In an interview on Friday’s NBC Today with the filmmakers of the newly-released documentary about disgraced former Congressman Anthony Weiner, perplexed co-host Savannah Guthrie wondered: “How on earth did you get this access? But why on earth would Anthony Weiner grant that kind of access, knowing what he knew about himself?”
That question teed up co-creator Elise Steinberg to declare: “...it's a question that we actually posed to Anthony....he says that he wanted to be viewed as the full person that he was instead of a punch line. And that was certainly our intention with this film, to take someone who had been just ridiculed and reduced and offer a more nuanced and complex portrait.”
Moments later, fellow creator Josh Kriegman chimed in: “I think he really understood that there was the possibility of a version of his story to be told that went beyond the tabloid headlines, that was more complex and nuanced....I think he recognized there was some value in having another version of the story documented.”
The sympathetic portrayal followed Weiner’s failed campaign for New York City mayor in 2013, shortly after he resigned from Congress in the midst of a sexting scandal in 2011.
Co-host Matt Lauer observed that Weiner’s wife and top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin was “somewhat of a mystery to a lot of people.” Steinberg proclaimed: “Well, you know, just as Anthony was reduced to a caricature and a punch line, so was she. And in our film, you get to see a more nuanced and full look at her. I mean, she’s a multi-faceted person. She’s a wife, a mother, a person with a really important job.”
Guthrie touted how the project was getting “good reviews” and noted: “I wonder about a review that I'm sure matters to you, has Anthony Weiner or Huma Abedin seen it?” Kriegman replied: “They haven’t actually seen it yet....and they haven't wanted to see it.” Lauer added: “Alright, can't wait to hear how that goes.”
A review in Sunday’s New York Times gushed over the documentary being “almost Shakespearean” in chronicling the rise and fall of the politician.
On May 12, ABC’s Good Morning America fretted that the film was coming “at the worst possible time for Hillary Clinton and her closest aide.”
Here is a full transcript of the lengthy May 20 segment on Today:
7:42 AM ET
MATT LAUER: We're back at 7:42 on a Friday morning with a riveting new documentary that's hitting theaters today and already getting a lot of attention.
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: It takes you behind the scenes of former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner's attempt at a political comeback after a sexting scandal derailed his once-promising career.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: The Rise & Fall of Anthony Weiner; New Documentary Focuses on Failed Political Comeback]
This is how former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner hoped to be remembered, fighting for his constituents on Capitol Hill.
ANTHONY WEINER: It is a shame, a shame!
GUTHRIE: But after an embarrassing incident in 2011, when Weiner tweeted a crude picture to a woman, denied he did it, then was forced to admit he was sexting with several women, his career came to an early end.
WEINER: So today I'm announcing my resignation from Congress.
PROTESTERS: Yeah! Bye, bye pervert!
GUTHRIE: It was a big fall for a rising star in the Democratic Party, complicated by the fact that he was married to Huma Abedin, a long-time aide and close confidant to Hillary Clinton.
WEINER: I made some big mistakes and I know I let a lot of people down.
GUTHRIE: Looking for a way back into politics, Weiner decided to run for New York City mayor in 2013.
HUMA ABEDIN: I’ll talk to you soon, have a nice weekend. Bye, bye. Alright, he’ll max, his wife is gonna max out, and he'll try to raise another five. He’s like, “You know, I’ve never given or raised money in my life.”
GUTHRIE: So along with his wife, they allowed documentary film makers to chronicle what he hoped would be his comeback.
WEINER: The punch line is true about me, I did the dumb thing, but I did a lot of other things, too. Running for mayor is the straightest line to clean up the mess that I had made.
GUTHRIE: The result, Weiner, a behind-the-scenes and candid look at a high-profile failed campaign, where the candidate was forced once again to admit that he had been sexting, even after he resigned from Congress.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN [WEINER STAFFER]: Had there been multiple online exchanges with multiple people or was it just this one? Can I just say multiple people or is it just this one?
WEINER: I think you've got – I mean, there was more than one. So I think we’ve got to answer the question.
LAUER: Josh Kriegman and Elise Steinberg are the filmmakers behind Weiner. Guys, good morning, nice to see you both.
JOSH KRIEGMAN: Good morning.
ELISE STEINBERG: Good morning.
LAUER: I’m imagining that when you go to Anthony Weiner with the proposal to make this documentary, in the back of your mind thinking he's never going to agree to this, is that fair?
KRIEGMAN: Yeah, well, I actually met him working for him in Congress. I was his chief of staff for a couple of years. And then after leaving politics, I moved into filmmaking. And he and I – after he resigned from Congress from his scandal, he and I had a conversation that really went on over the course of a couple of years, going back and forth about the possibility of making a documentary. And then, when he decided to run for mayor of New York, he agreed to let us in and we filmed him throughout the campaign.
GUTHRIE: I think everybody who sees this film comes away with the same reaction. How on earth did you get this access? But why on earth would Anthony Weiner grant that kind of access, knowing what he knew about himself? Elise, do you have any insight?
STEINBERG: No, it's a great question. And as you can see in the film, it's a question that we actually posed to Anthony. And Anthony does give us an answer at the end, when he says that he wanted to be viewed as the full person that he was instead of a punch line. And that was certainly our intention with this film, to take someone who had been just ridiculed and reduced and offer a more nuanced and complex portrait.
LAUER: And some people in other parts of the country might not remember, but when he decided to run for mayor, he was doing pretty well, at first. And then along come these new allegations of more sexting. Were you surprised at that point that he didn't pull the plug and say, “Okay, cameras out of here”?
KRIEGBERG: You know, that’s exactly right. When he started in the race, no one knew what was going to happen, and very quickly he was at the top of the polls. And then of course these new sexting allegations emerge, these revelations from his sexting emerge. And you know, as Elise said, though, I think he really understood that there was the possibility of a version of his story to be told that went beyond the tabloid headlines, that was more complex and nuanced. And when these new revelations emerged, I think he recognized there was some value in having another version of the story documented.
GUTHRIE: Were there ever times, Elise, though, or Josh, you can answer too, when he said, “Let's have the cameras stop rolling, can you guys please leave”?
STEINBERG: Well, Josh was filming for the majority of the campaign.
KRIEGMAN: Yeah, and there certainly was a ground rule going in, you know, if ever anyone wanted me to stop filming or to turn off the camera, to leave the room, of course we would respect those boundaries. And you can see a few of those moments in the film.
LAUER: Anthony Weiner’s wife, Huma Abedin, is somewhat of a mystery to a lot of people. She’s a close personal aide of Hillary Clinton’s. There’s a scene in this documentary where the staff of this mayoral campaign is getting together to air their grievances against Anthony Weiner. And although she's been devastated by these same grievances, as the press secretary goes to walk out of the room, she stops and says, “Make sure you smile,” on the way out. What do we learn about her in that moment?
STEINBERG: Well, you know, just as Anthony was reduced to a caricature and a punch line, so was she. And in our film, you get to see a more nuanced and full look at her. I mean, she’s a multi-faceted person. She’s a wife, a mother, a person with a really important job. But you know, her husband was running for mayor and she was supporting him and participating in his campaign. And she's a political professional herself.
GUTHRIE: The film’s gotten good reviews. I wonder about a review that I'm sure matters to you, has Anthony Weiner or Huma Abedin seen it?
KRIEGMAN: They haven’t actually seen it yet. We offered to show it to them a number of times – many months ago actually, before the film was finished – and they haven't wanted to see it.
LAUER: Alright, can't wait to hear how that goes. Josh and Elise, thank you very much. We appreciate it.
GUTHRIE: Thank you.
KRIEGMAN: Thank you.
STEINBERG: Thank you.
LAUER: And again, Weiner is now in theaters.