fact that his stream-of-consciousness lying is being observed and recorded. He later (sheepishly) tells the story to reporters, who seem unconvinced

I thought I’d have more sympathy for Abedin. By all accounts, she prefers to exercise her considerable power behind the scenes, while her husband stands out in front seeking public adulation. As the documentary progresses, she’s the voice of reason while he goes off the rails. Eventually she physically and emotionally distances herself from him, rolling her eyes or glaring but rarely speaking.

Even so, her mask occasionally slips. In one scene, Weiner meets with his dejected campaign team in his home, to help soothe their sense of betrayal. Several staffers point out that the communications director is being followed and harassed by the media everywhere she goes. Abedin shows little concern, and reminds the woman that the cameras will still be outside when she leaves.

Abedin asks, “You’ll look happy, right?” Then, realizing how unfeeling that sounded she adds, “I mean, I’m asking for YOU because I’m worried about YOU.” Sure you are.

Weiner’s most regrettable impact is 15 more minutes of fame for the candidate’s 23-year-old sexting partner Sydney Leathers (campaign codename: Pineapple). She’s a guest on Howard Stern. She makes a sex tape. She stalks Weiner around New York, tabloid photographers in tow. Watching her chase him through a Manhattan McDonalds, on his way to his concession speech, is a definite low point.

In the final weeks of his campaign, Weiner makes an appearance on MSNBC where he is smug, combative and high strung. Lawrence O’Donnell mocks his decision-making by asking, “What’s WRONG with you?”

It is a cheap gotcha question, meant to entertain the lowest common denominator. Yet once the film credits started rolling, I had the same question. What is wrong with Anthony Weiner?

I’m still not sure, but it’s something.



Rob Ford: Built For the Road Ahead?

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

I recently spent a few days in Canada, home to some of the nicest, most polite people — and one of the best national anthems — on earth. I’m obligated by patriotism to name The Star Spangled Banner as my favorite national song, but while Americans sing along softly to our anthem at sporting events and solemn ceremonies, we can’t match the enthusiasm and boisterousness of a bunch of Canucks fans belting out “O Canada” at a hockey game. Theirs is an anthem best served loud.

So it is fair to say that Canadians have a lot of national pride, which is being put to the test by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. While I was in Vancouver (2,600 miles away), efforts by the Toronto City Council to revoke most of his mayoral powers – and Ford’s response to this – dominated news coverage. Over and over again, Canadian reporters and citizens said, in effect, “The world is laughing at us.”

I can’t speak for the whole world, but I promise you Toronto… If America is laughing, we are laughing WITH you, not at you. Yes, thanks to social media and reality TV our attention spans can be fairly short, but no one here has forgotten three-time D.C. Mayor Marion Barry (crack cocaine possession), New York Governor Eliot Spitzer (prostitution), South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (“hiking the Appalachian Trail”), Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (racketeering, fraud and terrible hair), or U.S. Representative Mark Foley (explicit emails to a young male staffer). The cringe-worthy examples go on and on. Toronto, we feel your pain.

While I see parallels with Barry and Blagojevich here – unabashed confidence in constituents’ support, and claims of being unfairly targeted by political opponents — others draw comparisons between Mayor Ford and Anthony Weiner. The big difference is that Weiner’s behavior reflected poorly on his character and judgement, but it wasn’t illegal. Just about everything Mayor Ford has been accused of (and admitted to) can get a person fired in any other arena – and in some cases can land him or her in prison.

As fascinating as the Rob Ford train wreck is to watch, I was pretty surprised to see that he and his brother were interviewed by Matt Lauer on the TODAY show this morning. (I watch CBS This Morning, never TODAY, but saw a clip of the Fords’ interview online.)

TODAY is American TV. Toronto is in Canada. Rob Ford’s constituents are Canadian, and have morning shows of their own that are covering this story aplenty. Exactly who was Matt Lauer trying to serve with the interview, and why was it one of TODAY’s top stories? I find Mayor Ford repulsive, but he would have scored points with me if he’d declined Lauer’s request for a sit-down, because Americans don’t vote in Toronto.

I wonder whether Weiner, Blago and Spitzer – political figures in two of America’s largest northern cities – ever held as much fascination for Canadians as Mayor Ford holds for Americans. Did any of them appear on Canadian morning television? Were they the lead story on Canada’s national news, night after night? I doubt it, with the possible exception of Weiner. He raised (or did he lower?) the bar for eye-rolling political scandal. It was pure comedy gold.

Anyway, Rob Ford and his brother appeared on TODAY, where the Mayor issued (as readers of this blog already know) my least favorite mea culpa:  He never said he was perfect, so why can’t everyone just move on?

“We’ve all made mistakes. I’m not perfect. Maybe you are, maybe other people are, (but) I’ve made mistakes. I admitted to my mistakes.”

Apparently, exoneration is all in the admitting.

He also argued that going on a weekend bender – which he explained only happens some weekends, not every weekend – and potentially being incapacitated when faced with a city emergency, could happen to anyone at any time.

Um, technically it probably could…but it doesn’t.

To his American audience, Mayor Ford positioned his issue as merely a weight problem, not a binge drinking, crack smoking, drunk driving, or sexual harassment problem. He boasted that he’s now training daily – a mental image that almost makes ME want to go on a bender — and in six months he’ll be a changed man because, “actions speak louder than words”.

Seriously? Rob Ford had better hope not.

The good news: a few nice pics from beautiful Vancouver.

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One Man’s Junk…

Anthony WeinerI recently blogged about Milwaukie Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, and his 65-game suspension from professional baseball. I was unimpressed by Braun’s flimsy written statement, which fell well short of contrition.

The most disingenuous and manipulative part of the statement was the first line: “As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect.”  Braun had not, in fact, ever made such a public acknowledgement, but what galled me more was the implication that if fans, teammates or the media were disillusioned by his behavior, they had no one to blame but themselves.  After all, he’d warned them that he was flawed, hadn’t he?

I was reminded of this self-serving position last week, when Anthony Weiner grudgingly acknowledged his most recent sexting scandal.  “As I have said in the past, these things that I did were wrong and hurtful to my wife, and caused us to go through challenges in our marriage that extended past my resignation from Congress.”

Such a careful parsing of words! What was it that extended beyond his resignation – the marital troubles, or “things” like posting lewd photos online?  Regardless, the inference was similar to Braun’s.  We can’t blame him since he warned us back in 2011 that more embarrassing facts could emerge.  (Did he? Am I the only one drawing a blank here?)

Well, now that that’s cleared up… we can all move on. Right? Please?

Anthony Weiner is like a child who makes up his own rules, just as he’s about to be tagged “it” on the playground.  “No WAY!  No fair, I’m SAFE!  I CALLED TIME OUT!”

Since the Weiner scandal broke, the former congressman has been quizzed about how many more digital paramours could come forward.  I’d argue that the tally ceased to matter once it was clear that he continued sexting AFTER his resignation from Congress, AFTER he claims to have entered therapy and WITHIN ONE WEEK of posing for People magazine with his wife and son, hinting about a mayoral run.  The guy is pathologically dishonest.

To me, the big story is… Weiner can’t even provide an ESTIMATE.  HE SAYS HE’S NOT SURE.  How is it possible not to know how many people you’ve been sexting with?  He’s either completely out of control, or so predisposed to lying that he still can’t bring himself to come completely clean.  Maybe he’s so deluded about his intellect and so ambitious to be mayor, he still thinks there is something to be gained by hedging.

I have been wondering how many men, when caught dead to rights in an indiscretion, get creative about the duration?  Once, a married male friend confided in me – out of the blue – that he’d been unfaithful to his wife years before. He claimed the affair lasted just three weeks.  Three weeks, I wondered?  How many men have affairs that last less than one month?

I later learned from mutual friends that the affair had in fact lasted months longer; he’d looked straight into my eyes, and lied about it.  I still scratch my head about this.  Why did he bother confessing — since I had never suspected and it was none of my business anyway – only to lowball how long his affair had lasted?  If his goal had been to get it off his chest, how much guilt can a half-truth alleviate?

Watching Weiner, I am reminded of John Edwards, and the public revelations of his affair with Rielle Hunter. Edwards also clung to his lies well past their expiration date. In her book Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities, his terminally ill wife Elizabeth wrote about the day he revised his account of his relationship with Hunter.  I paraphrase as follows:

“Honey, remember when I said it was just a one night stand, and that the baby isn’t mine?  Well, I wasn’t entirely honest.”

“OK, what part is true?”

“Um… none of it?”

The Weiner debacle has become so sad and tawdry, as a former New Yorker I have to avert my eyes.  Polls show him in fourth place among the mayoral candidates, and most voters say they wish he’d drop from the race.  He’s making videos, eluding to the City’s 9/11 fortitude as the reason he won’t bow out, and flexing his hipster vernacular as he describes how New Yorkers “roll”.  He’s even suggested that his still-burning shame will make him a better mayor.  (Don’t ask me, I don’t understand it either.)

“It’s not about me,” Weiner says. “It’s about the citizens of New York.”

Listen, there is an entire Wikipedia page devoted to Anthony Weiner’s sexting scandal, and that fact alone should preclude his candidacy for higher office, don’t you think?

No one really cares how many more of his BFFs are out there – even if he finally told the truth, we’re way past the point of believing.  If he is truly devoted to New Yorkers, the greatest gift he can give them is to unplug the Wi-Fi, step away from Instagram and maybe take an extended vacation to Pennsylvania Amish country.

I’ll even pitch in for bus fare.