Harvey Weinstein has been accused of sexual harassment or assault by more than 100 women. In early November one of his alleged victims, Asia Argento, shared a Google doc that listed allegations spanning over three decades. To many—probably to most—this feels like an insurmountable amount of affirmation, with many of the testimonies outlining eerily similar scenarios. On top of the sheer weight of these women’s stories, there are numerous reported pieces that have panned out from the sexual-assault allegations, examining alleged techniques of spying, intimidating victims, sabotaging careers and buying silence. These sinister machinations paint a damning picture of a man hell-bent on maintaining his power over and access to vulnerable women, whatever the cost.
These pieces also raise serious questions about the people in Weinstein’s employ: colleagues and subordinates who have surfaced on a spectrum from forced complicity to unforgivable cruelty.
In the wake of The New York Times’ damning exposé, Weinstein has become the prototypical Bad Man of the #MeToo movement. Still, even after all of the accusations and the in-depth analyses of his “complicity machine,” Weinstein still has people working around the clock to issue his denials. Post-Lisa Bloom, the distinct dishonor of releasing statements on behalf of Harvey Weinstein has largely fallen to Sitrick and Company.
According to Sitrick and Company’s website, the communication firm “is best known for its work in sensitive, make-or-break situations”; it’s boasted high-profile clients like Tommy Lee, Chris Brown, Paris Hilton, and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein (not to mention the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which reportedly hired the firm to help it with its own sexual-misconduct scandal). Holly Baird, a senior associate at Sitrick and Company, confirmed to The Daily Beast that it began working on Weinstein’s case around Oct. 6, the weekend before Ronan Farrow’s New Yorker piece was published. The firm, she says, “is retained through and works alongside of Harvey Weinstein’s legal team. All comments are coordinated with and cleared by same.”
Weinstein’s decision to seek even more professional help is unsurprising, given the rambling, confusing nature of his initial response to the shocking allegations. In a lengthy statement sent to The New York Times, Weinstein wrote 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.” While he didn’t get much more specific than that in terms of addressing the accusations, he did outline his “journey” to “learn about myself and conquer my demons,” with the help of Lisa Bloom and therapy. He continued, “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,” going on to cite a fabricated Jay-Z quote: “I’m not the man I thought I was and I better be that man for my children.” He concluded with his plans to “give the NRA my full attention” as well as focusing on his “$5 million foundation to give scholarships to women directors at USC.”
The disgraced movie mogul was a bit more specific in a subsequent Page Six interview responding to the Times piece. According to Page Six, “Of the accounts in the story, he declined to go into specifics about what was true or false.” However, Weinstein did call out one of his alleged victims, saying, “I know Ashley Judd is going through a tough time right now, I read her book [her memoir All That Is Bitter and Sweet], in which she talks about being the victim of sexual abuse and depression as a child. Her life story was brutal, and I have to respect her. In a year from now, I am going to reach out to her.”
As The Daily Beast reported, a previous version of Weinstein’s Page Six interview was far more aggressive, with the producer insisting that he “never laid a glove on [Judd].” Weinstein continued, “After this supposed incident, which she says was in 1997 while filming Kiss the Girls, I took her to an Academy Award party where we were photographed smiling.” The article now reads, “After the alleged incident, which Judd told the Times was while filming Kiss the Girls, she appeared at an Academy Awards party where she was photographed with Weinstein.”
On Oct. 10, Ronan Farrow published an extensive report in The New Yorker, which mentioned a host of new accusers. Sallie Hofmeister, a senior executive at Sitrick and Company, was quoted in the piece as a spokesperson for Weinstein. In response to Farrow’s reporting, Hofmeister issued the following statement: “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances. Mr. Weinstein obviously can’t speak to anonymous allegations, but with respect to any women who have made allegations on the record, Mr. Weinstein believes that all of these relationships were consensual. Mr. Weinstein has begun counseling, has listened to the community and is pursuing a better path. Mr. Weinstein is hoping that, if he makes enough progress, he will be given a second chance.”
Acting on behalf of Harvey Weinstein, Sitrick and Company has used similar language on multiple occasions. Their carefully crafted responses have repeatedly emphasized that the ousted producer “categorically denies” any and all “allegations of nonconsensual sex.” Furthermore, these spokespeople have denied accusations of attempted blacklisting and retribution. According to one late November statement, “Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances.”
As The Washington Post’s Amy Wang noted, as women have continued to come forward with their own Weinstein stories, ranging from sexual harassment to assault, “His team has hewed to generic rebuttals that do not name the accusers.” For example, an Oct. 27 Ronan Farrow article that reported new accusations from Annabella Sciorra and Daryl Hannah received the following response from Sallie Hofmeister: “Mr. Weinstein unequivocally denies any allegations of non-consensual sex.” These generic statements stand in contrast to the one that was issued when Lupita Nyong’o accused Weinstein of harassment in a mid-October New York Times essay: “Mr. Weinstein has a different recollection of the events, but believes Lupita is a brilliant actress and a major force for the industry. Last year, she sent a personal invitation to Mr. Weinstein to see her in her Broadway show Eclipsed.”
“The statement as a whole has raised eyebrows from many who have suggested there was a racial element to singling Nyong’o out, while remaining silent or issuing generic denials regarding his more than 40 other accusers,” Wang concluded. “Nyong’o is, so far, the only black woman to have accused Weinstein of inappropriate sexual harassment.”
Eyebrows were undoubtedly raised even higher when Weinstein’s team issued a lengthy statement contesting Salma Hayek’s recent accusations of sexual harassment and bullying. “Mr. Weinstein regards Salma Hayek as a first-class actress and cast her in several of his movies, among them Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Dogma, and Studio 54. He was very proud of her Best Actress Academy Award nomination for Frida and continues to support her work,” Weinstein’s spokesperson asserted. The statement continued, “As in most collaborative projects, there was creative friction on Frida, but it served to drive the project to perfection. The movie opened in multiple theaters and was supported by a huge advertising campaign and an enormous Academy Awards budget.”
The statement went on to contest Hayek’s assertion that Weinstein all but forced her into a sex scene by threatening to shut down the film if his demands weren’t met. “Mr. Weinstein does not recall pressuring Salma to do a gratuitous sex scene with a female costar and he was not there for the filming. However, that was part of the story, as Frida Kahlo was bisexual and the more significant sex scene in the movie was choreographed by Ms. Hayek with Geoffrey Rush. The original uni-brow used was an issue because it diverted attention from the performances. All of the sexual allegations as portrayed by Salma are not accurate and others who witnessed the events have a different account of what transpired.”
Hayek recalled Weinstein disparaging her and her colleagues’ work at every turn, repeatedly attempting to sabotage or denigrate what would go on to be an Oscar-winning film. Weinstein’s reaction to this accusation curiously fails to hide the very artistic contempt that Hayek so thoroughly chronicled. “By Mr. Weinstein’s own admission,” the statement read, “his boorish behavior following a screening of Frida was prompted by his disappointment in the cut of the movie—and a reason he took a firm hand in the final edit, alongside the very skilled director Julie Taymor.”
Weinstein’s team further questioned Hayek’s “assertion that Frida opened in one theatre,” offering a Box Office Mojo link as evidence that it opened in five theaters in limited release.
When asked about the uber-specific responses to the allegations made by two women of color—Lupita Nyong’o and Salma Hayek—Holly Baird insisted that “there isn’t a conspiracy.” The Sitrick and Company senior associate told The Daily Beast that the firm hopes to respond to every allegation against Weinstein, and pushed back against the implication that certain women have been cherry-picked for a response.
While some relatively recent Weinstein statements continue to categorically deny any and all non-consensual contact, there have been a number of specific responses as of late. Last week, Weinstein’s spokespeople issued statements calling into question accounts by both Salma Hayek and director Peter Jackson. After Jackson recalled in an interview being warned by Miramax against casting alleged victims Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino, Weinstein’s spokespeople questioned the account, claiming, “While Bob and Harvey Weinstein were executive producers of the film they had no input into the casting whatsoever.”
“Secondly,” the statement continued, “until Ashley Judd wrote a piece for Variety two years ago, no one at the company knew that she had a complaint and she was cast in two other films by Mr. Weinstein [Frida and Crossing Over] and Mira Sorvino was always considered for other films as well. There was no indication that Mira Sorvino had any issues until Mr. Weinstein read about the complaints in the news.”
It concluded, “As recently as this year, Mira Sorvino called Mr. Weinstein and asked if her husband could be part of the SEAL television series [Six] he was producing and Mr. Weinstein cast him; when Christopher Backus received a better offer, Mr. Weinstein allowed him to amicably break his contact to peruse the opportunity.”
In light of these responses, it will be interesting to see if every future allegation is met with a specific statement, or if only certain accusers will merit an in-depth denial.