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The Harvey Weinstein stories that got away

David Carr tried in 2001. Ken Auletta tried in 2002. They couldn’t document the abuses they had heard about.

The Weinstein Company's Pre-Oscar Dinner in partnership with Bvlgari and Grey Goose Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for The Weinstein Company
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

If everyone knew about Harvey Weinstein, for a long time, why didn’t someone say something until now?

It’s a question that has several answers. Here is one of them: Some people tried, but couldn’t get people with firsthand knowledge of Weinstein’s behavior to talk about it on the record.

We know of at least two examples, because they ended up in print, without the damning allegations that The New York Times and The New Yorker were able to run with this month: David Carr’s profile of Weinstein for New York Magazine, published in December 2001, and Ken Auletta’s profile for The New Yorker, published a year later.

Carr, who died in 2015, told me and other journalists that he spent a long time chasing a specific allegation about Weinstein, which he believed was documented in a sealed settlement. But he couldn’t get his hands on it.

So Carr’s piece portrays Weinstein as a charismatic and terrifying bully, but doesn’t make a direct reference to any claims of sexual harassment or attacks.

Instead, it hints at them. For instance: “Something in his unalloyed nature brings out the storyteller in people, as long as no name is attached. It's all sex, lies, but no videotape.”

Auletta’s piece follows a similar pattern. It documents some of Weinstein’s worst traits, but steers clear of claims of sexual abuse.

But Hollywood executives at the time thought Auletta was clearly signaling to them with one particular passage, which was literally about Weinstein’s business behavior, but presumably more than that:

“Weinstein doesn’t want to share the costs of the movie or trade half an interest in a Miramax film; instead, his partners, this studio head said, feel “raped” — a word often invoked by those dealing with him.”

Auletta hasn’t commented on Weinstein since The New York Times published its first report last week, though it’s possible he will once he returns from an overseas trip next week. But the suggestion is clear: Auletta had heard stories about Weinstein’s sexual abuse, but couldn’t get people to talk about it on the record.

(An interesting addendum: The Times reports that Auletta helped bring NBC reporter Ronan Farrow’s story to The New Yorker, which published it this week.)

We don’t know what would have happened if Carr or Auletta had been able to bring the whispers about Weinstein out into the light 15 or 16 years ago. It may well have prevented Weinstein from abusing some women — both The New Yorker and The New York Times report on incidents that allegedly occurred years after their stories ran.

All the more reason to applaud the work The Times and The New Yorker have done this year — and the bravery of the women who spoke to them, on the record.

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