Harvey Weinstein: The Fall of a ‘Liberal Lion’

A bombshell New York Times report alleges that the movie superproducer settled at least eight sexual harassment cases over the years—all the while promoting progressive causes.

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High-powered Hollywood executive Harvey Weinstein is facing decades of sexual harassment allegations, courtesy of a damning New York Times report that’s sure to upend the entertainment industry.

Weinstein is a man of many titles and accolades. He’s the co-founder of Miramax and the co-chairman of The Weinstein Company. He’s an Oscar and Tony Award-winning producer whose name has become synonymous with aggressive awards season campaigns and somewhat unsavory business practices. Still, the incredibly successful executive has previously managed to overcome almost all of his bad press. He’s maintained close relationships with influential entertainers and politicians, and even employed Barack Obama’s eldest daughter, Malia Obama, as an intern at The Weinstein Company’s New York office.

Although Weinstein was questioned by police in 2015 over allegedly groping a 22-year-old Italian model, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office ultimately decided not to pursue the charges. Issuing a statement on that decision two years ago, Weinstein’s spokesperson Risa Heller said that, “We are pleased this episode is behind us.”

Well, it now appears that “this episode” is actually just beginning, with a host of women coming forward to out the superproducer’s predatory behavior. Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s Times piece mentions “eight women” who described a spectrum of assault and harassment by Weinstein, including, “appearing nearly or fully naked in front of them, requiring them to be present while he bathed or repeatedly asking for a massage or initiating one himself.”

The article continues, “The women, typically in their early or mid-20s and hoping to get a toehold in the film industry, said he could switch course quickly—meetings and clipboards one moment, intimate comments the next…Across the years and continents, accounts of Mr. Weinstein’s conduct share a common narrative: Women reported to a hotel for what they thought were work reasons, only to discover that Mr. Weinstein, who has been married for most of three decades, sometimes seemed to have different interests.”

I said no, a lot of ways, a lot of times, and he always came back at me with some new ask.
Ashley Judd

In 2015, Weinstein employee Lauren O’Connor reportedly wrote a memo “addressed to several executives” citing numerous instances of abuse and misconduct. She described one female assistant who was left “crying and very distraught” after Weinstein allegedly “badgered her into giving him a massage while he was naked.” Summarizing her experiences and observations over the course of a two-year period, O’Connor concluded that, “There is a toxic environment for women at this company.” The memo further alleges that she and other female Weinstein employees “were being used to facilitate liaisons with ‘vulnerable women who hope he will get them work.’” She wrote, “The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.”

One of these alleged “vulnerable women” was Emily Nestor, a temporary employee who Weinstein invited to his hotel room in 2014. The Times reports that Weinstein proceeded to make Nestor an “offer”: “If she accepted his sexual advances, he would boost her career.”

According to accounts compiled by colleagues and later sent to Weinstein Company executives, “[Nestor] said he was very persistent and focused though she kept saying no for over an hour… She was disappointed that he met with her and did not seem to be interested in her résumé or skill set,” reported the Times.

The piece further alleged that O’Connor’s memo “rattled top executives,” including Harvey’s brother Bob Weinstein. While an outside lawyer was allegedly sought to look into the allegations, Kantor and Twohey write that, “The inquiry never happened. Mr. Weinstein had reached a settlement with Ms. O’Connor, she had withdrawn her complaint and there was no longer anything to investigate.”

It seems that Weinstein’s patterns extend beyond his allegedly predatory behavior to his system of doling out large sums of money to his accusers. The article alleges that, according to two anonymous company officials, “Mr. Weinstein has reached at least eight settlements with women…Among the recipients, The Times found, were a young assistant in New York in 1990, an actress in 1997, an assistant in London in 1998, an Italian model in 2015 and Ms. O’Connor shortly after.” The Times reports that, “according to people familiar with the negotiations,” most of these settlements ranged from roughly $80,000 to $150,000.

Ironically enough, O’Connor wrote her damning memo the very same year that The Weinstein Company distributed the campus sexual assault documentary The Hunting Ground. The Times piece addresses this hypocrisy, noting that, “In public, he presents himself as a liberal lion, a champion of women and a winner of not just artistic but humanitarian awards.”

Actress Ashley Judd told The New York Times that, “Women have been talking about Harvey amongst ourselves for a long time, and it’s simply beyond time to have the conversation publicly.”

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She recalled an incident “two decades ago” in which Weinstein invited her to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel, presumably for a business meeting. “Mr. Weinstein soon issued invitation after invitation, [Judd] said. Could he give her a massage? When she refused, he suggested a shoulder rub. She rejected that too, she recalled. He steered her toward a closet, asking her to help pick out his clothing for the day, and then toward the bathroom. Would she watch him take a shower? she remembered him saying.” Judd recalls wondering, “How do I get out of the room as fast as possible without alienating Harvey Weinstein?” The actress told the Times that she remembers feeling “panicky, trapped.”

“I said no, a lot of ways, a lot of times, and he always came back at me with some new ask,” Judd said. “It was all this bargaining, this coercive bargaining.”

The New York Times article also reveals a previously undisclosed settlement between Weinstein and then 23-year-old actress Rose McGowan. The “episode” allegedly occurred in a hotel room during Sundance; according to the legal document, which was reviewed by the Times, “The $100,000 settlement was ‘not to be construed as an admission’ by Mr. Weinstein, but intended to ‘avoid litigation and buy peace.’” McGowan, who declined to comment for the article, tweeted in 2016 that, “my ex sold our movie to my rapist for distribution…it’s been an open secret in Hollywood/Media & they shamed me while adulating my rapist.”

It is not known which ex McGowan is referring to, although she dated filmmaker Robert Rodriguez from 2006-2009, and their film Planet Terror was released by Weinstein Co. subsidiary Dimension Films in 2007.

Former president of Miramax Los Angeles Mark Gill told The New York Times that, “From the outside, it seemed golden—the Oscars, the success, the remarkable cultural impact. But behind the scenes, it was a mess, and this was the biggest mess of all…‘If a female executive was asked to go to a meeting solo, she and a colleague would generally double up’ so as not to be alone with Mr. Weinstein, Mr. Gill recalled.”

Weinstein told the Times that “many claims in Ms. O’Connor’s memo” were “off base.” He declined to comment on the settlements but did admit that, “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it. Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go.” He further claimed that he would be taking a leave of absence to “deal with this issue head on.”

In his full statement to The New York Times, Weinstein described his journey to “learn about myself and conquer my demons.” After insisting that, “I so respect all women and regret what happened,” Weinstein continued, “Jay Z wrote in 4:44 ‘I’m not the man I thought I was and I better be that man for my children.’ The same is true for me. I want a second chance in the community but I know I’ve got work to do to earn it.” (In fact JAY-Z, with whom Weinstein has an ongoing professional relationship, did not write that).

Weinstein’s lawyer Lisa Bloom said that, “he denies many of the accusations as patently false.” In a statement the lawyer, who is better known for representing sexual harassment victims than alleged abusers, referred to herself as a “women’s rights advocate.” She wrote, “I have been blunt with Harvey and he has listened to me. I have told him that times have changed, it is 2017, and he needs to evolve to a higher standard. I have found Harvey to be refreshingly candid and receptive to my message. He has acknowledged mistakes he has made. He is reading books and going to therapy. He is an old dinosaur learning new ways. He wants to reach out to any of the women who may have issues with him to talk to them in a respectful, peaceful way.”

She concluded, “And as we work together on a project bringing my book to the screen, he has always been respectful toward me.”

Weinstein is also being represented by Charles Harder, the lawyer who represented Hulk Hogan in the Gawker case. Harder told The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday that he’s currently “preparing the lawsuit” against The New York Times. Harder claimed that the story “is saturated with false and defamatory statements about Harvey Weinstein,” adding that, “We sent the Times the facts and evidence, but they ignored it and rushed to publish.” Harder also disclosed that they intend to donate any proceeds from the suit to women’s organizations.

Earlier in the week, Weinstein released a statement in response to rumors that The New York Times and the New Yorker were preparing to release bombshell stories: “The story sounds so good I want to buy the movie rights.”