Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long reign of terror that was exposed in separate investigations by The New Yorker and the New York Times sparked outrage and finger-pointing in Hollywood. How did his serial abuse of actresses and other women go unchecked all those years? Surely those in his orbit must have known something. And if so, why did they stay silent?
On Tuesday, the New York Times published its investigation into what it calls Weinstein’s “complicity machine,” a sprawling network of associates in Hollywood and beyond that were guilty—sometimes unknowingly—of aiding and abetting Weinstein’s predatory behavior. (This follows a story by The New Yorker from November detailing Weinstein’s elaborate cabal of spies designed specifically to suppress journalists and silence his victims.)
According to the Times, many of these associates worked at CAA, the powerful talent agency where at least eight agents continued to set up private meetings between Weinstein and their clients, despite having knowledge of his misconduct. Actresses who did complain were met with indifference, including Gwyneth Paltrow, who told the Times that when she alerted her agent, Rick Kurtzman, that Weinstein had harassed her, he “looked incredulous” and left it at that. Actress Mia Kirshner was also told to drop the matter after she told her agent that Weinstein had harassed her in 1994. “I was told to forget about it; it was pointless to do anything about this,” Kirshner said.
When Weinstein found out that Ronan Farrow was pursuing a story about him for The New Yorker, he reached out to his old friend Bryan Lourd, a partner at CAA, which represents Farrow. Lourd tried to broker a meeting between the two men, to no avail. “This guy won’t meet right now,” he told Weinstein, adding that Farrow was “absolutely pursuing the story.” When contacted by the Times, a CAA spokesperson issued an apology “to any person the agency let down for not meeting the high expectations we place on ourselves.”
But Weinstein’s powerful connections stretched far beyond the Hollywood sphere. As one of the most prominent Democratic donors and fundraisers, Weinstein developed close relationships with the Obamas and the Clintons, which he used to help bolster his seedy reputation. “I know the president of the United States. Who do you know?” Weinstein would reportedly say to his opponents. “I’m Harvey Weinstein. You know what I can do.”
According to the Times, Lena Dunham went to great lengths to warn members of Hillary Clinton’s campaign team that keeping Weinstein close was “a really bad idea” because “it’s an open secret in Hollywood that he has a problem with sexual assault.” When contacted by the Times, Clinton’s campaign staffers said that Dunham never specifically mentioned rape when speaking about Weinstein.
“We were shocked when we learned what he’d done. It’s despicable behavior, and the women that have come forward have shown enormous courage,” Nick Merrill, Clinton’s communications director told the Times. “As to claims about a warning, that’s something staff wouldn’t forget. … Only Dunham can answer why she would tell them instead of those who could stop him.”
While it was the tireless efforts of journalists that eventually helped bring him down, Weinstein was also an expert manipulator of the press, using cozy relationships with reporters to help silence his accusers. David Pecker, a top executive at American Media, Inc., which owns several gossip rags including The National Enquirer, was a close friend of Weinstein’s and helped keep his name out of the tabloids. (Weinstein was referred to as “F.O.P.,” or “friend of Pecker”.) Weinstein also paid at least one gossip journalist to gather potentially damaging information on other celebrities, so that when the time came, he could use those stories to barter with reporters who were pursuing a story on him.
Even some of those closest to Weinstein felt coerced into staying quiet about his behavior. His employees at Miramax and The Weinstein Company worried that if they opposed him or refused his audacious requests—which included obtaining his penile injections for erectile dysfunction—they would risk facing his wrath or losing their jobs. “As a spectator to the abuse, you were silenced by the fear that you would become the next target,“ Amy Israel, Miramax’s former co-head of acquisitions, told the Times. "The only alternative seemingly was to quit—to throw away everything you had worked so hard for and walk out the door.”
Ashley Matthau, a professional dancer who said Weinstein masturbated on her in his hotel room, described a seemingly indifferent assistant standing outside the room as she left in tears. “It just seemed like a well-oiled machine,“ Matthau told the Times.
If his employees did protest, Weinstein would belittle them and then fire them. If more senior employees failed to fall in line, he threatened to blackmail them. “His modus operandi was always to try to find something on someone else,” Weinstein’s longtime accountant, Irwin Reiter told the Times.
The methods that Weinstein used to ensure his own survival are a damning indictment of the Hollywood power structure, and emblematic of a systemic problem in certain industries that tolerate and cover for the bad behavior of powerful men. But a telltale sign of real change arrived on Wednesday in the form of a lawsuit filed by six of Weinstein’s accusers. The plaintiffs, which include Zoe Brock, Louisette Geiss, Katherine Kendall, Melissa Sagemiller and Nannette Klatt, are going after Weinstein and those who were complicit in facilitating his sexual misconduct.
“Harvey Weinstein is a predator. Bob Weinstein knew it. The board knew it. The lawyers knew it,” the plaintiffs said in a joint statement to Variety. “The private investigators knew it. Hollywood knew it. We knew it. Now the world knows it.”
In response to the Times piece, Weinstein’s legal team retiterated its claim that the former mogul “has never at any time committed an act of sexual assault.” His lawyers also said in a statement that, contrary to reporting in this week’s Times story, Weinstein did not “utilize company resources for personal expenditures” during his time at Miramax and TWC.