Oh, you thought this was a deeply felt and meticulously crafted genuine apology? Well, there may be elements of contrition in it, but make no mistake: From the man whose strategic campaigns for his films during awards season are masterclasses of public relations, what Harvey Weinstein did in the wake of the bombshell New York Times article about his alleged decades of sexual harassment of women was a similar exercise.
This was a calculated fightback conducted by a man who has reportedly been consulting crisis PR firms for weeks, while wearing the drag of humbled sackcloth and ashes.
The Times published its story Thursday afternoon, detailing decades of alleged sexual harassment by Weinstein. The story, reported in coolly searing detail, included actress Ashley Judd wondering, after he had demanded a massage from her, “How do I get out of the room as fast as possible without alienating Harvey Weinstein?”
Weinstein has reached settlements with at least eight women over three decades regarding allegations of sexual harassment, the Times reported.
Weinstein’s apology, as floridly worded as it was, was not just damage control, but a full-throttle effort to redraw the storyline.
Weinstein will know, as battered as he is, that men in Hollywood fare relatively well when faced with allegations of abuse. Roman Polanski and Woody Allen have both maintained successful careers, after all. Maybe Hollywood will facilitate that for Weinstein, too. For now, he must weather the storm.
The first move is to engage Lisa Bloom, an avowedly feminist lawyer who specializes in sexual harassment. The optic here: Put your feet directly to the fire.
A civil rights lawyer, Bloom represented women in sexual harassment cases, including three filed against disgraced former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. Weinstein, along with Jay-Z, is also producing Bloom’s next project, so that’s a neat commercial and moral symbiosis.
“Harvey is not going to demean or attack any of the women making accusations against him, although he does dispute many of the allegations,” Bloom said in a statement provided to the Times. “Instead, he is going to use this as a painful learning experience to grow into a better man. I will continue to work with him personally for as long as it takes.”
“In addition,” Bloom said, “Harvey has asked me to do a comprehensive review of his company’s policies and practices regarding women in the workplace. I will make recommendations to ensure that gender equality and zero tolerance for workplace misconduct aren’t just goals, but a reality.”
That’s great, but it begs the question: Who else has been doing the harassing? Was it just Weinstein, or many men? If it was just Weinstein, is this merely a gestural smokescreen?
Later Thursday, a more familiarly pugnacious Weinstein emerged. His other lawyer Charles Harder said the producer next planned to sue the Times for a story “saturated with false and defamatory statements,” which relied on “mostly hearsay and a faulty report.” All proceeds from case, should Weinstein be successful, will be given to women’s organizations.
This gesture mirrored all of Weinstein’s other moves on Thursday; whatever he was accused of, he rushed to occupy the very opposite ground.
His apology doesn’t mention sexual harassment, and therefore significantly doesn’t take responsibility for sexually harassing anyone. So, what does he take responsibility for?
Here is Weinstein’s apology, deconstructed.
“I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”
The apology begins with the biggest canard; the excuse in which the perpetrator seeks to at least partially absolve themselves of blame because they grew up in a different time. Would Weinstein, if after being found to have done something horrendous to black or LGBT people, have sought to excuse it with: “Oh, everyone hated blacks and gays back then”?
It’s the biggest cop-out because treating someone badly, or abusing someone, or using your power to abuse and frighten them, is wrong in any era. Even if you worked in an office in the Mad Men epoch, sexually harassing and abusing a woman or a man is wrong.
This is less about sexism, and the prevalence of it, and the era you worked in, and more about having the kind of rank personality that thinks it’s OK to sexually harass, harass or demean people.
You shouldn’t need laws to tell you that’s not the way to behave with a colleague. It shouldn’t need to be part of your workplace culture. A decent person, a good boss, doesn’t sexually harass their staff. The era isn’t to blame, even in part. You using your power to treat people with less power badly is the issue, so own it. When you did it has very little to do with what you did. You did it, not a pair of flared trousers. A lava lamp didn’t ease your harassment.
“I have since learned it’s not an excuse, in the office—or out of it. To anyone. I realized some time ago that I needed to be a better person and my interactions with the people I work with have changed.”
Questions questions… How did you learn this? Why did you learn it? Who imparted this information? What have you done about it? How have you changed? Would you be releasing this statement today without the backwind impetus of The New York Times’ article?
“I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.”
PR blather. That isn’t enough. If the allegations of systematic sexual harassment over many years are correct, “appreciating” that you may have caused pain isn’t enough. It implies a surface understanding of the depth of what you have done. The soft language here may be approved by crisis PR and legal experts, but the lack of specifics implies a desire to bury or set aside the underlying issues rather than acknowledging the totality of your behavior.
“Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go. That is my commitment. My journey now will be to learn about myself and conquer my demons.”
Someone has been watching a lot of Oprah, and gleaning a lot from celebrity reputation rehabilitation. The classic language of therapy-drenched self-atonement. Low on specifics, big on sackcloth and ashes, and implied self-reflection. There’s nothing like the recourse to one’s “demons,” when you are not willing to put into more precise words what your transgressions are, why you did them, and the scale of damage you have wrought.
“Over the last year I’ve asked Lisa Bloom to tutor me and she’s put together a team of people.”
Tutor you in what? Both you and Lisa Bloom are canny PR operators, and you are producing her next TV project. “Team of people” is a phrase only a Hollywood person could use with a straight face. A “team of people” is what all celebrities and high-profile figures cruise with. They are emotional supports, cheerleaders, and—sadly too often—facilitators. Now there are “teams of people” for alleged sexual harassers? What do they all do? Is there a harassment nutritionist, a harassment therapist, a harassment astrologer, a harassment dog-walker? Who is on this team?
Tell us more about Lisa Bloom’s reform program for alleged sexual harassers. In my mind, I see a Willy Wonka-like chocolate factory contraption, with at one end a heterosexual man in a Don Draper suit, holding a tumbler of whisky, and patting a female secretary’s behind getting fed into the Bloom Correction Tube.
Out the other side, after a lot of cries from within of “It’s only a little bit of fun,” and “I’m the boss, do as I say” the offending male emerges in a male romper and a pink pussy hat, with a T-shirt saying “feminist.” The first words out of his new mouth are “safe space.” Success.
“I’ve brought on therapists and I plan to take a leave of absence from my company and to deal with this issue head on. I so respect all women and regret what happened. I hope that my actions will speak louder than words and that one day we will all be able to earn their trust and sit down together with Lisa to learn more.”
Therapy culture has invaded every part of our lives, and is the biggest sword and shield for a power-player on the ropes. “Say sorry” over and over again, until you say it even when going to the deli to buy milk. (Actually, one of your team probably has that covered.)
“I’ve brought on therapists” is like having a “team” of people. How many therapists should a shamed Hollywood bigshot need? A leave of absence is another calculated humbling gesture: bye-bye scene of alleged misdemeanor. “I so respect all women and regret what happened” is the most audacious response to the substance of the Times’ allegations, which speak of the total opposite kind of behavior.
His “actions” towards women may well speak louder than the words in this apology, and not in an ennobling light. And, again, we end with more therapy-speak with the “sitting down together” idea to “learn more.” Who is the "we"? Weinstein and his alleged victims? If so, isn't Weinstein the one with things to learn? He allegedly abused women. They were not deficient in their learning and their behavior. How is Lisa Bloom the key or fulcrum to learning more? What does she know about Weinstein and the women that we all don't?
“Jay Z wrote in 4:44 ‘I’m not the man I thought I was and I better be that man for my children.’”
No, he didn’t. As Spin magazine records, this lyric does not exist in 4:44. This does though: “And if my children knew/I don’t even know what I would do/If they ain’t look at me the same/I would prob’ly die with all the shame.”
Note to Weinstein and his crisis PRs: Do not misquote Jay-Z.
“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. I have goals that are now priorities. Trust me, this isn’t an overnight process. I’ve been trying to do this for 10 years and this is a wake-up call. I cannot be more remorseful about the people I hurt and I plan to do right by all of them.”
The clichés of atonement flow thick and fast, with "wake-up calls," and "remorseful" and "earning" back respect. The crisis PRs have obviously advised Weinstein that when apologizing in the first flush of scandal, apologize often and fulsomely. Just keep saying sorry.
Here we’ve got “second chances,” plus the self-adorned mantle of the outcast. But note, he doesn't want to stay out in the desert with his teams of therapists forever. Here, Weinstein is writing his own comeback narrative, where hard work will save him and restore his standing. How he will do that is unclear. But who cares. This a film guy, and this is equal parts Scrooge at the end of A Christmas Carol, and Rocky running up the 72 stone steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“I am going to need a place to channel that anger so I’ve decided that I’m going to give the NRA my full attention.”
A storyline twist, curiously worded. It means he’s going to get some target practice, or he’s going to get into guns? He’s going to go ape on the NRA? How? Why? To offset his own misdemeanors? To assert his liberal supremacy against the queen of right-wing baddies, even while he’s being accused of sexual harassment? Some might suggest that a boxing bag might be a better outlet for Weinstein’s anger. He may be handing the NRA a PR gift of their own.
“I hope Wayne LaPierre will enjoy his retirement party. I’m going to do it at the same place I had my Bar Mitzvah.”
Again, some very odd future storylining here. I think Weinstein means he’s going to wage a culture war on the NRA. How does he plan to forcibly retire the head of that organization? Will it involve Kate Winslet in a hood armed with a needle? We’re confused.
“I’m making a movie about our President, perhaps we can make it a joint retirement party.”
He has definitely lost his train of thought. Another storyline twist. Is this another liberal gauntlet being thrown down, this time against President Donald Trump? Does he hope something appropriately anti-Trump will endear him again to his Hollywood buddies and liberals generally? Why does he think that going super-liberal diminishes what he has been accused of?
Or is this possibly the world’s strangest party being planned? If the joint Trump-Weinstein retirement party comes to pass, the waitresses that night may want to borrow the costumes from A Handmaid’s Tale.
“One year ago, I began organizing a $5 million foundation to give scholarships to women directors at USC. While this might seem coincidental, it has been in the works for a year. It will be named after my mom and I won’t disappoint her.”
His litany of liberal assertiveness in the face of being accused of something thought of as anti-liberal (when, of course, liberals can be sexual harassers too!) concludes with a classic crisis PR 180-flip.
Having been accused of sexually harassing women, he will now set up a foundation to support women directors. Do the thing utterly opposite to what you stand accused of. See, I am a feminist! It was all an aberration!
If this foundation has been in the works for a year, why announce it now except as a bit of anti-venom for what Weinstein is currently enduring? If this has been on the books for so long, will the allegations being made public affect USC wanting Weinstein to front such a scholarship?
It is significant that Weinstein mentions not disappointing his mother in the last line—this determination written in relation to the scholarship in her name benefiting women, rather than disappointing her in being named in a scandal that casts a terrible light on his attitude to women. It is not the only thing in this curious apology left unsaid, most glaringly the sexual harassment that Weinstein has been accused of. That remains both unacknowledged and unapologized for.