Harvey Weinstein’s complicity machine entangled stars, scribes and aides in a web of secrets
Harvey Weinstein built his complicity machine out of the witting, the unwitting and those in between. He commanded enablers, silencers and spies, warning others who discovered his secrets to say nothing. He courted those who could provide the money or prestige to enhance his reputation as well as his power to intimidate.
In the weeks and months before allegations of his methodical abuse of women were exposed in October, Weinstein, the Hollywood producer, pulled on all the levers of his carefully constructed apparatus.
He gathered ammunition, sometimes helped by the editor of the National Enquirer, who had dispatched reporters to find information that could undermine accusers. He turned to old allies, asking a partner in Creative Artists Agency, one of Hollywood’s premier talent shops, to broker a meeting with a CAA client, Ronan Farrow, who was reporting on Weinstein. He tried to dispense favors: While seeking to stop actress Rose McGowan from writing in a memoir that he had sexually assaulted her, he tried to arrange a $50,000 payment to her former manager and throw new business to a literary agent advising McGowan. The agent, Lacy Lynch, replied to him in an email: “No one understands smart, intellectual and commercial like HW.”
Weinstein’s final, failed round of manipulations shows how he operated for more than three decades: by trying to turn others into instruments or shields for his behavior, according to nearly 200 interviews, internal company records and previously undisclosed emails. Some aided his actions without realizing what he was doing. Many knew something or detected hints, although few understood the scale of his sexual misconduct. Almost everyone had incentives to look the other way or reasons to stay silent. Now, even as the tally of Weinstein’s alleged misdeeds is still emerging, so is a debate about collective failure and the apportioning of blame.
Executives at Weinstein’s film companies who learned of allegations rarely took a stand, cowed by their volatile boss or worried about their careers. His brother and partner, Bob, participated in payoffs to women as far back as 1990. Some low-level assistants were pulled in: They compiled “bibles” that included hints on facilitating encounters with women and were required to procure his penile injections for erectile dysfunction. His lawyers crafted settlements that kept the truth from being explored, much less exposed. “When you quickly settle, there is no need to get into all the facts,” said Daniel M. Petrocelli, a lawyer who handled two agreements with accusers.
Agents and managers across Hollywood, who wanted in on Weinstein’s star-making films, sent actresses to meet him alone at hotels and advised them to stay quiet when things went wrong. “That’s just Harvey being Harvey,” more than one agent told a client. At CAA, for example, at least eight talent agents were told that Weinstein had harassed or menaced female clients, but agents there continued to arrange private meetings. Even Nick Wechsler, a talent manager at another firm who confronted Weinstein about McGowan, felt he had to maintain business ties with him: “Sometimes he was the only game in town.”
Weinstein held off press scrutiny with a mix of threats and enticements, drawing reporters close with the lure of access to stars, directors and celebrity-packed parties. Some journalists negotiated book and movie deals with him even as they were assigned to cover him. The studio chief once paid a gossip writer to collect juicy celebrity tidbits that Weinstein could use to barter if other reporters stumbled onto an affair he was trying to keep quiet. He was so close to David J. Pecker, the chief executive of American Media Inc., which owns the Enquirer, that he was known in the tabloid industry as an untouchable “FOP,” or “friend of Pecker.” That status was shared by a chosen few, including President Donald Trump.
Disney, the kingdom of family-friendly entertainment, tightly controls its operations, but it allowed the Weinstein brothers to run the Miramax studio with virtual autonomy during the 12 years they were employees. (The pair wore T-shirts boasting “Corporately Irresponsible” to one company retreat.) Along with an impressive record of Oscars, Weinstein left Disney with a trail of settlements and claims of sexual misconduct that accumulated during his tenure. Disney, which says it was not aware of his alleged abuses, faces accusations in a lawsuit that it “knew, should have known or was willfully blind.”
Weinstein, 65, is under investigation by law enforcement authorities in three cities. Although he has acknowledged that his behavior “has caused a lot of pain,” his lawyers denied that he committed sexual assault. His spokeswoman disputed claims of inappropriate advances in this article, saying Weinstein’s recollections differed from those of his accusers.
A master of leverage, Weinstein parlayed his films into relationships across the worlds of entertainment, politics, publishing and beyond, achieving a stature that at times proved useful in intimidating others and protecting himself. “I know the president of the United States. Who do you know?” Weinstein, a Democratic fundraiser, would say during the years Barack Obama was in the White House, adding expletives. “I’m Harvey Weinstein,” he used to say. “You know what I can do.”
In late September, emails show, he was discussing a documentary television show he was working on with Hillary Clinton. He had long raised campaign cash for her, and her feminist credentials helped burnish his image — even though Tina Brown, the magazine editor, and Lena Dunham, the writer and actress, each say they had cautioned Clinton’s aides about his treatment of women. Now, Weinstein exchanged questions about distribution rights for the show. “I am hopeful we can get a good price for this,” Robert Barnett, Clinton’s lawyer, replied.
Two days later, Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon, interrupted a vacation in Hawaii to field advice from Weinstein, according to the emails. The Wall Street Journal was reporting on turmoil at Amazon Studios, one of Weinstein’s business partners. He recommended an aggressive response that involved hiring some of his own team, including a libel lawyer who “makes sure everyone sticks to the right narrative,” Weinstein wrote. He added, “I’m happy to coordinate with whoever you’d like, as a friend of the court.” Bezos declined to comment.
Even as Weinstein was aware that reporters were examining his behavior, he attended the Toronto International Film Festival in September and invited two women to his hotel room. He alternated between making massage requests, other unwelcome advances and offers of career help, said the women, who asked to remain unidentified but whose account was backed up in part through text messages and a friend who was told at the time of the encounter. Then, the women said, he issued pleas and warnings not to tell anyone. Weinstein called the account “nonsense.”
He pressured his business associates, telling Lance Maerov, an outspoken member of the Weinstein Co. board, that he would find embarrassing details from his past and use them against him. He pushed Irwin Reiter, an executive who had worked with him for three decades, to speak favorably of him to reporters. When Reiter refused, he said, Weinstein responded that he had damning information about him too.
About the same time, he tried to facilitate a business deal with Lynch, the literary agent consulting with McGowan, and others. “Getting together with three intelligent women would help my image immensely,” he wrote in an email, proposing a meeting. That never happened, according to Lynch. She said that she felt Weinstein was trying to ingratiate himself with her because of her relationship to McGowan and that she was simply playing along. Jill Messick, McGowan’s former manager, never received or accepted money from the producer, her lawyer said.
Minutes before The New York Times published the first allegations about Weinstein this fall, he called the reporters who wrote it. Swinging between flattery and threats, he said that he had ways of knowing who had cooperated with the investigation and the means to undermine it.
“I am a man who has great resources,” he warned.