Beneath the stones, the beach

“I thought this was a fly-on-the-wall documentary? Since when have you ever seen a fly-on-the-wall talking?” (Anthony Wiener querying why the documentary director is asking him a question on camera)Last night, the Sydney Film Festival screened Weiner, a fly-on-the-wall documentary by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg. The documentary covered Anthony Weiner’s (spoiler alert) unsuccessful campaign for Mayor of New York City during the 2013 mayoral election.However, that wasn’t interesting and neither was Mr. Weiner’s unfortunate compulsion to post pictures of his genitalia on Twitter (let that be a lesson to you kiddies) and have phone sex with random strangers, sometimes up to six times a day (the phone bill must have been ENORMOUS – with apologies to Benny Hill). Now you would be asking how could an obvious scumbag come back from that?

Having no interest in the yellow press and very little interest in American regional politics, I had no idea who Anthony Wiener was. The documentary revealed something that I thought was extraordinarily insightful but which, quiet frankly, may just reflect my own subjective view of the state of journalism in a first world, democratic country. The gentle people of the press really had a field day with his name - in fact the film started with a quote from Marshall McLuhan: ‘The name of a man is a numbing blow from which he never recovers’, and so we see headlines such as ‘Obama beats Wiener’ and ‘Democrats hands off Wiener’; hilarious really! While Mr. Wiener may have brought the wrath of the righteous down on himself, you start to see how the press can easily be mistaken for the goon squad of the Establishment.

(The then) Senator Wiener is first seen in action on the floor of the U.S. Senate speaking in support of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. This act would provide for funds for sick first responders to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, many of whom reside in Weiner's district. He is seen accusing Republicans of hiding behind procedural questions as an excuse to vote against the bill. He goes further and accuses the U.S. government of using the money that would have gone to the 9/11 first responders to provide tax breaks for big U.S. corporations. Sounds familiar and eerily like our own government. His speaking style is aggressive and he gives maximum offence in making his point, and that is probably a mistake.

From that moment on, Weiner comes under an increasingly sustained attack where any press contact is overpowered by personal questions about his sex life and his personal relationship with his wife. His wife is something else. Mrs. Wiener is Huma Abedin, who is currently the vice chairwoman of Hilary Clinton’s 2016 campaign for President. She is unimpeachable and smart. While Anthony is candid and garrulous, Huma (a Muslim and an Arabic speaker) is guarded on camera and speaks not at all for the documentary makers. The press try as hard as they can to beat Wiener (sorry, Benny) down with charges of spousal abuse and all the other pompous, pious bullshit they can throw at him but it doesn’t stick because Huma is clearly nobody’s fool and is smarter than all of them.

Wiener is a smart, tough guy and while ultimately this sustained and relentless attack by rabid journalists is successful in pushing him down the polls, he isn’t left a cowering, beaten dog because his style of defence is to go onto the attack. He takes no shit from anybody and while all the smug middle classes abhor his unmannered and abrasive shouting and talking over the top of journalists who are only ever use to compliant cocksuckers following the ‘Rules Of Debate’, he highlights the fact that journalists aren’t interested in the truth if it doesn’t fit the script dictated by their political masters. If you ever doubted that we had a free press, this documentary will assure you that we never did.