There are so many things about the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment revelations that are distressing and familiar that I hardly know where to start.
But let me try.
Weinstein is a 65-year-old married movie mogul who has been accused of sexually harassing women who work for him or have wanted to work for him over a period of nearly three decades. He is a man who can make and break careers, whose power has sometimes seemed infinite, whose temper is volcanic, and whose deft touch with stories and marketing has resulted in numerous Oscars.
In a blockbuster New York Times story published Thursday, reporters Jodi Kantor and Meghan Twohey interviewed Weinstein employees and actresses who said the producer invited them into his plush hotel rooms on the pretext of discussing work, then would ask for naked massages, make unwanted physical advances or request that they watch him shower.
The harassment was so pervasive and well-known among staff at his companies — Miramax, then the Weinstein Co. — that women would double up for protection when they had to go see him, according to the New York Times. It was also, if Twitter is to be believed, an open secret in Hollywood.
Some of his staff, it was reported, were required to participate in “turndown duty” for him at bedtime or to help get him up in the morning. Weinstein has denied the accusations and told the New York Post that the New York Times is engaged in a vendetta against him.
I have always argued that power, particularly the Hollywood strain, infantilizes. Success in Hollywood frequently reduces fully grown adults to narcissistic babies.
Babies have no self-control. They scream and cry when they get mad. Their needs are uninhibited. Gratification must be instant. Weinstein may be a talented moviemaker. But he is also just another overgrown Hollywood man-baby.
Weinstein’s behavior is also an excellent example of the hypocrisy that is so rampant in Hollywood — and politics, for that matter.
He is a liberal Democrat who publicly champions women’s rights and professional advancement but demeans and exploits them in private. (And yes, I do include Bill Clinton on that list.) The conservative equivalent is the anti-abortion crusader who privately urges his mistress to abort an inconvenient pregnancy or the “devout” Christian who ditches his sick wife to marry his mistress.
Say what you will about right-wing harassers such as Bill O’Reilly and the late Roger Ailes, both of whom fell from lofty perches at Fox News after revelations about sexual harassment: At least their victims got substantial sums for their suffering.
The notoriously tight-fisted Weinstein apparently even pinched pennies when he was coughing up cash to make his problems go away. The New York Times documented at least eight harassment settlements against Weinstein, with paltry reported payouts of between $80,000 and $150,000 hidden behind nondisclosure agreements.
That’s depressing, too.
After the story broke Thursday, Weinstein’s lawyer threatened to sue the New York Times for defamation. And yet Weinstein himself issued an apology for the “pain” he has caused.
“I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s,” he began, “when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then. I have since learned it is not an excuse.”
Well, I was sentient in the ’70s, and I don’t remember it being OK to strip naked in front of female employees and ask for massages. Even if it was a common practice in Hollywood when he was young and relatively powerless, blaming the culture is as disingenuous as explaining away racism as a generational artifact.
I called David Wexler, the San Diego psychologist who wrote “When Good Men Behave Badly,” and I was kind of surprised when he told me that he thought Weinstein has a point there.
“As long as he’s willing to recognize that this isn’t the only factor that contributed to the pattern of behavior,” said Wexler, who is more forgiving than I. “I think there is some value in looking at the social forces that shaped him.”
Weinstein, who is taking a leave of absence from his namesake studio, said he has enlisted the help of feminist attorney Lisa Bloom, who has “put together a team of people” to “tutor” him. “My journey will be to learn about myself,” he said, “and conquer my demons.”
Why do you need a team to help you figure out that you took advantage of subordinates and got caught? That’s a job for a shrink, not a bunch of feminists.
He’s “an old dinosaur learning new ways,” Bloom said in a statement she posted on Twitter. That is a jaw-dropping excuse for workplace sexual misbehavior, even if, as she wrote, “he disputes many of the allegations.”
Would Bloom, daughter of the iconic feminist attorney Gloria Allred, have used that excuse for Donald Trump and O’Reilly, whose accusers she has famously represented in sexual harassment complaints? They’re even older dinosaurs than Weinstein.
Anyway, what kind of signal does a statement like that send to victims, especially coming from an attorney who has made a reputation standing up for women’s rights?
Maybe she’s willing to help Weinstein change his ways because she has business ties to him. Weinstein, along with Jay-Z, is using a book Bloom wrote about the Trayvon Martin case as source material for a miniseries, according to the Hollywood Reporter. More power to her, but this is the very nature of Hollywood.
It corrupts you before you even realize you’ve been corrupted.