New documentary provides an emotional look into Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin's scandal 'nightmare'
Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedin considered splitting up.
This revelation about one of the country’s most high-profile political couples came in one of the many uncomfortable, intimate moments featuring the pair in the new documentary “Weiner.” The film, which documents Weiner’s ill-fated 2013 New York City mayoral campaign, also serves as a portrait of a family engulfed by scandal and the ravenous press coverage that comes with it.
Abedin, a longtime aide to now-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, admitted in front of the documentary crew’s cameras that she and Weiner considered separating after his first fall from grace. Weiner infamously resigned from the House of Representatives in 2011 after accidentally publicly tweeting a raunchy personal photo. Though he initially attempted to claim he was hacked, Weiner eventually admitted he intended to send the picture to a woman on Twitter via direct message and that he had been exchanging sexual messages and photos with multiple individuals not his wife.
Weiner’s second scandal came during his mayoral bid in 2013, when yet another woman emerged and released pictures and messages he’d sent her after leaving Congress in the wake of the initial scandal. Weiner subsequently admitted he had continued exchanging explicit texts and photos with women online following his resignation. The documentary provides an incredibly close behind-the-scenes look at the aftermath of the second scandal. Cameras were rolling as Weiner and Abedin huddled in his campaign office after the fresh pictures emerged and debated how to handle the situation.
“It’s when we were talking about,” Abedin begins, before her voice trails off in evident pain. “About separating.”
“Weiner” includes footage shot by Josh Kriegman, a former staffer from the candidate’s congressional office. This connection likely helped persuade Weiner to give him an unusual level of access. Weiner, who reportedly personally OK’d the filming, was also probably hoping the documentary would be an uplifting chronicle of his comeback after the first scandal. This is indeed how the movie begins.
It is implied onscreen that Abedin wanted Weiner to return to politics. Weiner, a famous fan of the spotlight whose childhood dream was reaching City Hall, eagerly obliges. His launch was seemingly transparent with a blitz of press interviews and events where he got up close with voters and showcased his gift for retail politics. Touting his reputation as a scrappy fighter for the middle class and a list of 64 policies he dubbed “keys to the city,” Weiner’s message initially caught on and he seemed on track to moving beyond his past. His second scandal derailed all that.
Kriegman and his co-director, Elyse Steinberg, filmed the campaign throughout. They captured Weiner’s initial charm offensive and the weeks of mocking tabloid headlines and literally running from reporters and packs of cameras in the leadup to Weiner’s eventual defeat. And through it all they also filmed Weiner and Abedin in private and at home with their young son. These emotional moments are woven in amid clips of late night hosts and cable pundits gleefully mocking Weiner, making it impossible to avoid seeing how the family suffered as much of New York and the nation laughed at them. At one point, Abedin, who generally conveys her pain in long glances and meaningful silences, concedes to the documentary crew that she is living “a nightmare.”
One of the more interesting elements in the documentary’s dark second act is extensive footage of Weiner begging his wife to rejoin him on the campaign trail. It seems clear that Clinton’s camp discouraged Abedin from appearing alongside her husband in the wake of the second scandal. At one point, Abedin is on the phone with a man identified only as “Philippe” as he tells her not to campaign with Weiner. It has been widely speculated that the man is another longtime Clinton aide, Philippe Reines, though this is never explicitly said in the documentary. Reines did not respond to a request from Yahoo News to confirm he was the person on the phone in the film.
Anthony Weiner on the campaign trail in a scene from “Weiner.” (Photo: Courtesy of “Weiner”/Cinetic Media)
Though Clinton was gearing up for her current presidential bid as Weiner’s mayoral campaign collapsed, Abedin eventually relented and agreed to join her husband for his election night concession speech. She didn’t abandon this plan even as Weiner’s staff discovered that Sydney Leathers, the woman who released the second round of explicit photos and texts with Weiner, was at the venue and planning a confrontation. Just as Weiner’s car arrived at the event, he told his wife to stay inside and ride home. Given his prior pleading for her to join him, both her willingness to attend and his rejection of her offer come off as incredibly loving gestures.
During the final days of his campaign, Weiner repeatedly lamented the vicious press coverage he received in conversations with his staff and the camera. At one point, he decried “phoniness” about “how outrageous my behavior was.” Weiner is, at times, shown struggling to discuss his platform for the city as hecklers and reporters badger him about his sexual behavior. In his private conversations captured on film, he speculated that the press has justified relentlessly focusing on his scandal because he initially lied about when he stopped exchanging explicit messages. And he seemed to question whether this was sincere anger or just an excuse by the media to go all-in on a salacious story, lamenting the lack of “nuance” in the coverage.
In 2013, I covered Weiner’s mayoral campaign. In fact, I can be seen among a scrum of reporters surrounding him at multiple points in the documentary. And I later edited Weiner when he wrote a column for Business Insider as part of his current incarnation as a pundit. Perhaps my perspective is influenced by knowing him personally, but it was hard not to watch “Weiner” and question the amount of attention the press corps gave his personal problems and the mocking glee brought to much of that coverage.
The film succeeds in this respect, even if the story it tells is far from the one it hoped to at the outset. Watching Weiner’s family in private, it’s easy to see that how much they were hurt — both by his actions and by the fact the media never let them move past them. After Abedin made her peace with him, she seemingly wanted to return to the life they had before his initial scandal. That comeback path was blocked by the media frenzy that ensued after a young woman released intimate photos Weiner shared with her in a private moment between willing partners. In hindsight and after watching the pain cause by the release of those pictures, it’s hard not to see this as a borderline revenge porn situation.
In an interview included in the documentary, Leathers said she was motivated to send the photos of Weiner to a gossip blog because he was being hypocritical by claiming to have a good marriage as he launched his campaign. The documentary makes that justification seem tenuous . The documentary shows that, after a rough patch, the Weiner-Abedin marriage was on the road to returning to a good place before Leathers leaked the pictures to the press. Leathers later directed her anger at the media. Months after the attention waned, she tweeted attacks at multiple reporters who had earlier asked her for comment. I was one of the journalists who drew her ire, which included her tweeting my phone number and encouraging people to make harassing calls.
Of course, the whole situation could have been avoided if Weiner had just decided to stay out of public life. Yet the documentary suggests his wife wanted him to restart his political career at least as much as he did. In the end, they both clearly regretted the decision to have him attempt a comeback. One of the most memorable moments of the film comes near its end as Weiner openly questions why he didn’t step away from the camera.
“Why did you let me film this?” Weiner asks.
Now, the documentary is reportedly a “source of heightened anxiety” for Abedin and Clinton’s team as the presidential race heats up. It will be released in theaters on May 20 and make a worldwide TV debut on Showtime in October, weeks before the general election.