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How Ken Auletta tried (and failed) to break the Harvey Weinstein story in 2002

Fifteen years later, Auletta helped Ronan Farrow finally make the stories of Weinstein’s victims public.

Former movie producer Harvey Weinstein in June 2018
Former movie producer Harvey Weinstein in June 2018
Spencer Platt / Getty

The history of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s downfall will always mention the three reporters — Ronan Farrow, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey — who, in 2017, publicized his abusive history in the pages of the New Yorker and the New York Times.

But back in 2002, Ken Auletta made Weinstein cry.

“I wrote a story about Harvey being a bully with people,” Auletta said on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka. “And his bullying with women, or sexual predation, was a natural outgrowth — that’s the way he treated everyone, male or female. But I knew of some instances of his behavior, including some payoffs to get people to sign nondisclosure agreements.”

“I confronted him, and he basically said, ‘These were consensual affairs,’” Auletta added. “[And he said] ‘if you publish it, you’re going to ruin my marriage to Eve [Chilton],’ who was then his first wife, ‘and I have three little girls.’ And he started crying.”

Weinstein’s tears didn’t kill the story, but what did it in was Auletta’s inability to cut through the nondisclosure agreements that prevented victims from speaking out. He and New Yorker editor David Remnick agreed that, with zero on-the-record sources, “we didn’t have the goods.”

“What he [Weinstein] would do is, his lawyer went to the person and said, ‘Mr. Weinstein will pay you a sum of money but you must sign a nondisclosure agreement, and by the way, we keep the agreement, you don’t get a copy,’” Auletta recalled. “So it remained in the lawyer’s office, it wasn’t a public document. It was a private document. And he did that countless times.”

You can listen to Recode Media on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts. This episode combines two new interviews, one with Auletta and the other with New York Magazine staff writer Jessica Pressler; Auletta’s section starts around the 32:30 mark and his discussion of Weinstein starts at 1:04:45.

Auletta tried to break the Weinstein story again, twice, in 2015, but was stumped once again by problems with sources. But he said he was more than happy to help Ronan Farrow — who was at the time still working at NBC News* — when Farrow asked for his help in the spring of 2017.

“He said, ‘Ken, can I get access to [your notes] on Harvey Weinstein?’” he said. “I said, ‘Sure.’ He says, ‘Could I come interview you?’ He comes out, does a three-hour interview with me, and tells me in the course of that interview, ‘I have eight women, three of them on camera, accusing Harvey ... and I have the police tape of Harvey grabbing the breast of the Italian model.’”

“I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s unbelievable!’” Auletta added. “‘That’s great!’ I was so impressed with the interview he did, and how careful and empathetic he was.”

The following week, Farrow took the story to NBC News President Noah Oppenheim, but was turned away, supposedly for not having the story nailed. So Auletta took it upon himself to pitch the story to the New Yorker and editor Remnick, who “had the same passion I did” about the victims’ stories.

The rest is history — but does Auletta feel he deserves to be mentioned in that history, maybe sharing a tiny bit of Farrow’s Pulitzer Prize?

“I don’t deserve it, no,” he said.

* NBCUniversal, which owns NBC News, is an investor in Recode’s parent company, Vox Media.

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with the movers and shakers in tech and media every Monday. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, also hosted by Kara Swisher, answers all of the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

If you like what we’re doing, please write a review on Apple Podcasts — and if you don’t, just tweet-strafe Peter. Tune in next Thursday for another episode of Recode Media!

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