Guggenheim, the early political auteur, who helmed films for the Kennedy brothers, has found a successor. His name is Alex Gidney.
Gidney’s untitled documentary on Eliot Spitzer, which previewed at the Tribeca Film Festival, is no doubt evidence that the filmmaker is great. He is a fine fellow to hoist a few and dine with. He’s also great at swapping stories. But his film is a terrific piece of campaign art — nothing more than pro-Spitzer propaganda.
Of course, Gidney guilds Spitzer’s reputation as the Sherriff of Wall Street. It tells us about the crusading Attorney General, busting Merrill Lynch, and pursuing the New York Stock Exchange’s Chairman Richard Grasso for undue compensation. The film, however, is notable for its omissions.
It fails to tell us about the Marsh McLennan settlement in which Spitzer blackmails the company into purchasing an investigative agency and making its CEO, a Spitzer protégé, the new head of Marsh McLennan, a condition of settlement. When this hack is forced out of Marsh McLennan, he gets a $30 million golden parachute. Didn’t Spitzer pursue Grasso for excess compensation?
The film also never speaks of the illegal financing of both Eliot Spitzer’s 1994 and 1998 campaigns for New York Attorney General, where his father guaranteed loans illegally to finance the campaign and transferred property to Eliot that was used as collateral for a loan to pay off the preceding illegally guaranteed campaign loan. This scheme was intended to violate New York State Election Law, which limited Bernard Spitzer, Eliot’s father, by spending no more than $100,000 toward his son’s campaign. Mike Daley, now of the New York Post, formerly of the New York Daily News, has written extensively about the shady financing of Spitzer’s early career. That Gidney would not interview him tells you this film is a polemic, not a documentary.
Spitzer is not questioned about why he lied repeatedly to the New York Daily News and the New York Times about the source of his campaign’s finances until ultimately admitting his lie and pledging to pay off the loans. After election, as AG, he declines to show evidence of the loan repayment, and the loans are subsumed into a larger note with his father. If Spitzer’s very election as attorney general was illegally financed, how can he be the arbiter of right and wrong? It makes everything he did as attorney general illegitimate. He cheated the system and won.
Also missing from the narrative is the neat tale of how the radically-left Working Families Party illegally expended party funds in a democratic primary to elect a district attorney in Albany, who would later try to white wash Spitzer’s involvement in trooper gate before recanting and finding Spitzer’s agents at the base of the plot. As attorney general, Spitzer literally laid down in a legal case where he was supposed to defend the law prohibiting this campaign transfer. The judge in the case even lashed two deputy attorney generals for completely ignoring the court’s deadlines, hearings, and scheduling. After Bernard Spitzer and the Spitzer family foundation poured money into the WFP and a WFP-controlled foundation, the party was on board early for his gubernatorial bid.
Gidney puts forward the theory that billionaire Ken Langone, founder of Home Depot, took Spitzer down after Spitzer decided to pursue New York Stock Exchange Chairman Richard Grasso for excess compensation, as well as Langone as chairman of the NYSE, for approving the compensation package. Gidney notes that Spitzer did not pursue the rest of the NYSE board, who had also voted for the compensation package, because he would have been required to prosecute former New York Comptroller Carl McCall, an African American of great stature in the Democratic Party. Can you say, selective prosecution?
The problem with the Langone theory is that Gidney casually states in the film’s narrative that Langone engaged a private detective to get the goods on Spitzer, but provides no proof. That’s because he has none. It’s a theory. Langone himself in the movie, specifically denies working with any private investigators or “dirty tricks men”—I assume that last reference is to myself.
Gidney does a nice job of taking us to the seamy world of high-end prostitution. But in the end, he never gets a hooker on camera who banged Eliot as attorney general or governor. Gidney hides this fact by hiring an actress to read the actual worlds of “Angelina,” a prostitute who says she spent multiple time with Spitzer, but will not disclose her real name or facial identity. The problem here is, Gidney uses the actress with a super telling us she is Angelina the prostitute twice in the narrative, before he tells us she is an actress.
Here’s the kicker. The hooker with no name says, “Spitzer wore no black socks.”
Hookum! Bullshit! Just because two liberal con men Alex Gidney and the author of Spitzer Campaign re-hab book say so? Who is their source? An unnamed prostitute? Clever.
But in fact, the New York Post reported that the FBI confirmed the black socks fetish by the former chief executive from a second prostitute. Manhattan Madam Kristin Davis also confirms — through several of the call girls she booked for Spitzer as attorney general and governor — his penchant for dark hosiery in the boudoir.
This is important because I informed the FBI about Spitzer’s black sock habit in a letter sent in November, 2007. Elkind and Gidney claimed the FBI said they cannot find such a letter. Contacted last week, the FBI confirmed that they made no such claim, and have a policy regarding release of correspondence that prohibits their commenting. My letter to the FBI was before Spitzer fell. The New York Post confirmation of the black socks from the FBI from an additional hooker came after Spitzer fell.
Gidney’s handling of the John Whitehead-Eliot Spitzer telephone threat drama is one of the most masterful pieces of filmmaking in this genre. Whitehead, whom I first met when he was on the finance committee in New Jersey for Jeff Bell’s campaign for the US Senate against Clifford Case, went on to serve his country as an ambassador under Ronald Reagan. Whitehead comes across utterly believable as he recounts Spitzer’s wild threats to destroy him in a telephone conversation after Whitehead wrote a piece in support of AIG Chairman Hank Greenberg. Gidney’s quick editing of each line of Whitehead’s memory is brilliant. Asked about the same conversation, Spitzer stammers and sweats like Nixon as he gropes for a way to deny his actual words.
The point of course is the Spitzer was not a great attorney general. He went after a few high profile industries to win headlines for his bid for the governorship which Bernard Spitzer, the Jewish Joe Kennedy, said was but a way station before becoming “the first Jewish President.” He blackmailed companies and executives into pleading to things they hadn’t done, lest he destroy their company value by leak or press release. He was the classic bully and a prick with a holier than thou attitude, in which he actually did think he was the smartest man in the world.
As the film correctly notes, I did send an e-mail to former Spitzer aid Darren Dopp telling him “Spitzer’s going down” after learning that a prosecution against Spitzer was in the works.
Sadly, Gidney’s documentary is marred when it goes off onto an ideologically and partisan noting that Bill Clinton got a “blow job in the Oval Office,” and he was still popular, and that right-wing republicans such as Gingrich, Senator David Vitter, Congressman Robert Livingston, and others were also embroiled in sex scandals with prostitutes, or had affairs while married.
Particularly vexing is Gidney’s rant against Louisiana Senator David Vitter, who was identified by the DC madam as booking prostitutes in the nation’s capitol. Vitter survived the report and is still in public office. What Gidney fails to note is the madam’s brutal murder before she came to trial, which the police say remains unsolved. Yes, I’d say the Vitter case is different. Arguing that because Vitter is a Republican and wasn’t forced from office and that Democrat Spitzer was forced to resign is significant, is absurd.
And assertion in the film — by some pompous Yale professor — that the Mann Act, which prohibits the transportation across state lines for the purpose of prostitution, is not prosecuted anymore and the John is never prosecuted is as ridiculous. In 2009, in New York State, Supreme Court Justice was convicted of violating the Mann Act for transporting a prostitute from Hamburg, New York to Frankfort, Kentucky to service a group of his pals at a fraternal gathering he was attending. If the judge can be prosecuted, why should Spitzer walk?
The idea that US Attorny Michael J. Garcia was somehow wrong in pursuing a Mann Act case against Spitzer and did so for partisan republican reasons is a canard. The only criticism of Garcia is this: Why didn’t he prosecute for both violation of the Mann Act and federal money laundering statutes? As they said in Watergate, no one is above the law. Garcia never pressured Spitzer to resign in return for no prosecution. Spitzer resigned of his own volition. In fact, Spitzer avoided prosecution by supplying information on additional escort services that he utilized. Gidney can’t resist the suggestion that George W. Bush somehow brought Shining Knight Spitzer down.
Sadly, Gidney undermines his film by using his co-producer Elkind as an interviewee. Spitzer leaked reporter Elkind the details of the Eddie Stern investigation while he was attorney general, and Elkind has been a Spitzer toady since their days at Princeton. He is a cheerleader without credibility.
Gidney has done a notable job of turning chicken shit into chicken salad by recycling Spitzer’s carefully crafted campaign ads along with wonderful multiple visuals of Eliot and Silda on the stump, holding hands, on the beach, with the girls, and all the other clever techniques used to try to soften your impression of this brusque, unlikable prick.
Some fat slob named Jimmy Siegel actually said that every day on the Spitzer campaign was “delightful,” which is a joke in view of Spitzer’s dictatotiral and control freak manner. Every democratic campaign consultant will tell you he is both a pincher of Bernard’s pennies and insists on writing speeches, TV spots, and press releases himself. Spitzer is a pain in the ass to deal with in the political context.
Gidney must not have lived in New York long, or he would know that The Village Voice’s long-time left-wing hitman Wayne Barrett is so ideological, that he has no credibility with anyone. Not revealed is the fact that Barrett is consulting Spitzer actively on his comeback. Barrett is so rigid in his wrong thinking, it’s laughable. Anything bad comes from the right; anything good comes from the left. In the views of hardcore reds like Barrett, there are no gray areas. Yes, Wayne, fabricating state documents and arranging for the Albany Times Union to ask for them, is a dirty trick approved by your angel–who is better than all of us–Eliot Spitzer. If Nixon did this, you’d be screaming. You see a right-wing conspiracy under every rock. The last time Wayne Barrett wrote about me, 87 individual misstatement of facts marred his articles, which revealed 36 different violations of the National Association of Journalists. Barrett has no interest in facts. His opining on Spitzer in Gidney’s film is a joke. Guess they couldn’t get a real journalist. The Village Voice, where Barrett works, is now distributed for free. That is what it is worth.
Spitzer’s actions against Grasso and Langone as well as his efforts to prosecute AIG Chairman Greenberg. Gidney presents only Spitzer’s side of the case against Greenberg and fails to grasp that the half billion dollars Greenberg supposedly secretly borrowed to pump up AIG’s bottom line wasn’t enough money to effect the bottom line of a company with a huge balance sheet. The truth is Spitzer was ignominiously defeated in the courts in his NYSE and AIG prosecutions.
Gidney also tries to promote the idea that Spitzer used the Emperor Club VIP escort service exclusively largely because of the five agencies Spitzer is known to have used, they were the only ones willing to go on camera and talk to him. Spitzer used multiple agencies because girls who saw him once, were rarely (but occasionally) willing to see him again, based on his over-aggressiveness during sex and his attempts to avoid the use condoms, which are de rigueur in the high-end prostitution world.
Characterizing Kristin Davis as an ex-escort is also incorrect and most likely meant as a slur. Davis ran the most successful high-end escort business in the country, but there is no evidence that she worked as a prostitute at any time. She was a businesswoman, not a whore. It should be corrected before the film is finished, because Ms. Davis is litigious.
If a great documentary is about revealing a little bit more of a particular subject, Gidney has failed. Spectacularly. If the film is meant to white-wash a conniving and corrupt egomaniac, Gidney does the job admirably. Gidney does his best to rewrite history Spitzer’s entire political and personal history, but the truth is, no amount of propaganda peddled by the former Attorney General’s pals will change what Spitzer once was and continues to be — a mountebank.