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The explosive sexual harassment case against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, explained

Weinstein's alleged history of sexual assault goes back decades.

Alternative Views - 12th Zurich Film Festival Photo by Alexander Koerner/Getty Images

Hollywood has long excused powerful men for mistreating women by the sole virtue of their power. But on October 5, the New York Times released an extensive report alleging that Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax and one of the entertainment industry’s most powerful executives, has spent the past three decades using his position to sexually harass women by dangling the promise of future success. The repercussions were swift: By October 8, with his reputation in tatters, Weinstein had been fired from the Weinstein Company, the production studio he co-founded with his brother Bob Weinstein.

But the allegations didn’t stop with the Times’s initial exposé. On October 10, The New Yorker published a second, even more explicit report, with several more women going on the record against Weinstein with allegations of harassment, abuse, and rape. The story is accompanied by an audio recording of Weinstein trying to convince an actress to come to his hotel room while he showers, a day after she accused him of grabbing her breasts (a charge he does not deny on the recording).

The same day, the Times followed up its own report with even more firsthand accounts of Weinstein’s alleged harassment, shared by multiple women who include famous actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow — whose career Weinstein has long been credited with jumpstarting — and Angelina Jolie.

New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey revealed in their initial Times report that while investigating Weinstein’s past, they found “previously undisclosed allegations against Mr. Weinstein stretching over nearly three decades” and no fewer than eight settlements with women who had accused him of sexual harassment and assault. And Ronan Farrow, writing for the New Yorker, published several interviews that recount Weinstein’s long history of alleged harassment, with actors Mira Sorvino, Rosanna Arquette, and Asia Argento, among others.

Altogether, the women who have accused Weinstein and those employees who’ve lodged complaints through Weinstein’s company itself comprise actors, assistants, and 20-something women who hoped to find a foothold in the entertainment industry. Weinstein, as one of the industry’s most powerful gatekeepers, was allegedly more likely to oblige if the women met him at a hotel — ostensibly for “work reasons” — and then acquiesced to his sexually explicit requests.

Weinstein has both denied the allegations and acknowledged that he “regrets what happened” in a bizarre statement to the New York Times that, among other things, (mis)quotes Jay-Z and emphasizes his apparent commitment to fighting the National Rifle Association. Shortly after the Times’s report dropped, attorney Charles Harder — who previously represented Hulk Hogan in his lawsuit against Gawker — announced that Weinstein will sue the publication.

Weinstein has confirmed as much in follow-up interviews. He told the Wrap he is suing the Times and complained that he was not given enough time to respond before publication. (He claims he had 24 hours.) And he told the New York Post that while he will take responsibility for having “the worst temper” and being generally difficult, he believes the Times’s report is the result of “reckless reporting” and a “vendetta” against him.

Following the Times article, Weinstein announced an indefinite leave of absence from the Weinstein Company — with one third of the company’s board resigning over the controversy. The remaining board members later voted — despite Weinstein’s pleas to his top investors to buy him time — to terminate his employment, effective immediately.

But for all their outrage, neither Weinstein nor his lawyers could have been entirely surprised by the allegations. After all, rumors surrounding the producer have swirled around Hollywood — and beyond — for years.

Weinstein has exhibited a public pattern of offering starlets his professional support and then dumping them

Since the early ’90s, Harvey Weinstein has become notorious for a certain pattern: He’ll pick a rising young starlet — often blonde, sometimes talented, always beautiful — and begin to shower her with attention. He’ll arrange for her to land a splashy movie role, to appear on the cover of a major glossy magazine. He’ll have her accompany him to an industry event filled with power players, and he’ll have her wear Marchesa, the brand his wife co-founded.

And then after a little while, he’ll move on to the next pretty young thing. Sometimes the starlet’s career survives the loss of Weinstein’s sustained attention (Paltrow), but more often it doesn’t (Sienna Miller).

None of Weinstein’s public behavior necessarily crossed the line, but rumors flew about what was happening behind closed doors. What, industry watchers wanted to know, was Weinstein making those young women do in exchange for his blessings on their career? One widely circulated blind item believed to be about Weinstein suggested that he required degrading sex from the women he took under his wing; many gossip sites insinuated that there was good reason to believe it.

In some cases, there was more than just vague and unverified gossip to go on. Last year, actress Rose McGowan tweeted that a Hollywood power player had raped her; the gossip mill quickly concluded that she was likely talking about Weinstein. (The New York Times’s report says McGowan received a previously undisclosed $100,000 settlement from Weinstein in 1997.)

And in 2015, Weinstein allegedly groped model Ambra Battilana; she reported the encounter to police. According to the New York Times, Weinstein paid Battilana a settlement, and Manhattan’s district attorney declined to press charges against him; a story published on October 5 by the International Business Times says Weinstein’s lawyer later sent the DA $10,000. The New Yorker’s report includes a tape that Gutierrez and the police made before the charges were dropped, in which Weinstein acknowledges that he groped her.

Throughout Weinstein’s public career, there have been multiple suggestions that at the very least, he is not opposed to abusing his position of considerable power to attain the attention of beautiful young women whose careers he controls — and that at worst, he’s a serial predator. But none of those suggestions have really stuck, until now.

Both the New York Times and the New Yorker’s reports paint Weinstein’s behavior as built on abuse and strategic secrecy

As per the Times, Weinstein’s preferred MO has remained consistent:

Across the years and continents, accounts of Mr. Weinstein’s conduct share a common narrative: Women reported to a hotel for what they thought were work reasons, only to discover that Mr. Weinstein, who has been married for most of three decades, sometimes seemed to have different interests.

...In interviews, eight women described varying behavior by Mr. Weinstein: appearing nearly or fully naked in front of them, requiring them to be present while he bathed or repeatedly asking for a massage or initiating one himself.

One of the women the Times spoke to for its first report is actress Ashley Judd, who detailed how, 20 years ago, Weinstein allegedly made her meet him in his hotel room before asking her to watch him shower, among other explicit requests. And Paltrow described Weinstein trying to massage her when she was 22, which shocked her. “I thought you were my Uncle Harvey,” she recalls thinking at the time.

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow And Harvey Weinstein
Paltrow and Weinstein in 2002.
Photo by Getty Images

The New Yorker recounted this same pattern. Some of the women Farrow spoke to — including Sorvino and Arquette — managed to get away before the request for a massage escalated into anything further. Others, like Argento and aspiring actress Lucia Evans, described how this initial move led to Weinstein “forcibly performing or receiving oral sex.”

Given that the allegations have cropped up against Weinstein throughout multiple decades, the Times report emphasizes that most of the women who agreed to speak with its reporters do not know each other, are not the same age, and do not all live in the same area. Their stories, however, match up.

But even as rumors about such incidents persisted for years, it took until the New York Times’s report for Weinstein’s name to be attached in any kind of official way. In cases where accusations reached the settlement stage, they ended in nondisclosure agreements. And as with any story about serial sexual harassment, both the Times and New Yorker detail many other instances that remained whispered complaints due to fear of professional blowback or personal retaliation.

In recent years, however, Weinstein’s firewall of lawyers and stature has allegedly started to crumble. The 2015 incident with Battilana may have ended with Manhattan’s district attorney’s office “declining to bring charges” against Weinstein, but the incident was far more public and explicit than any blind item.

And later that same year, former Weinstein Company creative executive Lauren O’Connor sent a memo — obtained by the Times — that alleged a pattern of sexual harassment and misconduct by Weinstein, echoing the claims made by many women over the years. O’Connor’s memo detailed an incident involving Emily Nestor, a young assistant who said Weinstein manipulated her into giving him a massage while he was naked, and ended up leaving her “crying and very distraught.” Nestor later told the New Yorker that Weinstein had asked her to be “his girlfriend” at the London office, and came on to her incessantly despite her refusals to reciprocate.

In the two years that O’Connor had worked for the Weinstein Company, O’Connor wrote, she and other female employees got the impression that they were being used to help Weinstein meet and exploit “vulnerable women who hope he will get them work.”

The reason they were hesitant to speak out, O’Connor wrote, came down to the inescapable fact that Weinstein was a Hollywood power player and they were not. “I am a 28 year old woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64 year old, world famous man and this is his company,” O’Connor wrote. “The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.”

O’Connor later reached a settlement with Weinstein, left the company, and told the Times she has no further comment. In fact, no one who worked or works with Weinstein said anything on the record to the New York Times, almost certainly due to this crucial detail about how Weinstein conducts business:

Mr. Weinstein enforced a code of silence; employees of the Weinstein Company have contracts saying they will not criticize it or its leaders in a way that could harm its “business reputation” or “any employee’s personal reputation,” a recent document shows.

Even as stories simmered near the Hollywood surface for decades, none could fully come up for air. Even as employees like O’Connor raised concerns and rang alarm bells, no one felt as if they could — or in some cases, even should — push back too hard. The Times interviewed “dozens of Mr. Weinstein’s former and current employees, from assistants to top executives” who knew about these allegations, Kantor and Twohey write, yet “only a handful said they ever confronted him.”

So it’s easily plausible that if Weinstein was aware of the rumors about how he conducted himself, he may not have expected to have to exonerate himself from such a breadth of allegations, given his tight grip on the details of his personal life.

But aside from his considerable legal defenses and Hollywood clout, Weinstein had another line of defense against possible accusations of impropriety: his longstanding and aggressively public commitment to championing progressive causes.

Weinstein is a longtime liberal — and he seems to believe that this political history means no one can be mad at him

TIME 100 Gala, TIME'S 100 Most Influential People In The World - Cocktails
You’re about to see this picture a lot.
Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for TIME

Weinstein is a well-known, well-connected, and open-handed liberal. He gives generously to Democratic candidates and to liberal causes, and he has hosted multiple fundraisers for both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Obama’s daughter Malia recently worked for Weinstein as an intern.

Publicly, Weinstein’s liberal politics extend to women’s rights. He appeared at his local Women’s March last January. He endowed a faculty chair in Gloria Steinem’s name. (But as the Washington Post points out, somehow all this wokeness did not translate into the knowledge that it was inappropriate to sexually harass women.)

In his interview with the New York Post following the publication of the Times report, Weinstein expressed anger that the outlet hadn’t focused more on his liberal record. Although he said that he “bears responsibility for [his] actions,” he also spoke at length about how unfair it is that a report on his history of alleged sexual harassment did not discuss his record as a political activist.

“They never wrote about the documentary I did with Jay-Z about Rikers Island [note: they did], they never write that I raised $50 million for amfAR, nor my work with [the poverty-fighting nonprofit] Robin Hood,” Weinstein told the Post. “Instead they focus on trying to bring me down.”

Weinstein’s apparent belief that his history of supporting liberal causes should mitigate decades’ worth of sexual harassment allegations might explain the puzzling conclusion to a statement he gave the New York Times. “I’m going to need a place to channel that anger,” Weinstein writes, apparently referring to the anger that caused him to harass his employees, “so I’ve decided that I’m going to give the NRA my full attention.”

So far, Weinstein is not so much denying his guilt as seemingly attempting to distract from it: He seems to believe that if he puts money toward advocating for gun control, the public at large will overlook his alleged serial sexual harassment. The link there is pretty obscure, but now at least we know that he’s consistent in this belief.

Weinstein’s confused defense has centered on his age and general distaste for injustice. It didn’t save him from getting fired.

Weinstein’s initial response to the allegations was three-pronged. He’s mounted the aforementioned “I’m not a bad guy generally” defense, touting his progressive achievements and lamenting the relative lack of interest in them. He’s ripped the New York Times for “reckless reporting” and claiming the Times didn’t give him and his team enough time to refute the points made in its report.

And finally, he leaned heavily on the “I’m too old to know better” defense. As his second statement to the New York Times begins, Weinstein would like to emphasize that he “came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”

To this point, he said he would be working with therapists and lawyer Lisa Bloom to better understand gender dynamics in the modern day. (Bloom, the daughter of prominent Hollywood attorney Gloria Allred, is known for representing women who bring sexual assault allegations to court; in April, she announced that Weinstein would produce her book as a docuseries.) Bloom initially released a statement that described Weinstein as “an old dinosaur learning new ways” — but later resigned as his “advisor,” saying that “Mr. Weinstein and his board are moving toward an agreement.” Not long after that, Weinstein was fired.

As if to inoculate himself against criticism for citing his age (65) as a contributing factor to his misbehavior, Weinstein has insisted that he has “since learned it’s not an excuse, in the office — or out of it.” In other words, even as Weinstein says he has come to the realization that his age isn’t an excuse for mistreating women, he has simultaneously provided his age as an excuse for mistreating women in the past.

Until now, Weinstein has been one of the biggest players in a multibillion-dollar industry; it’s not often that sexual harassment allegations knock down a man of that stature. Still, the very fact that these allegations were made public by the New York Times lent them validity they never had while lurking in Hollywood blind items. And as the Cut’s Rebecca Traister pointed out in a blistering piece on trying to chase down these same allegations for years, there has been a shift. She writes:

Recent years have seen scores of women, finding strength and some kind of power in numbers, come forward and tell their stories about Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump. In all of those cases, as in this case, the history of allegations has been an almost wholly open secret, sometimes even having been reported in major outlets, and yet somehow ignored, allowed to pass, unconsidered.

But now our consciousness has been raised.

More and more people are taking women’s stories more and more seriously — and the fact that the Weinstein Company was willing to fire one of its own cofounders indicates just how drastically and rapidly Hollywood’s attitude toward accusations of sexual assault is changing. But not all the powerful men accused of sexual assault become pariahs by sole virtue of being accused. Some of them even become president.

Still, it’s undeniable that a floodgate has been opened, and that the “I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s” line is being recognized for the weak excuse it is. If there is more evidence against Weinstein — or, for that matter, any other Hollywood titan who may have engaged in similar behavior without fearing the consequences — it’s far more likely to emerge now that an unsparing light has been shed on the subject.