Film mogul Harvey Weinstein and President Donald Trump have become late-night TV’s newest, albeit unwitting, comedy duo.
As Seth Meyers recently pointed out, both are powerful men accused by multiple women of sexual harassment. Both were caught on tape saying things to and about women that should have ensured they’d never make it a step further in their respective fields. Both found success despite years of rumored bad behavior, until one ended up running Hollywood and the other the United States of America.
So what’s the punchline?
Weinstein’s career was destroyed when an article chronicling dozens of women’s claims of sexual misconduct by the producer was published in the New York Times, followed by the public release of an NYPD sting recording of him coercing and threatening a model/actress.
Trump was voted into the White House despite an article chronicling a dozen women’s claims of sexual misconduct by the reality star was published in the New York Times, around the same time a recording was publicly released of him admitting to sexually assaulting women.
“Saying it’s 'locker room talk' does not excuse it," Stephen Colbert said recently of Trump’s explanation for the “grab ’em” line on the “Access Hollywood” tape. "That's like Harvey Weinstein saying” — of one of the claims made against the producer — “ ‘masturbated in potted plants? That's just greenhouse talk.’ ”
Ironically it was Trump’s win, a victory that seemed to signal it would be another generation before anyone took claims of sexual assault seriously, that’s set the stage for the downfall of Weinstein, and the other media untouchables who’ve gone down since Trump went up.
The president may not even be immune to the ripple effect of his win. It was reported by BuzzFeed over the weekend that Summer Zervos, a former “The Apprentice” contestant who accused Trump of harassment during his run for office, has subpoenaed documents held by his presidential campaign regarding other harassment and assault allegations leveled against him. It’s a move likely to renew interest in the women’s allegations against Trump.
Compared to the last half-century of isolated, “he said / she said (he ultimately wins)” cases, it feels as if we’ve hit warp speed over the past 18 months, where giants in their respective fields are succumbing to allegations of sexual harassment behavior that used to be business as usual: Consider the resignations of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, Fox host Bill O’Reilly, Sony’s Epic Records CEO L.A. Reid and last week’s swift suspension of Amazon Studios chief Roy Price.
Whether you believe Trump’s accusers or not, they’ve expanded conversations about what was happening in the workplace and during business negotiations, picking up where so many of Bill Cosby’s accusers were dismissed. It dovetails with other accounts from corners of the tech, gaming and music worlds, where women are comparing notes on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter about their experiences, identifying possible serial predators.
Their unprecedented numbers have forced the media and corporations to face a problem stamped “not urgent” ever since women began to leave the kitchen for the workforce.
There are certainly more bombshell cases to come — powerbrokers, celebrities and other too-famous-to-fail figures, now lying low, asking Alexa to explain U.S. extradition laws and the Cayman Islands.
Weinstein’s demise, however, is a watershed moment in a watershed year, a dramatic reminder of another type of climate change brought on by decades of men behaving badly.
It helped that A-list celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Angelina Jolie came forward to reveal similar stories to those published, alerting the rest of the nation to an open secret that Hollywood kept under wraps for decades. Their added voices forced an industry that’s protected Weinstein for decades to finally protect itself from him, leading to his firing by the company he founded.
How very Roger Ailes.
And make no mistake, no matter how much Kellyanne Conway or anyone else wants to make sexual harassment — or the media’s handling of it — a partisan issue (who’s more depraved, more hypocritical), covering up this sort of bad behavior is one area where the left and right share common ground.
NBC was just as unwilling to release the Trump “Access Hollywood” tape or hours of raw “Apprentice” footage during the presidential campaign as it was to back reporting that exposed major Democratic donor Weinstein. The Trump tape was leaked to the Washington Post and NBC’s investigative correspondent Ronan Farrow ended up taking his Weinstein story to the New Yorker, where it was published last week along with the NYPD sting tape.
It was one time Weinstein couldn’t bully his way out of the problem. And that’s another piece of rare common ground between these political opposites. Trump and Weinstein mastered what Meyers calls “a performance of dominance” — over males and females alike. In simpler terms, the propensity to bully.
Trump’s verbal emasculation of Jeff Sessions and Rex Tillerson, Weinstein’s infamous derogatory tirades against those who crossed him, including his own brother, Bob — these are the acts of men who think strength is won by tearing people down.
But even as the current White House occupant continues to unleash his fury on Twitter, times are changing — as dozens if not hundreds of women’s voices attest. Bullies beware in this new climate, where it’s Harvey who’s wiped out by a Category 5 called Progress.
This article was updated to correct a misspelling of Cayman Islands.