A Conversation With the Directors of Weiner
In June 2011, Rep. Anthony Weiner, D–New York, was caught in a sexting scandal. His initial response was to prevaricate, then to apologize, and finally to resign from Congress. Two years later, when memories of the New York Post’s penis-pun headlines had faded, Weiner attempted a comeback, staging a bid to become mayor of New York City. His campaign began well. Although he was forced to endure constant questioning about the earlier scandal, he took an early lead in the polls. And then on July 23, 2013, an Arizona-based “gossip and nudies site” revealed that Weiner had been exchanging explicit photos and having sexual phone conversations with women long after he claimed to have ceased such behavior. Weiner continued his campaign, but he received less than 5 percent of the vote and placed fifth in the Democratic primary.
The ups and downs of that turbulent race were captured by filmmakers Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, who were given remarkable access behind the scenes of the campaign and to Weiner’s home life with his wife, Huma Abedin. Their film, Weiner, is out Friday. As part of a discussion that can be heard on the latest DoubleX Gabfest podcast, we spoke with Kriegman and Steinberg about Weiner’s motivations, his marriage, and his political future. The conversation has been condensed and edited.
Hanna Rosin: Why do you think they gave you so much access?
Steinberg: That’s a question we wondered about and that we posed directly to Anthony at the end of the film. He says that he wanted to be viewed as the full person he was and not as a punch line. That was certainly our intention going into this film. Anthony—and Huma—had both been reduced to caricatures and punch lines, and our hope was to show a more complex and nuanced portrait.
Rosin: I think that most people who have seen the film come away liking him more, but it’s hard to explain why. I think it might be because you see him as a fuller human being at the end of the film.
Kriegman: Some of the back story to how we came to the story: I was Anthony Weiner’s chief of staff when he was in Congress. After I left politics and moved into filmmaking and started working with Elyse, after Anthony resigned from Congress, I started a conversation with him about the possibility of making a documentary and telling his story. That’s a conversation that went on over the course of a couple of years of he and I going back and forth. The motivation was very much to take someone who had been reduced to one thing—to this scandal, to this punch line—and give people an opportunity to see him as the full person that he is.
June Thomas: Once you’d started to make the film, were there any points where either Anthony or Huma asked to stop the project? As the film progresses, things do get more and more awkward.
Kriegman: When they agreed to allow us to make this documentary, it was very clear that if there was ever a moment when they wanted us to turn off the camera or something that they didn’t want us to film, we would of course respect that boundary. There’s a couple of moments like that in the film, where they ask me to leave the room or turn off the camera. It’s a little counterintuitive, but that motivation to have a more human version of his story told, in some ways that became even more pronounced after the campaign took a turn for the worse and the scandal resurfaced, because that was the point where it seemed that the scandal might—and really did—come back and overshadow everything else.
Thomas: To me, the scene that’s most powerful is when he’s in a Jewish bakery, it’s Rosh Hashanah, he’s campaigning, things are going well, and then he ends up getting into what we’ve seen before—maybe he’s weak, maybe he can’t stop himself from responding—but he gets into it with a guy, and someone says: “Why did he do that? He could’ve just walked away!” But you replay things, and we didn’t hear it first time around, and who knows who did hear it, but one of the guys said, “Married to an Arab.” He’s responding to that. He’s defending Huma. But he doesn’t say it. He doesn’t make any reference to that, which is really powerful. But also it kind of complicates things.
Kriegman: Yeah, that was definitely a loaded moment, both in the film and in reality. It was toward the end of the campaign. I think in some ways he acknowledges that he was frayed at the edges at that point. But you’re right, I think he was defending his wife. We talk about these qualities that on one side serve him well as a politician and on the other side can lead him to trouble. He had a political persona that involved being scrappy and tough and having no fear or concern about mixing it up with people, and it played out in that way in that moment.
Rosin: You included one pure domestic scene of [Weiner and Abedin] standing, actually rather far apart from each other, in the kitchen, talking about the ingredients of pasta sauce. It was just a small slice of domesticity. Why did you include that scene, and what did you want it to convey?
Elyse Steinberg: Just as Anthony was reduced to a caricature and a punch line, so was she. Our hope with this film is that viewers get to see a different side of Huma that they haven’t seen before. She’s a person who’s been guessed about endlessly. Here you get to see a more complete picture of her. As a wife, a mother, a person with a really important job. You get to see that human side of her, just talking about pasta sauce and putting her kid to bed. We see celebrity scandals and meltdowns all the time, but we rarely get the opportunity to be in the room while it happens.
Rosin: You never see her break down. She’s very composed, even when you guys are behind the scenes with her in some very uncomfortable moments. That was notable. This is an intrusive documentary, but you don’t come out of it feeling icky.
Kriegman: I’m glad to hear you feel that way.
Rosin: Do you think he’ll go back in politics? If this film turns out to be sympathetic, [and] people feel sympathetically toward him, do you think that makes it more of an option for him?
Kriegman: I don’t know. He had his second chance, which obviously did not go well for him. I think he has said publicly that he recognizes that probably his political life is over. Then again, it’s hard to predict anything in our politics these days, so who knows?
Why Sex-Selective Abortion Bans Are Terrible for Women—and Unconstitutional
For decades, conservative legislators have worked to roll back abortion rights through laws ostensibly designed to protect women. Republicans across the country have successfully passed mandatory ultrasounds, waiting periods, and “informed consent” measures, as well as draconian clinic regulations obviously designed to shutter abortion providers. With many of these laws faring poorly in court, however, some legislators have turned to a different tactic: Outlawing abortion based on certain fetal characteristics, such as sex and disability. Most recently, Indianabecame the eighth state to ban abortion because of the fetus’s sex; at least eight other states are currently considering similar bills.
These measures might seem to put abortion rights supporters in a tough spot: The American conversation about abortion centers around women’s equality, yet sex-selective abortions would appear to undermine that equality by perpetuating sex discrimination. Columbia Law School Professor Carol Sanger disagrees: She believes these laws unduly restrict women’s autonomy and violate the constitutional guarantee of liberty. On Wednesday, we spoke about the dangers that sex-selective abortion bans pose to women and society. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.
The Debate Over Screen Time Is Really About Moms, Not Kids
As with so many hot-button issues in modern parenting, the controversy surrounding screen time often has more to do with mothers than with children. There is no scientific evidence that watching TV or playing with tablets is inherently bad for children over the age of two. (And maybe not even for those under two.) Nevertheless, many mothers speak about letting their children stare at screens in either conspiratorial or resigned tones, the unspoken message being: I’m just not a great mom. Other mothers, like Mutha magazine’s Katie Trostam, avoid talking about screen time with other parent altogether, as it’s the only way to avoid the alternating layers of sanctimony and guilt that often tarnish such exchanges.
In a recent essay on JSTOR Daily, technology writer Alexandra Samuel takes aim at screen time as bogeyman, making the case that its demonization has its roots in a not-always-conscious anti-feminist bias. Samuels talks about the undeniable convenience of television and gadgets for parents who sometimes need a break to make dinner, take a work call or, heaven forbid, just relax. She then goes on to point out that, historically speaking, innovations that give mothers more autonomy and access to the public sphere have always been met with suspicion. “[O]ur anxiety about making mothers’ work easier is rooted in our profound reservations about liberating women from the demands of the home,” Samuel writes.
Oklahoma’s Bill to Make Abortion a Felony Is a Stupid Gambit the State Can’t Afford
Oklahoma’s legislature passed a bill on Thursday to make the provision of abortion a felony in the state. Lawmakers in most red states are at least nominally surreptitious in their efforts to undermineRoe v. Wade, claiming that their foremost concern is protecting women’s health and arguing that their policies are compatible with the right to abortion. But Oklahoma has dispensed with any pretense of obeying federal law. “Give Oklahoma lawmakers points, at least, for honesty,” the New York Times’ editorial board wrote recently. “They wanted to ban abortion, so they voted effectively to do just that.”
Republican Governor Mary Fallin hasn’t commented on whether she will sign S.B. 1552, under which any doctor caught performing an abortion would be stripped of his or her medical license, disqualified from applying for a new one in the state, and sentenced to up to three years in prison. The bill would only make exceptions when a pregnancy endangered a woman’s life; abortions in cases of rape and incest, or to protect a woman’s health in non-life-threatening situations, would all be illegal. Fallin also has a second abortion-related bill on her desk: H.B. 3128, which would ban women from seeking abortions for reasons of fetal anomaly.
Alexis Bledel and Vincent Kartheiser’s Child Is Part of Hollywood’s Secret-Baby Boom
Hollywood is a competitive place, where everyone always wants to be richer, thinner, and tanner than the next person. The latest contest? Who can keep their baby the most hidden from the prying eyes of paparazzi and the American public.
Vincent Kartheiser and Alexis Bledel just lapped the rest of the celebrity entrants on the secret-childbearing track with the revelation that they had a son last fall. Us Weekly confirmed on Wednesday that the couple—who have repeatedly ignored a certain admiring Slate staffer’s requests to be adopted by them, but whatever—are now parents, after Bledel’s Gilmore Girls co-star Scott Pattersonlet it slip to Glamour that Bledel, whom he first met when she was a teenager, is now “a proud new mother.”
You Really Must Read Adrian Grenier’s Captivating Essay About His Empathy for Whales
Adrian Grenier is best known as the star of the mid-2000s HBO bro-fest Entourage. But the luxuriously tressed actor wants you to know he is nothing like the hard-partying young superstar he played on that show. “While my character, Vincent Chase, indulged in the extravagant Hollywood lifestyle, offscreen, I’d always preferred more intimate dinner parties surrounded by close friends,” Grenier writes in an astonishing essay published Wednesday on Refinery29. “Not too long ago, I invited a few people over for a casual evening. Our conversations are usually intellectual, creative, and invariably, devolve into humorous stories.”
How could you fail to take Grenier seriously when he appreciates intimate dinner parties, intellectual conversations, and “humorous stories”? Truly, this anecdote hints at a unique, profound voice. And Grenier isn’t just using his voice to talk about his enviable dinner parties—he is using it to talk to, and for, whales.
South Carolina Pro-Lifers Just Passed a Ban on Abortion at 20 Weeks—and They’re Not Done Yet
South Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature voted late Tuesday night to pass a bill banning abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization. The rationale for the bill, which Governor Nikki Haley has indicated that she will sign, is the scientifically baseless claim that fetuses develop the ability to feel pain at 20 weeks’ gestation. Though the science is bad, this claim’s effectiveness as a piece of rhetoric has been staggering: South Carolina will be the 17th state in the country to implement such a law.
Banning abortions at this point in pregnancy can have particularly tragic consequences, as Alyssa Miller of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic said in a statement. “The reality is that abortion later in pregnancy is extremely rare and often takes place in complex and difficult situations where a woman and her doctor need every medical option available,” she said. Miller is referring to the fact that many of the most severe and life-altering birth defects first become apparent on a sonogram at roughly 20 weeks. South Carolina’s law does not permit exceptions in cases of rape and incest; the only loopholes exist when a woman’s life is in danger, or when a defect would render the fetus unable to survive outside the womb.
Trump Says Everyone Misunderstood His Quote About Punishing Women for Abortion. Yeah, Right.
Donald Trump is not sorry, but also, he didn’t say what you thought he said. You definitely heard wrong! You’re the one who should apologize.
This is the tack the presumptive GOP presidential nominee is taking on the statement that riled Democrats and Republicans alike in March: that women who seek abortions should receive “some form of punishment.” In an interview with the New York Times Magazine’s Robert Draper published online on Wednesday, Trump—“rather unconvincingly,” according to Draper—argued that he was misunderstood yet again by the dopey media. “I didn’t mean punishment for women like prison,” he said. “I’m saying women punish themselves. I didn’t want people to think in terms of ‘prison’ punishment. And because of that I walked it back.”
Americans Are Filing More Lawsuits Alleging Caregiver Discrimination. Here’s Why.
New research from the University of California, Hastings’ Center for WorkLife Law finds a 269 percent increase in lawsuits alleging family responsibilities discrimination in the last decade, compared to the previous decade. These findings are detailed in a new report by Cynthia Thomas Calvert, which looks at which types of cases have become more common and how the growing number of caregivers who called foul fared in their attempts to seek justice.
Two-thirds of these cases involved pregnancy and maternity leave. Pregnancy accommodation cases increased by 315 percent, a number that’s surprising when you consider that such discrimination has been illegal since 1978. Lawsuits over breastfeeding also spiked by 800 percent, though the total number of these cases remains small.
Republicans Really Need to Stop Withholding Zika Funding
It’s almost tempting to believe that congressional Republicans have stopped reading the news about Zika, the mosquito-borne virus that can cause the severe birth defect microcephaly. If they’ve been keeping informed, it would seem that only unmitigated disregard for the health of pregnant women—and for their gestating fetuses, usually such highly valued GOP constituents—could explain the plans that conservatives on Capitol Hill put forward this week.
The scale of the problem came through loud and clear in Tuesday’s Morning Edition interview with Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in which Frieden called Zika “an unprecedented situation.” “Never before have we seen a mosquito-borne infection that could result in a serious birth defect,” he said. The U.S., he warned, needs to start protecting pregnant women from Zika—for economic reasons as well as humane ones. “In addition to the personal tragedy, we're told by our experts that every one of these birth defects can have a cost of more than $10 million per lifetime.”
To recap briefly: In April, the CDC told the public that Zika is “scarier than we initially thought.” As of last month, 570 people in Puerto Rico, including 48 pregnant women, had contracted the disease, and doctors along the Gulf Coast—the part of the U.S. likely to be affected first—were advising pregnant and would-be pregnant women to take extra precautions. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said he expects limited outbreaks in the U.S. this summer—a prospect made more worrisome by the wildly uneven resources and level of preparation for fighting Zika at the local level. As Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, wrote recently in the New York Times: “If I were a pregnant woman living on the Gulf Coast or in Florida, in an impoverished neighborhood in a city like Houston; New Orleans; Miami; Biloxi, Mississippi; or Mobile, Alabama, I would be nervous right now.”
The White House has said it needs $1.9 billion to effectively protect Americans from Zika. Friedensaid Tuesday that that budget would cover developing a vaccine and better diagnostic tools, containing the relevant strain of mosquito, running multiyear studies of Zika-infected women “to understand what the range of complications is and work to reduce that,” and more.
Unfortunately, Republicans made it clear this week that the administration is not getting its hands on all of those much-needed funds—or, at least, not any time soon.
First, on Monday, House Republicans unveiled a plan to reallocate $622 million from other federal health programs—much of it from the government’s Ebola budget—and put it toward the fight against Zika. The White House had already responded to Congress’ refusal to grant emergency funds by redirecting more than $500 million from its Ebola response. “We need to return that money so we can protect Americans against Ebola,” Frieden warned on NPR. “We can't get confused and let our guard down against one threat to fight the next one.” Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest compared the task facing public health officials with “the bureaucratic equivalent of digging through the sofa cushions to try and come up with the necessary money.”
The Senate voted Tuesday evening to pass a larger budget for the Zika response—though that, too, fell considerably short of the White House’s request. The bipartisan bill, advanced by Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Patty Murray, would give the White House $1.1 billion to work with. But that number could be shaved down further when the House and Senate try to reach a compromise on their differing bills. “[W]e are sending a very clear message to the House Republicans,” Murray said in a statement Tuesday night. “[W]hen it comes to public health emergencies like Zika, robbing Peter to pay Paul just isn’t enough. I urge House Republicans to drop their irresponsible, partisan legislation and ensure the Senate bill gets to the President’s desk without delay.”
In the meantime, mosquito season is upon us. On Morning Edition, Frieden urged pregnant women to avoid areas where Zika is likely to spread and urged their sexual partners to use condoms if there’s a chance that they’ve been exposed to the virus. As for Americans who live in Southern states? “We're really working intensively with health departments and environmental departments to track cases and reduce that risk,” he said. “And for that, additional resources are very important.”
Correction, May 18, 2016: This article originally misspelled the name of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden.
Read more of Slate’s Zika coverage, including: