A delicious irony in Harvey Weinstein’s implosion is that he was ultimately brought down by the media. For decades, Weinstein controlled reporters like marionettes, so much so that he'd boasted he could plant fabricated stories about someone who didn’t bend to his will. Max Alexander, the former editor of Variety, recalled in the New York Times’ reader comment section that Weinstein once threatened to plant a bogus story about him liking to dress up in women’s clothes.
To put it in military terms, Weinstein was shot by his own troops. The million-dollar question is the identity of the media professional(s) who may have orchestrated the campaign.
It’s most unlikely that Ronan Farrow, who wrote the New Yorker’s impressive Weinstein takedown, and Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who wrote the New York Times version, independently decided to pursue their stories. There was no apparent news hook. Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg said Weinstein’s predilections were widely known for decades, but no media outlet dared write about them. Sharon Waxman, a former Times reporter, said a story she wrote about Weinstein’s sexual harassment in 2004 was “gutted,” but the newspaper claimed it wasn’t up to its standards. An unfortunate truth about journalism is that no reporter seemingly can ever meet the standards required to bring down a very powerful industry executive who was also a major advertiser and close ally of a media outlet’s favored politician.
Weinstein’s power had waned considerably in recent years and his company faced financial difficulties. Someone — or possibly multiple people acting together — smelled blood and had the goods and the media savvy to take Weinstein down. The execution was flawless, although it’s not clear whether it was entirely because of premeditated genius.
The reason the Weinstein story finally saw the light of day is because there were two publications competing to run it. We know this because Farrow started working on the story months ago when he was a contributor to NBC. That network took a pass because — you guessed it — the story apparently wasn’t up to its standards. Farrow’s bosses let him take it to the New Yorker, whose virtuous editors immediately appreciated that Farrow had the makings of a huge and very credible story.
It isn’t certain whether the person(s) who convinced Farrow to pursue the Weinstein story also sparked the Times’ investigation. If they did, their media savvy is unparalleled. But the entertainment industry is incestuous, so it’s quite possible the Times got wind of Farrow’s reporting from its sources and decided it couldn’t get beat on the story the paper sat on for 13 years. Judging from the complaints from Weinstein’s lawyers that they had only two days to respond to the report and correct its myriad supposed errors, I suspect the Times rushed its story into publication. In most journalism circles, being first with a story is preferable than having the best story. (The New Yorker, to its credit, demonstrated the benefits of having the better story).
I asked a journalism friend who he thought might have triggered the Weinstein stories. He speculated that it came from a disgruntled employee working for Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who was angry that his/her Sgt. Schultzesque boss seemingly didn’t want to prosecute powerful people whose lawyers had contributed to his campaigns. The reporter’s speculation was based on the fact that Farrow had obtained a copy of a cell phone recording used in a police sting operation in which Weinstein appeared to admit he had fondled a woman. However, that recording was made with the victim’s cell phone, so presumably Vance’s office and the police couldn't be the only ones who possessed a copy.
It’d be wonderful if someone was driven solely by moral outrage to orchestrate Weinstein’s downfall. That’s what a Hollywood movie script would call for. In my experience, however, people never plant stories for purely altruistic reasons. Personal gain is invariably the motive. I suspect there’s more to this story than what’s publicly known.
Weinstein, meanwhile, is still writhing about and attempting to play reporters. Several publications have published his unfounded accusations that his brother orchestrated his downfall. Weinstein knows better than anyone that reporters never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
At least now if we read that Max Alexander likes to dress up in woman’s clothing, we will know where the story came from.
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Eric Starkman, a former financial journalist with major newspapers in the U.S. and Canada, managed an eponymous PR and crisis communications firm for more than 20 years. He is currently writing a television pilot based on his professional and personal experiences living in NYC.