Anthony Weiner on Snapchat, Donald Trump and "What Might Have Been"
His erection-tweeting scandal derailed a promising political career. Now, Weiner opens up about his starring role in one of the decade's most salacious stories: "I never had anyone but myself to blame."
A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
"With the press of a button, my entire life unraveled," says former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner of the 2011 erection-photo-tweeting scandal that arrested his ascendant career in the Democratic Party (which is not to be confused with a second sexting mess two years later that doused his mayoral comeback campaign and earned him the tabloid nickname "Carlos Danger"). Now 50 and raising a 3½-year-old son, Jordan, with wife Huma Abedin — who's vice chairman of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign — the politician turned punch line opens up about his starring role in one of the most salacious stories of the decade.
People hear your name and what comes up is a snapshot of several very tense moments. Are you OK? What is your life like now?
I guess late last year Politico had this story where they were checking in, and the headline was, "Anthony Weiner: Politics Is Over But Not Life." I felt like Abe Vigoda — pleased to know that I was still alive. I mean, look: I had a fairly abrupt end to what was a career that spanned over 20 years in politics. I was seven years in City Council, 13 years in Congress. It wasn't terrible, actually. It coincided with the birth of my son. I have a 3½-year-old. It's a great joy to be spending a lot of time with him. I write a column for Business Insider, a column for the New York Daily News, both of which give me an outlet to scratch the itch I've always had about issues I care about. I do a regular appearance on local television on NY1. I've done some business consulting — not political consulting, but some consulting. The New York Times did a story about my consulting work. So I'm getting involved in nonprofits that I care about. I'm finding plenty to do so I'm not sitting at home watching C-SPAN 3 at 2 o'clock in the morning thinking about what could have been. I'm moving forward.
What can you tell me of your new position on the advisory board of PR firm MWW?
It is a continuation of some of the work that I had been doing for a few clients, and now I'm going to just kibbitz, basically. I'm not doing public relations. They do government relations work for businesses large and small, [and I'm] helping out on the government-relations side. It was widely reported that I'm doing PR for them, but I'm not. They are a big company with talented people and offices near my house. I'm offering help as part of a larger team. It's false [that I'm there for damage control consulting]. That's one of the things about the snark machine: It's usually light on facts. The New York Post never even called to ask.
What kind of face-to-face reactions do you get these days from your fellow New Yorkers?
You get lots of different stuff from people. First of all, New Yorkers are not shy. I run into people all the time who urge me to get back into politics. I run into people who scratch their heads and say, "Hey Weiner, what were you thinking?" I run into people who say that they're disappointed because they put a lot of trust and faith in me. Walking through the streets of New York with me is like walking through a nonstop Rorschach test about a lot of different things. I love this city and I love its people and those interactions are actually welcome. Because we live in a two-dimensional world in the Twittersphere and Facebook and these places where people are inclined to treat you like that carnival game where you throw the ball and try to dunk someone. Technology being what it is, there's a lot of nastiness that people are lobbing from across the Internet. But actually when you talk to people and deal with them, people are nice and understanding and very kind. That's especially true of me in New York City because my entire persona is about my love for this city, so it's always a pleasure to chat with people about it.
So even when they're disapproving of things you may have done, they are still respectful about it?
When I ran for office in 2013, it was an invitation for me to talk to people about [the scandal] if they wanted to. By and large people had more important things that they wanted to talk about, and it's not a big source of conversation. But there are people who say to me: "Get back in the game, don't let the bastards get you down," or "Boy, what were you thinking?" People have their own things that they want to talk to you about, believe it or not. More often than not, when someone stops me on the streets of New York, it's about something: what I think's going on with something in politics or something in their neighborhood. It's easier to lose sight of the fact that while there's a lot of casual interest in reading about the foibles and weaknesses of other people, it's really casual because most people care about their own situation, the lives they face and what their kids are going to grow up with. So that's usually where the conversation turns.
And when they tell you to get back into the political game, do you think that's where you are ultimately headed?
Realistically, probably not. I had a long career that I was very lucky to have in that I'm a middle-class guy from Brooklyn — not a wealthy, politically connected family. I had a job that appears in the United States Constitution. I was very lucky, and I ran for mayor twice. But given that I really have no interest in going back to Congress and my attempt to run for mayor last time was not very successful, realistically my career in politics is probably done. But I am still animated by the same issues I always was and I still care about the same things. And there's lots of ways besides elected office to act upon them.
What do you think of the job New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is doing?
I've been one of his loudest and strongest supporters. I just wrote a column in the Daily News giving him high marks for his administration so far. I think some of the criticisms leveled against him were unfair. He has a different personality than I have and would have brought to the job, but I think he's doing a good job.
Back to the original scandal: Was that the most traumatic moment of your life?
Oh, certainly. I mean, with the press of a button my entire life unraveled. And, yeah. And to have it for all these various reasons become kind of a perfect storm of media frenzy was traumatic.
Did you ever blame anyone besides yourself?
No, no. Look, Twitter didn't bring me down. And whatever other people chose to do, I put them in a position to be able to do it. I mean, no one did this to me. I am not the victim of someone else. I was in politics a long time. I was a feisty, combative guy. My last name was Weiner. There were pictures. I remember talking to Jon Stewart while it was going on and he was obviously doing what he does, making hay about it. I completely agreed that if he didn't make jokes about it they would probably revoke his comedian's union card. I don't blame anyone else for it. Thank God no one died and I didn't take a drink and run over anybody with my car. I didn't steal money from anyone. The casualties were all me and my family and the people that supported me for so long, and I never had anyone but myself to blame.
As serious as it was, did you at any point ever laugh about the circumstances? Or was it always something very grave that other people were laughing at?
Well, I mean — no. There's not a lot about it that was funny in terms of the impact it had on my family. The things I was working on, the ambition I had for myself and my neighbors, I did great harm to that. I would have been a great mayor, I think, and I lost that opportunity because of my mistakes. So it's not funny. It's not funny to me but I don't begrudge someone making a joke about my name. I did hear the last original Weiner joke in the fifth grade, so there's not much more to that. The maelstrom that was created? I could have diagrammed it if I had been able to think up something as crazy as that ever happening. But it's not the kind of thing that I sit around laughing about. You might have seen from time to time on Twitter I make veiled references to it and I try to be lighthearted about it. But it's not the kind of thing that in the middle of it I was saying, "Isn't this funny?"
As the first scandal broke, in the days leading up to your admitting it and Jon Stewart is calling you out on TV, what was your inner monologue like? Did you have anyone to turn to during that period?
No. That was part of the problem. I was embarrassed. (Laughs.) "Why didn't you just tell the truth?" Well, I was ashamed and I was trying to protect myself and protect my wife and family. I was just embarrassed — nothing more calculated than that. And in response to the second part of your question, no, there was no one. I mean, who could I talk to? This was a secret. These were things that I was doing that I wasn't proud of. I should also tell you that I didn't know what was going on. It was such a storm. I wasn't sitting at home poring over the coverage. I was under siege. It was a difficult time, obviously.
Did it affect your sleep, your appetite?
I mean, yeah, it affected everything. It's an unimaginable thing to be the center of such a storm. And not only to be that storm but not being truthful about it. It's very difficult. To some degree you can't be in my line of work and not have developed a pretty thick skin, but even with the rhinoceros hide you develop in politics, it was difficult not to let it get you down. It was obviously a very difficult period.
How do you steel yourself for those difficult conversations with your wife?
Um, I don't want to go into that.
On a lighter note, you were in Sharknado 3. How did that come about?
Yes, and I would point out I was not eaten, so I'm on the shortlist for Sharknado 4. I don't know how it came about. I guess I am on that C- to D-level cusp of celebrity that they were just looking for, and the fact that it was set in Washington. I wouldn't have conceived of doing it if I were going to play myself. But when I had a chance to play the NASA administrator or whatever it was, they asked and I said yes. That's another thing about me now, that since I don't have political ambitions or the kind of job that you have to measure everything through the microscope of how it looks politically, I can just do things that seem like they might be fun — and it was.
Any memorable interactions with the cast?
It's funny, the scene we shot was shot separately from the fancy big stars.
So no Tara Reid moments?
In my scene I was probably the biggest star on set, so that tells you how obscure it was. And at the end of the day they wound up for some reason reshooting [my scenes] with someone else. So I wasn't in nearly as many scenes as I should have been in. But all that being said, it was fun. The process of watching filmmaking is fascinating for someone who's never seen it done. I would love to do it again. I got some stuff in the mail. I think I'm SAG-eligible now, too! So I finally have that union card I always wanted to brag about.
What about social media these days for you? I know you're still tweeting. Are you triple-checking them before they go out?
I wish I was. I wish I was. You can make yourself a little bit crazy if you're being too careful. Part of it is I still believe that it's a useful way to have conversations about public issues. It's a toxic repository for nastiness and snark but that's not all it is. (Laughs.) It can be more than that.
What does Twitter still hold for you?
I still care about shit. It's not like you go through a political life of fighting for things and caring about them and then you stop caring about them just because your job ended. I still care about them and I still have interest in having input on the conversation and calling bullshit where I see it. And there are a lot of people who still want to hear from me — who supported me or are infuriated by me or debated me or a lot of reporters who I stay in touch with on there. I still have a lot of the same interests that I once had, so it's not that unusual that I would continue to access them. Time magazine had me on a list as one of the most interesting tweeters. Because I saw an opportunity there. It may have been my undoing, but I saw it as a way to pierce the cynicism that exists with some people that politics is inauthentic, that it's basically all fake and posture, when I don't think it needs to be. I think it can be fun and funny and clever and snarky when it needs to be. That kind of thing. So I still see that possibility in the art form.
To be clear, you were cited by Time before the scandal?
Yes, obviously before. Now it's the other way around: The same people who think I'm an idiot now [go on Twitter] and think, "Oh, he's pretty funny." Yes, I'm a funny guy that did some idiotic things. But why shouldn't I be [tweeting?] I get the question sometimes, "Dude, why are you still tweeting?" And I say, "What exactly happened that I shouldn't?" If I was tweeting or posting something because it was something I wanted people to read and engage in conversation, I still am interested in that. And we'll see. But yes, I do have to be careful.
Do you use other platforms? Have you tried Snapchat?
I've tried Snapchat because people with whom I work [are on it]. I'm interested in Snapchat stories, so I've tried it, but I'm not in there. Me being on Snapchat, kind of the jokes write themselves.
What about emoji?
Not really. I'm starting a counter-emoji movement where I kind of write out the emoji. Like I'll say "sadface emoji" in my email. Or write "surprised emoji." Because I think that's going to be the future. I think I can write out many more emojis, like, "Talking to Hollywood Reporter emoji," and just click that to someone. But I'm not a big emoji user. Never used one in a tweet, that's for sure.
Let's talk election. What do you make of Trump's rise to prominence?
Trump tweeted at me today! Something about my wife's emails or something like that. I think the president hit it on the head last week when he talked about this while he was in Africa: He said there's this kind of intense, look-at-me, stare-at-me, say-anything sensibility to the Republican primary field. The Trumpification of the Republican party is almost complete, where they are all saying crazy things and all looking basically like they're not ready to be president. It's jarring to watch. The fact that there's a crazy figure in the race that will say crazy things is not that surprising. There's kind of a vacuum for real crazy on the campaign trail. But what is kind of crazy is how many of the Republicans are getting sucked into doing the same thing — saying outrageous things, whether it's Mike Huckabee talking about the president marching people to the gas chamber, metaphorically I suppose, or calling people terrorists, there's just a craziness to the Republican party that's doing great damage to them long-term. I can't imagine a young person watching the Republican party right now could feel that they're really speaking the language of really solving the country's problems.
All the better for the Democrats and Hillary, then?
I don't know about the political ramifications of it, but I do know that if you're a Republican building a brand this is a bad way to do it. Because to be hateful and nasty and untruthful might be a good way to win a primary but it's not a good way to become president.
Finally, what's surprised you most about fatherhood so far?
The whole process is like peeling an onion. When you spend a lot of time around a person who's gone from birth to 3½ years old, you see remarkable and unimaginable changes that go on. Now that he's talking and verbal and being argumentative and testing his limits, what's amazing is how different Jordan at 3½ is from Jordan at 3. It's the most nourishing thing in the world. For someone like me who at a young age got involved in politics and devoted an enormous amount of energy into a career and dealing with very self-involved people, raising a child is instant humility. You realize quickly how unimportant you are and how important he is. You realize that the most important challenges that a family faces is not what's on the gossip pages but what's going on at their kids' school or at their neighborhood shopping strip and whether or not there will be jobs for the kids' future. It's a remarkably uplifting experience and every day it gets better.
How long do you think you'll wait before allowing him his own cellphone and Twitter account?
(Laughs.) He's already remarkably versed in technology. My wife and I try to limit his screen time severely. We have to change the passwords on our phones pretty regularly because he's figured out ways to hack in at 3½ years old. We're in no hurry to introduce new technology in the household. We've already got too much for his good and our good.