Harvey Weinstein Bombshell An Opportunity & Obligation For More Conscientious Reporting
The explosive story about legendary Miramax mogul Harvey Weinstein’s silently sanctioned abuses continues to snowball beyond any reasonable expectations. Buzzfeed has published a still-not-comprehensive list of (presently) 39 women who have alleged that Weinstein sexually harassed, intimidated, or assaulted them. Among the accusers are ingenues Cara Delevingne — whose account includes profound and disturbing homophobic intimidation from Weinstein — and AAA-list movie stars destined to be Hollywood legends, including Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and women of veritably all walks of life in the entertainment industry.
The alleged abuses took place over decades, no different than the allegations against Bill Cosby (at least 59 women) and, yes, President of the United States of America Donald Trump (at least a dozen).
How could these things go unknown for so long? That question is the driver of the all-consuming conversation being had by pundits, news readers, and by everyday people on social media.
The New Yorker and journalist Ronan Farrow notably broke the media’s silence whenFarrow’s October 23 story revealed allegations that Weinstein had raped at least three women — an escalation beyond the often-bizarre harassment and intimidation previously reported. But why did it take so long?
Did The New York Times Keep Its Eyes Wide Shut For Too Long?
On October 8, Sharon Waxman, publisher of entertainment-news publication The Wrap,published a blog alleging that she had written a report of allegations against Weinstein in 2004 while working for the New York Times — and that the Times, which notably broke the Weinstein story this year, “gutted” the story when entertainment bigwigs pulled their weight to keep the facts from going public.
Questions abound. How and why did the New York Times kill the story in 2004, only to explode it 13 years later? Given that Waxman went on to found a magazine exclusively dedicated to entertainment, why the hell wouldn’t she use her own platform to shed light on the story? She has updated her blog with an explanation, which consists of several excuses — in essence, too much time had passed, she was busy building a business, and (the part that I find excruciatingly troubling) “Weinstein had made a big effort, supposedly, to curb his temper and behavior, which was reflected in other areas of his public life.” Given that last excuse, it’s a wonder the New York Times and the New Yorker reported on Weinstein’s abuses at all, since most of them occurred years ago. Waxman’s implication — to me, anyway — seems to be that she decided bygones are bygones. Never mind the women who had been violated in the past.
I’m not trying to demonize Sharon Waxman or anyone else, but I can’t deny, either, that there’s one through-line common to all of the background of the Harvey Weinstein event: Everyone’s got excuses for why, after 30 years, no one would report on the story.
This Just In: ‘Cowardice of The Press’
Today, the Guardian’s Peter Preston published a story called “Harvey Weinstein was protected for decades by the cowardice of the press.” Preston argues that the news organizations that ultimately published the accusations against Weinstein deserve credit — but that they only did so because of the current “cultural climate.” Preston is right.
The Harvey Weinstein story is what’s known as an “open secret.” Very open, in fact. TMZ recovered footage this week of Courtney Love warning about Weinstein back in 2005. On a red carpet, she was asked “Do you have any advice for young girls in Hollywood?” Love’s response: “Um. I’ll get libeled if I say it. If Harvey Weinstein invites you to a private party in the Four Seasons, don’t go.”
It was a blip on the radar with no follow up. Had anyone pursued what Love meant, can anyone seriously doubt that Love would have been crucified in the media by her reputed drug use and wacky public antics?
Preston’s discussion hits the proverbial nail on the head about one of the two important lessons from the Harvey Weinstein story. The first, obviously, is that Weinstein’s silently sanctioned abuses of women — like Cosby’s and Trump’s, I have to add — cannot be tolerated any longer. This is the discussion being had in the media. The second lesson, Preston’s point, is that the news media’s unconscionable ignorance of incredibly important stories cannot be tolerated any longer. If it’s true that Sharon Waxman tried to reveal the truth about Weinstein via the New York Times 12 years ago and the Timeskilled the story to protect Weinstein, that amounts to media corruption. And if it’s true, and Waxman forwent using her own publication to reveal the same facts, then she is complicit and pointing fingers at the Times is both warranted and completely hypocritical.
But this story is a story that needs to be pushed further, beyond Weinstein. What about Donald Trump? Who is responsible for discontinuing reports about his sexual abuse and intimidation? Did it simply become “old news”? What drove the decisions to stop reporting on these alleged crimes — extraordinary crimes?
What about this:
A couple of years ago, former child actor Corey Feldman published a book and went on a widespread, high-profile media tour in which he boldly discussed, in a no-holds-barred, unambiguous way, allegations that there is a vast network of pedophiles and an institutionalized culture of child sex abuse in the entertainment industry. Feldman was one of two popular young actors named Corey in the 1980s, the other being his best friend, Corey Haim, who died at age 38.
In the clip above, Feldman unabashedly states that there is a machine of child sex abuse throughout Hollywood. He says, “they’re still working, they’re still out there, and they’re still some of the richest and most powerful people in this business.” In case there was any ambiguity, this happened:
Barbara Walters: Are you saying that they’re pedophiles?
Barbara Walters: And they’re still in this business?
Barbara Walters: You’re damaging an entire industry!
Following the Weinstein revelations and public and media reaction, can we linger on Walters’s reaction for a moment? Please?
Beyond Hollywood And Washington: Even Health Stories Suffer From Media Bias, Lack of Transparency
The media have immense responsibility because the media have immense influence. From the New York Times to the Washington Post, from The New Yorker to Fox News to MSNBC, news editors and executives decide what stories deserve attention and what stories don’t. They also decide how to position these stories. This is personal to me and it has become astonishingly transparent since I’ve been looking into the Lyme disease epidemic, which is variably ignored by news organizations, or else grossly distorted and misrepresented in a way that is strikingly similar to that of the emerging HIV/AIDS epidemic. Editors and executives control what information is relayed and, therefore, what the public knows and believes. A health editor for a major newspaper of record, for example, who has a history of mocking, deriding and dehumanizing patients who live with a certain disease should not have jurisdiction over reporting of that disease — and yet she does. And when I asked to meet with her, or with other editors from the news organization, my inquiry was met with a rebuttal asserting this person’s credentials and awards, and then with silence.
Democracy dies in silence.
Indulge me for a moment as I say this, which may seem tangential. (It all comes full circle, I promise.) Lyme disease is a very real physical illness that devastates lives. Over 300,000 Americans contract it every year from ticks — many, many more people than have ever contracted the Zika virus. Zika is over-represented in news reports and in public health agency alarm calls, and Lyme disease is not only under-represented, but people who live with it are actively, commonly, frequently mocked by public health officials and by certain journalists.
The president health editor for the Washington Post, as a notable example, formerly served as health editor for Slate. At that time, she published a story that falsely and without any substantiation claimed that persisting Lyme disease does not exist and that “it’s much more likely to be depression, and depression is treatable.” In the body of the article, she irresponsible posthumously diagnoses an acquaintance of her brother who committed suicide as not having Lyme disease — which an actual medical diagnosed the woman as having — but rather as having untreated depression. She implies that medical malpractice resulted in the woman’s suicide. She calls Lyme disease patients “truthers” and calls Lyme disease patients in Virginia “conspiracy theorists.” And then escalating her attack to a bizarre non-sequitur, she suggests that people who live with Lyme disease are gullible buffoons who will be easily coerced to vote for Mitt Romney. I contracted Lyme disease in my home state of Virginia in 1997 at age 19. I never recovered, and now, at age 39, I live with what may be permanent multiple sclerosis-like neurological damage from a very real bacterial infection — not depression — that was inadequately treated 20 years ago. I am an independent voter, but I am without any question politically progressive — certainly not someone who would be easily swayed to vote for a Mitt Romney as this health editor claims — and I am exceedingly disturbed by the entire notion of this. That the person who wrote this story and this tweet now is a primary decision maker about what health stories are published in the Washington Post and how to present them is immensely concerning to me. In the spirit of Jake Tapper’s tweet, discussed below, I contacted this editor and requested a face-to-face meeting to discuss Lyme disease. No response. So I contacted other Washington Post editors. Two responses.
The first editor thanked me for the thorough letter and assured me that my concerns would be discussed during an editorial meeting.
The second editor, a deputy national editor, assured me that this editor has a “stellar career” and that “a five-year-old tweet isn’t proof of anything.”
I strongly disagree:
But does my opinion matter? Simply put, no. My opinion does not matter and my experiences do not matter. Why not? Because I am not in a position of power at an organization that holds great power, and as such, I am insignificant.
This, to articulate the relevance to the Weinstein story, is not a dissimilar power position to Weinstein’s versus the young ingenues whom he reportedly has preyed upon for three decades.
If an injustice has been committed, it simply does not matter. Weinstein, after all, has a stellar career. What he said and did five years ago are not proof of anything, don’t you understand? Harvey Weinstein has received an honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire and has been made a knight of the French Legion of Honour — so you see, he has a stellar career. The health editor above is presently president of the National Association of Science Writers board of directors — stellar career. Therefore, we can see, inquiries into ethical concerns simply do not matter.
But this time it’s about more than Lyme disease patients — or even victims of sexual predators. It’s about responsibility, decency, and conscience.
The unseen men behind the curtain at Twitter and Facebook have decided that Donald Trump may threaten nuclear war and encourage harassment of a young woman via Twitter to the point that his followers threaten to rape her, which they condone and enable. Donald Trump may libel or slander any and all responsible reporting as FAKE NEWS, and this is protected by both constitutional freedom of speech and Twitter’s terms of service (which are arguably more influential than constitutional guarantees in the Trump era).
At the same time, Twitter’s unknown, unseen Great Deciders suspended Rose McGowan, an alleged sexual abuse victim, for telling her truth on the same platform. Trump has suffered zero consequences for his alleged abusive actions against women, and zero consequences for his ongoing public assault via social media. None. Without any explanation other than the simple reality that certain people in certain positions of power get to decide what’s allowable and what’s punishable…some might say this power-without-transparency mechanism is a parallel to the dark power wielded by Cosby, Trump and Weinstein. But hey, whatachagonnado?
Jake Tapper, whose reporting I respect, posted a thread about media responsibility that is worth reading:
Tapper’s argument concludes that “If media reporters don’t push from outside and powerful people from the inside, nothing will change. This week we all saw lies…from news organizations tasked with telling us the truth, except when discussing their own internal corrupt behaviors. Demand better. ###”
Tapper is right.
And with his correct point in mind, I challenged Tapper to address a concern directly related to his principle: Glenn Greenwald reported in The Guardian in 2012 that in 2011, CNN — Jake Tapper’s employer — sent its Emmy Award-winning journalist Amber Lyon to Bahrain “to produce a one-hour documentary on the use of internet technologies and social media by democracy activists in the region.” Once there, Lyon discovered that the story assigned by her producers was not the real story that needed to be reported. Government corruption, intimidation, and “a thuggish regime” in Bahrain were the reality she encountered — but CNN wanted her to tell the story of Bahrain’s transformation into a burgeoning democracy. Experiencing cognitive dissonance, Lyon produced her story her way and, once home, was told that CNN International would not air her documentary. She asked her superiors why and received no answers. She pushed harder. And then this happened, according to Lyon’s and Greenwald’s accounts:
After Lyon’s crew returned from Bahrain, CNN had no correspondents regularly reporting on the escalating violence. In emails to her producers and executives, Lyon repeatedly asked to return to Bahrain. Her requests were denied, and she was never sent back. She thus resorted to improvising coverage by interviewing activists via Skype in an attempt, she said, “to keep Bahrain in the news”.
In March 2012, Lyon was laid off from CNN as part of an unrelated move by the network to outsource its investigative documentaries. Now at work on a book, Lyon began in August to make reference to “iRevolution” on her Twitter account, followed by more than 20,000 people.
On 16 August, Lyon wrote three tweets about this episode. CNNi’s refusal to broadcast “iRevolution”, she wrote, “baffled producers”. Linking to the YouTube clip of the Bahrain segment, she added that the “censorship was devastating to my crew and activists who risked lives to tell [the] story.” She posted a picture of herself with Rajab and wrote:
“A proponent of peace, @nabeelrajab risked his safety to show me how the regime oppresses the [people] of #Bahrain.”
The following day, a representative of CNN’s business affairs office called Lyon’s acting agent, George Arquilla of Octagon Entertainment, and threatened that her severance payments and insurance benefits would be immediately terminated if she ever again spoke publicly about this matter, or spoke negatively about CNN.
Greenwald alleges that the government of Bahrain had paid $32 million to a Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm, which may have influenced CNN to report positively on the regime that Lyon discovered firsthand to be abusive of its own citizens. Wrote Greenwald:
But CNN’s threat had the opposite effect to what was intended. Lyon insists she never signed any confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement with CNN in any case, but she is sanguine about any risk to her severance package. “At this point,” Lyon said, “I look at those payments as dirty money to stay silent. I got into journalism to expose, not help conceal, wrongdoing, and I’m not willing to keep quiet about this any longer, even if it means I’ll lose those payments.”
I tweeted Greenwald’s story to Jake Tapper in response to his long, profound multi-tweet statement about news media organizations and the journalists who work for them having a moral and ethical obligation to hold themselves accountable. Tapper didn’t respond. Perhaps he didn’t see the story or think it necessary to comment on his own employer’s allegedly corrupt behaviors.
Are Media Transparency and Accountability Attainable Goals?
It’s a question whose ideal answer (Yes!) may not have much of a place in practical reality.
Let’s take a little inventory of these isolated instances of media complexities and see if we can reach a verdict.
It’s difficult to argue that Twitter doesn’t have double standards for enforcement of its own terms of service. As a private company, it reserves this right. Nothing about how Twitter operates is particularly transparent, from the means through which it determines whether a user is worthy of its coveted blue checkmark icon, which according to Twitter verifies (read: validates) an account holder’s importance. Anyone can request the checkmark, but not just anyone can get it. It’s sort of like…well, getting a job at Miramax!
Twitter’s terms of service are enforced when actor Rose McGowan publicly posts someone’s phone number — but the company lets any standards of decency slide, even when a 70-year-old man (who happens to be the president of the United States) wages personal attacks against private citizens that inspire death threats or even rape threats against a teen girl. Twitter denies, of course, that its terms of service are not applied evenly across the board. (Note: Nazi Richard Spencer, who told ABC News journalist Juju Chang that his goal is an American ethnic cleansing that could be “very bloody,” to eliminate all nonwhite people from the country, boasts the coveted “verified” blue checkmark icon on Twitter.)
Verdict: Twitter seems to have no vested interest (OK, no interest at all) in accountability or social responsibility.
2. TV News
Given the single example above relating to allegations that CNN may have profited by doing propaganda for a foreign nation, and then fired, threatened and intimidated one of its own award-winning journalists for speaking out about what she felt was an ethical obligation, things aren’t looking good.
But CNN employee Jake Tapper’s words, at least, sound better. And they are more recent.
In light of the Weinstein scandal, it would be negligent not to mention the parallel events that we over the past year discovered happened (hopefully, the use of past tense here is appropriate) at Fox News. CEO Roger Ailes — the Weinstein of cable news? — was forced to quit after multiple allegations were made by women employees. (He was paid $45 million for his services on the way out the door.) Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, Bill Shine, Jesse Waters, and Charles Payne were also held to account for their abuses on the job. It’s good that they were held accountable…but how in the world did so many serial abusers stick around for so long in the first place?
Not even in light of the Weinstein scandal, what about that Barbara Walters interview with Corey Feldman, eh? Feldman claims that he and many of his child-actor cohorts were routinely sexually abused by “the richest and most powerful” people in Hollywood. The response of Walters — a television news titan at the time she was still working — came across as not incredulous, not even concerned about Feldman as a human being much less about his suggestion that child actors have been systematically raped and druggedfor years and presumably still are today. What Barbara Walters expressed concerned about was who she saw as the true victim in Feldman’s allegations: the entertainment industry. It’s alarming. To assign this same sentiment to anyone beyond Walters is impossible, but the fact that Feldman did the talk-show circuit and this bombshell was shrugged off by everyone, including the investigative reporters who have a duty to look into it, doesn’t bode ill just for the media but for humanity in general.
Verdict: Remains to be seen. But we should remember that cable news organizations are companies made for profit, and any for-profit enterprise will do all it can to protect is profiting enterprise. When necessary, this includes burying on-the-job abuses.
3. Print News Organizations and Magazines
To date, no major sexual abuse/intimidation/assault scandals have erupted alleging sexual abuse at traditional print/online news organizations. Other concerns have been raised, however.
I’ve sought out more transparent explanations of two major news organizations’ motives in demonizing or relaying patently biased information that directly affects the well being of Lyme disease patients — with zero response from anyone at either organization. Strike one. (I understand that no one cares about this unless they fall among the 300,000-plus Americans who contract Lyme disease each year…as one of those people, I care deeply, and it’s a big strike one for me.)
Sharon Waxman alleged that the New York Times killed a story over a decade ago that would have unveiled Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuses — and theoretically could have prevented who-knows-how-many further abuses? If true, strike two.
But then, when reasonably challenged on why Waxman — a mogul of sort herself by way of her Hollywood-focused The Wrap publication — never published the revelations when she had full editorial control, Waxman unfortunately flounders. If she felt she had an ethical responsibility when she worked at the Times, then do her excuses, below, justify her ongoing silence?
Several have asked why I did not pursue the story once I started TheWrap. Fair question. 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.
You decide for yourself, but I’m calling this strike three based on her suggestions that “the moment had passed” and “Weinstein had made a big effort…” With 39 women so far accusing Weinstein of intimidating, harassing, or sexual assaulting them…the moment doesn’t pass for their traumas.
Verdict: Three strikes, you’re out?
Eyes Wide Shut
I have been on a Stanley Kubrick bender over the past few weeks. Watching Eyes Wide Shut, which I now believe to be the most terrifying film ever made, in light of the Weinstein incidents and related media and public ignorance of what’s going on feels now to have been an act of accidental prescience. If you’re not familiar with the movie, Tom Cruise’s character is a wealthy New York City doctor who treats high-society clients. He is rich, but they have Trump-level, Weinstein-level, Cosby-level wealth and influence. What that means: They do anything they want — anything, terrifying things — and they get away with everything. When Cruise seemingly stumbles upon events that have the ultimate consequence for him and others…well, so as not to spoil anything or go into an unnecessary tangent, Cruise in the end learns to live with his eyes wide shut. When he discovers a disturbed reality, he — like Corey Feldman with Barbara Walters, the innocent, not the victim — is chastised for acknowledging corruption and abuse. Kubrick for his part ingeniously — just as he did with 2001: A Space Odyssey — builds into the movie such a world that shows us what the unwitting characters experience as we unwittingly experience exactly the same thing. It’s a fitting parable for how the media operates.
All of us choose every day to live with our eyes wide shut. This means the consumers of news as well as the writers and producers and funders of news.
Jake Tapper Is Right…And?
Tapper’s Twitter rant the other day ended with this: “This week we all saw lies…from news organizations tasked with telling us the truth, except when discussing their own internal corrupt behaviors. Demand better.”
Jake Tapper is right. Amber Lyon demanded better from his employer, CNN, and she was fired and threatened on her way out the door according to her own account. I wonder whether Tapper would be willing to discuss that story and potential internal ethical compromises at CNN.
Sharon Waxman may be right in holding her former employer, the New York Times, accountable for caving to pressure not to run her expose on Harvey Weinstein. Paradoxically, if she is right about that, then she accidentally revealed via her revelation that she is equally guilty for keeping the story buried for myriad reasons whose ends don’t convincingly justify her means.
If Corey Feldman’s accusations of an institutionalized Hollywood pedophilia culture, then he is right to shed light on it. Unfortunately, in this culture that claims to put children’s safety and well being above all else, nobody cares. And some, like Barbara Walters, openly blame Feldman for opening his mouth and potentially injuring the very industry that allegedly abused him.
Donald Trump’s victims, if their stories are true — and following his accidental Access Hollywood confession, it’s difficult to think they aren’t — are right. But they don’t have a case because no one, not even the executives at Twitter, are willing to go out on a limb to hold that dangerous man accountable.
And yes, I must say that those of us who have suffered incredibly with Lyme disease, which is systematically downplayed or ignored, and whose victims are consistently mocked and derided, are justified both in demanding better treatment and in holding accountable those who contribute to diminishing our lives.
These are a lot of disparate concerns that warrant discussion and investigation. More than anything else, they make me wonder how many other totally unrelated abuses exist in this world that would benefit from media coverage, but which are outcompeted by Donald Trump’s crazy antics, nutty spin stories from Kellyanne Conway, or months-long speculation about where a missing airplane has been hiding. (Note: Hours of CNN airtime probably could have been dedicated to important investigations of, say, child sexual abuse rings or the rapidly spreading tickborne disease pandemic in lieu of speculating whether a roving black hole has been swallowing up airplanes. Alas.)
Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. We don’t live in a mostly ethical or sensible world. We live in a world for profit, and profit-seeking enterprises as a rule do not specialize in doing the right thing.