Harvey Weinstein's Alleged Media Protectors Under Increasing Fire

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Credit: Variety

A couple things to note about Variety's just-released Harvey Weinstein cover story:

First, the cover itself—a illustration (by Peter Strain) of disgraced movie mogul Weinstein, looking somehow both defiant and defeated, together with an eerily spot-on headline: "GAME OVER."

Second, one particular passage in the story, which appears online under the headline "Judgment Day: Harvey Weinstein Scandal Could Finally Change Hollywood's Culture of Secrecy." Brent Lang and Elizabeth Wagmeister write,

In Weinstein's case, watchdog institutions failed. One former associate of his noted that in the past he used his connections to kill or gut negative stories, calling up publishers or leaning on editors who were part of his social circle, and coercing them with either the promise of exclusives to come or the threat of litigation. That didn't work in the case of The New York Times and The New Yorker, both of which broke key elements of the abuse and assault stories ...

OK, so Weinstein's power to suppress stories "didn't work in the case of The New York Times and The New Yorker"—so where did it work?

HuffPost's Jason Cherkis and Maxwell Strachan suggest that it worked at Variety, for one. In a story headlined "The Most Powerful Journalist In Hollywood Protected Harvey Weinstein For Years" (subhead: "In the 1990s, Peter Bart turned Variety into one of the most powerful institutions in Hollywood. In doing so, he helped turn Harvey Weinstein into another"), Cherkis and Strachan maintain that under Peter Bart's editorship (1989–2009) of Variety, the publication shied away from negative coverage of Weinstein's studio Miramax, citing unnamed former Variety staffers. One pointed line in the piece reads,

In 1997, Michael Evans, the New York advertising sales director for the magazine, told The New York Times that Miramax had purchased about 40 percent of all Oscar ads in Variety's weekly edition.

For his part, Bart didn't exactly mount a compelling self-defense to HuffPost's accusations. Cherkis and Strachan write,

In an email to HuffPost, Bart called the charge that he had ever banned negative stories about Weinstein "ridiculous." "Anyone checking Variety could find an abundance of negative pieces on Miramax," he wrote. Reading through Variety's archives, the coverage appeared overwhelmingly positive. When we asked Bart for critical stories he was most proud of, he said he didn't have time to cooperate fully. "I have meetings and screenings tomorrow and I won't be able to do this intelligently," he responded. "Besides which I don't see a need to defend myself against anonymous critics."

In a recent New York Times column, Jim Rutenberg wrote of "something akin to a protection racket" at play in Hollywood:

This is the network of aggressive public relations flacks and lawyers who guard the secrets of those who employ them and keep their misdeeds out of public view. The racket is a formidable opponent for anyone who is trying to expose the truth. It uses everything at its disposal to wear down reporters or break their wills, either by wooing them with invitations to premieres, access to stars and, in some cases, possible book and movie deals. If the charm offensive doesn't work, it may resort to smears and legal action.

The tricky thing about trying to figure this all out in regard to Weinstein is that, with any publication, who's to say—especially years after the fact—why a particular story wasn't published? How do you parse the relative worthiness of a story that doesn't even exist?

In the end, what might be more telling (and terrifying): stories that were published about Weinstein's critics and would-be accusers. Here I'll circle back to a passage in Ronan Farrow's New Yorker story, in the section about Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, who went to the police in March 2015 after she says Weinstein groped her breasts. Farrow writes,

Multiple sources said that Weinstein frequently bragged about planting items in media outlets about those who spoke against him; these sources feared similar retribution. Several pointed to Gutierrez's case: after she went to the police, negative items discussing her sexual history and impugning her credibility began rapidly appearing in New York gossip pages.

In other words, Weinstein not only had media protectors, but media henchmen.

Think about that for a moment: For every negative story about Weinstein that wasn't published, how many negative stories about his targets were published?

How the hell are we supposed to navigate that hall of mirrors?

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