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On Tuesday the New Yorker published Ronan Farrow’s expose of Harvey Weinstein, describing in detail the famous Hollywood producer’s long history of sexual abuse and assaults of actresses and other women in the movie industry. Coming on the heels of a New York Times article published last Thursday about Weinstein, the Farrow article seems to clinch the case against a major figure in the world of entertainment, media, and politics.
The question is why, after years of protecting Weinstein, did the American press publish two pieces about him in less than a week? Was it because after stories detailing the sex scandals of other famous and powerful men—among others, Donald Trump, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and Bill Cosby—the political and entertainment media realized it was time at last to clean its own house?
We will come in short order to the role played by the media, including the two outlets that published accounts of Weinstein’s depredations. We shall see that these press institutions hardly merit the victorious campaign pennants that their media peers have hung from their windows. There is only one champion in this story: Ronan Farrow.
“He's very, very smart,” says a journalist friend who has met Ronan Farrow socially. “And he's a very, very well-trained graduate of the best law school in America, Yale. And obviously, his entire existence was at stake here. This is what real journalism looks like, remember?”
Imagine what the world looks like if you believe yourself—with some reason—to be Frank Sinatra’s son. He’s the only man your mother, Mia Farrow, really loved. Sinatra was a womanizer, sure. But he really liked women. I mean, listen to how he owns the lyrics in songs such as, among others, “The Way You Wear Your Hat,” or “The Lady is a Tramp.” In his phrasing there’s so much wit and—the signature of respect—observation. There’s so much noticing of women and their charming, winning ways. Sure, he put them on pedestals. That’s one reason your mother loved the man, from whom you, like all American men worth the name, learned one inviolable, gem-like thing—men protect women.
The man who was putatively your father, Woody Allen, left her and hurt her. He shamed her in public when he took with him your adopted sister. As a parting gift, he left nude pictures of her, a teenager, around the house. Your other sister, Dylan, says that he molested her. You’re thinking this is unacceptable, all of it.
I am willing to bet that the second-most hated man in the Farrow household was Harvey Weinstein. After Mia Farrow banished Woody Allen from the herd, it was Miramax, the company the Weinsteins founded, that helped revive his career in 1994 when it distributed Bullets Over Broadway. Who knows what turned Ronan Farrow’s attention to Harvey Weinstein ten months ago when he started reporting the story? Maybe he heard an actress, maybe a number of them, describing what Harvey had done to them. Maybe, after the movie industry refused to listen to Dylan Farrow and continued to honor Woody Allen, Ronan Farrow decided to go after Woody’s protector.
When the Weinsteins heard that Ronan Farrow was coming for them, reporting a big story for NBC, they got nervous. He wasn’t just a journalist, he was royalty: As the son of one of the world’s most famous actresses, he has his own power base in celebrity-world. The women Harvey abused would freely invest in Ronan Farrow the confidence they would not afford your average journalist, because he was family. Plus, he was smart, charming, handsome, charismatic, and motivated. Very motivated. The Weinsteins knew they weren’t going to be able to buy him off by optioning one of his tweets for a major motion picture.
So the Weinsteins moved into damage control mode, a routine that, after three decades, they had down pat. They threatened Farrow with a lawsuit. But it was NBC executives who flinched and killed the story, claiming it wasn’t “publishable, that it wasn’t ready to go.” But of course it was. Among other things, Farrow had Weinstein on tape.
When Farrow then took the story to the New Yorker, the Weinsteins—or perhaps just Bob—tossed the future of the Weinstein Company’s ability to make movies into the end zone hoping for a miracle. Harvey’s history—or parts of it—including a damning in-house memo about Harvey’s mistreatment of women were leaked to the press. As TMZ reports, Harvey has evidence it was his own brother who provided the New York Times with a dossier about his misdeeds. Bob says his brother is a “‘very sick man’ who's slinging fake stories to deflect from his own misdeeds.”
Harvey definitely is a very sick individual. But he’s also quite savvy in covering up his misdeeds, so he is likely not wrong here. It would be Bob’s leaking the file that plausibly explains why two similar stories about Harvey dropped nearly simultaneously: The first article, the Times story, would seem to be part of Bob’s campaign to limit the damage that Farrow’s piece was certain to cause—or even pre-empt it.
Read the Times story again. Viewed through this lens it looks like a sanitized info dump, a PG-rated version of Farrow’s piece, absent all of the most sickening details and—most importantly—criminal accusations.
According to the Times, Harvey Weinstein is a gross, lecherous, slob who leverages his power over actresses and women in the industry to get them to give him massages or make them watch him shower. He’s nasty, sure, but nothing a few sessions of sex addiction therapy in Europe won’t cure. Now everyone can get back to their lives—which, as Harvey says in his statement, confessing to being a guy in need of help, should include fighting the NRA and, naturally, resisting Trump.
The Times piece is about sexual harassment, which warrants a slap on the wrist, public atonement, and very public donations to women’s causes.
Farrow’s article is about a rapist.
So why couldn’t the Weinsteins get the piece killed at the New Yorker? Because David Remnick, unlike the clowns at NBC, is a real journalist, right? A throwback to the old days when reporters understood their job was to print the truth no matter the cost?
Maybe. Though don’t forget that the editor of the New Yorker was also the author of a biography of a sitting president. Which means that Remnick cashed a publisher’s check to write a laudatory book about a man his magazine was supposed to be covering critically.
Had the New Yorker displeased Obama—yes, I realize we’re only talking about pie-in-the-sky hypotheticals—the White House could have cut off Remnick’s access. And poof—no book. In a different age, that transaction would be construed as bribery. But in today’s media environment, Barack Obama would have had to sign the publisher’s check himself for anyone to take notice of the conflict of interest.
So no. The New Yorker is no longer known for its reporting. During the Obama years, it was part of the White House stenography corps. Now with Trump in office, the magazine Harold Ross founded is a spearhead of the “resistance”—a position authorized by Remnick’s past work as Moscow correspondent, which ostensibly provides him with the inside dope on Trump’s alleged collusion with Vladimir Putin to steal the 2016 presidential election away from Hillary Clinton.
No, it’s only the fact that Ronan Farrow walked into the office and handed the magazine a gift that the New Yorker looks honest this week. And even then it is only a freak confluence of events that kept Farrow’s exposé out of the kill zone.
Imagine the conversations inside the Condé Nast building had his report come to the New Yorker, say, a year ago. After Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter fails to convince Remnick to drop the piece, he calls their boss, Si Newhouse:
David is trying to destroy my magazine, Carter tells the Condé Nast owner. If the Weinsteins go under, I’m going to lose at least six big cover stories this year—and forget the Oscar party. I make money for the company, Si, and he doesn’t.
But Si Newhouse died two weeks ago, and Graydon Carter resigned in September. The only two people in the building who could have protected Weinstein were gone.
What other levers could Harvey’s people reach for? What about the Democratic party’s 2016 presidential candidate, for whom he raised lots of money? Let me get this right, Clinton’s publicist would’ve said—so the secretary is now in the opening paragraph of Farrow’s article vouching for the reputation of a sex criminal? Fat chance.
The reality is that Clinton would not have been able to kill a story she very much wanted to keep out of the public sphere for fear it would revive the specter of her husband’s serial depredations. And that’s why even after the Times story broke last Thursday she waited until Tuesday to denounce Weinstein—“I was shocked and appalled by the revelations about Harvey Weinstein,” she said, sounding like a character in a famous movie.
Like the Weinsteins, Hillary must have hoped that the Times story was going to limit the damage. She didn’t know how bad it really was because no one at the New Yorker provided the press operatives employed by the most famous woman in America with the bare courtesy of an advance copy of the Farrow article.
Why should they have? The New Yorker is an Obama shop, whose loyalty to the 44th president was bought when he agreed to sit for Remnick’s admiring bio. Sure, the Democrats all wanted Clinton to win. But there’s a price to be paid for losing—especially since the Democrats had a massive advantage with the media on its side. (And lots more money, thanks to donors like Weinstein.) Now the progressive wing of the party is looking for scalps.
Understandably, Clinton allies—the people in media, politics, and entertainment, who sustained and profited from this institution for nearly three decades—are in denial. Tina Brown, my old boss at Talk, writes that Harvey Weinstein, her former partner, is like Trump.
Clinton fans will love that sick burn. But Brown’s failure to include the 42nd president in a roster of male sexual predators is at once both evidence of repression and a tacit admission that Bill Clinton no longer exists. This is the political component of the Weinstein story—a tale of the death of one political institution and the rise of another in its place.
That’s normal. But the portrait this scandal paints of the press isn’t normal—it’s ugly. The Weinstein story is not about the heroic media finally rising to the occasion and bringing down a bad guy. Rather, it’s a story about the stench of corruption and decay arising from the grave of the institutional press.
But oh yes, the story has a hero, too. And dig this—it’s a guy who’s got to be Frank Sinatra’s son.
Last update on by Wesley Walcott.