Hollywood has been shaken by the public revelation that studio mogul Harvey Weinstein has been a serial sexual predator for decades. All manner of reaction has poured out of Dream Land, much of it negative and full of appropriate condemnation. One other common refrain, however, is far more revealing: many report Weinstein’s sexual attacks are well known, the entertainment industry’s open secret.
This is an amazing stance, given Hollywood’s desire to lecture us about societal comportment at any opportunity. If it was so well known, why did no one stop him? Complicity with Weinstein’s attacks is built into the industry. The power he wielded, and the professional largesse he could deliver, gave him power to dodge legal responsibility; and those rare times when trouble did erupt were quelled by throwing money and lawyers at the problem.
As much as the performers and producers were accessories to this behavior, another part of the industry is also guilty of inaction: The journalists who cover Hollywood.
The Outrage As Deflection
As the story first broke by The New York Times, quickly followed by a lengthy ten-month investigation by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker, one of the stark realities exposed was the length of time Weinstein got away with his monstrous behavior. The Times followed their report with an editorial filled with professional condemnation of the permissiveness enabling these crimes, and that was too much for Sharon Waxman.
Waxman is the publishing force behind The Wrap, one of Hollywood’s respected journalistic outlets. Days after the Times editorial, Waxman delivered a withering rebuttal, calling out the paper of record as guilty of the very same clemency towards the studio head. In 2004 Waxman was a reporter at the Times, and she conducted a lengthy investigation of Harvey’s sexual rapaciousness, centered in his European operations.
After submitting her work, the cinema titan visited the paper and threatened to pull advertising, and more. Waxman received personal calls on Harvey’s behalf from Russell Crowe and Matt Damon, imploring her to reconsider. Ultimately the Times gutted her report, removing the sexual components and burying the piece deep in the paper. Later Waxman moved on to develop The Wrap into a respected entertainment journalistic portal.
Since Waxman no longer had to answer to editorial management, why didn’t she break news of the scandal in the past decade? She addresses this in the epilogue of her article.
Five years later, 2009, the moment had passed to go back and write the missing piece about Lombardo, who was no longer on the scene and whose story had been half-published in the Times. Miramax was no longer part of the Walt Disney Company. And I did not have sufficient evidence to write about a pay-off, even though I knew one existed. My focus was on raising money, building a website and starting a media company. In the subsequent years since then I did not hear about further pay-offs or harassment and thought the issue was in the past. Weinstein had made a big effort, supposedly, to curb his temper and behavior, which was reflected in other areas of his public life.
That her original report had since evaporated is logical, but what of other tales of impropriety? Why did neither she nor her outlet investigate Weinstein further, especially given so many have declared his sexual misconduct as Hollywood’s “open secret”? An intrepid reporter could be professionally compelled to dig up details, and a journalist who had previously been immersed in the very subject would seem a natural to chase down the story.
Understanding why Waxman sidestepped this monolithic story involves what she described. Once Waxman went from a hungry reporter eager to build a name and reputation to a media baron establishing herself in the town where her industry is centered, her priorities apparently shifted. She was in a position not too dissimilar to the performers in town, eager to desperate to broaden their careers.
As Waxman laid the foundation of her news portal, she was involved in establishing contacts, building relationships, and getting her name out. She needed sources inside studio lots and relationships with agents. Shaking the tree by targeting one of the biggest names in the industry would be the opposite of what she needed to do to get her outlet off the ground.
In this way, entertainment reporters are in a position similar to that of sports journalists. If you look too deeply into controversial subjects, you are barred from locker rooms, denied interviews with players, and meet resistance from coaches and management. In Hollywood, studios can deny access to the set and future projects. Anger an actor and you anger the agent, then lose out on contact with all their clients. Thus a journalist has to comport herself accordingly, or find she is cut off from the very industry she is covering.
Prey to Play
One of the most comprehensive reports on Weinstein—in fact, the definitive coverage of his career—came from author Peter Biskind. His “Down And Dirty Pictures: Miramax, Sundance, and the Rise of Independent Film” was released in 2004.
Biskind was a chief editor at Premiere Magazine and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair. He had access, and as the title indicates his tome was Weinstein-rich. He gives numerous details on Harvey’s business practices, rise in the industry, and revolution in how studios campaign for Academy Awards. Biskind’s book frames Weinstein as a force of nature, a powerful influencer, and even a feared entity many considered menacing. Yet the book fails to touch on the sexual assault charges swirling around the man and his past.
That was by design. The Huffington Post reached out to Biskind to ask him about what today appears to be a drastic omission. “This is more of a business book,” explained the author. “I didn’t feel it was all that relevant to the subject I was writing about.” This, despite that we now know Weinstein’s predatory predilection was wound into his business practices.
Biskind even decided to avoid the subject when the mogul alluded to his troubles during an early meeting: “It was probably the first meeting I had with him, which I was trying to see if he would talk to me, essentially, so I was probably trying to reassure him that I wasn’t looking for that,” Biskind explained. “I guess I wanted to put him at ease to some degree because I wanted to interview him.” Don’t rock the boat, and you’ll be invited to go along on the cruise.
We even saw this self-interest on display as the sex scandal began to break open. When it was time for him to respond to the Times report, Weinstein was represented by entertainment lawyer Lisa Bloom. Bloom delivered the ridiculous defense that Weinstein was predisposed towards sexual aggression due to being reared during the free-love era of the 1960s.
What made this pathetic excuse all the more asinine was that Bloom has led sex assault cases against Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, and Donald Trump, all men from the very same era. So why would Bloom offer this wan defense? Possibly it, and Bloom’s subsequent departure from team Harvey, had to do with her book deal with The Weinstein Company.
It’s just another example of those looking at their professional interests over their self-interest. It seems likely more sex abuse cases will be revealed and revolutionize the entertainment complex. It may take longer than many expect to transpire. Given that entertainment journalists are so resistant to employ actual journalism on the cultural elites of this country, it will take the work of those on the outside to get these stories told. Whether it is the performers or their interviewers, we cannot count on those affected by the built-in corruption to deliver the harsh truth needed to clean up that industry.