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The internet’s best gossip curator on why “kingmaker” Harvey Weinstein might survive

89th Annual Academy Awards - Red Carpet Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Whenever a big celebrity story breaks, those in the know head straight to Lainey Gossip. That’s where Elaine Lui, the gossip maven who co-hosts Canada’s The Social and has reported for cTV’s eTalk Daily, has been blogging about the entertainment industry since 2004.

Lui has connections and sources all over the industry, but what really sets her apart from other gossip reporters is her understanding of the meta-narratives of Hollywood: how stars are always telling stories about themselves, and how they use their public appearances — the tabloid shots that are posed just so, the red-carpet interviews, the apparently tossed-off tweets — to build those stories. She uses gossip to understand the rest of culture, and vice versa.

So on Thursday, when the New York Times published a story alleging that Hollywood mega-mogul Harvey Weinstein has been sexually harassing women for decades — essentially confirming what has long been described as an “open secret” among those who follow the entertainment industry — I knew that no one would understand the story better than Lui. I spoke to her on the phone about how long the Weinstein rumors have been lurking, how they remained under wraps for so long, and where Weinstein might go from here.

Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Constance Grady

How long have there been rumors about Harvey Weinstein?

Elaine Lui

There have been rumors for as long as I’ve been doing this. All I can speak to is my own experience, and for the 15 years that I’ve been reporting, that’s how long I’ve been hearing about it.

I read a tweet today from somebody who works in the business, who says, “Everybody has their own Harvey story.” It ranges from that to, “I’ve heard he’s so creepy, people have warned me.” There are some people who have specific stories, and then there are people who know someone who knows someone who has a specific story.

Lexi Alexander tweeted, and she’s quite well known. She’s a filmmaker, a showrunner, and she tweeted, “Everybody in the film and TV industry knew about Weinstein. Everybody. That's all.” It was in the air.

Constance Grady

If it’s an open secret, how does it stay quiet for so long?

Elaine Lui

It’s out there that he has a legendary temper, which he has addressed himself. He has a reputation for going after people. People are afraid of him, and it can be very intimidating no matter who you are: a waitress working an event where he’s a guest because you’ve been told by your boss how important this event is and how important these VIPS are; an actor trying to get into the business; a publicist working on a movie. At every level, there’s a power imbalance, and he always had all of it.

Constance Grady

What changed to allow these stories to come out now?

Elaine Lui

First of all, a small media outlet was never going to be able to put out that story, even though everybody knew about it. It had to be the New York Times. As Rebecca Traister said in her story [at New York magazine’s the Cut], the way that the power is distributed in this situation, even the challenger has to have a certain amount of power.

So it’s coming out now because there’s no bigger institution than the New York Times. You don’t think they’re lawyered up the ass too? You need a New York Times to be able to have the power and the reach to take on a Harvey Weinstein.

That in itself is scary. I’m sure the accusers and other people he’s allegedly harassed are glad this came to light, but it’s also kind of scary, because it takes an outlet as big, as powerful, as respected, as prestigious as the New York Times to take on a Harvey Weinstein. And they were also the ones, if you remember, to take on Bill O’Reilly in April.

Rebecca Traister is suggesting that this is happening now in part because Harvey Weinstein is not as powerful as he was 10 years ago, and I would agree with that. If this happened during the 1996-to-2010 era, I don’t know that the effect would be the same, in his prime and his heyday.

It’s coming to light also because many women in the business have been pushing forward this conversation: Amber Tamblyn wrote about what happened to her for the New York Times and Teen Vogue; we have art representing the oppression of women; we have seen with the Women’s March and Hillary Clinton losing the election what happens to women that challenge power. The landscape was more receptive to a story like this.

But I also think that Harvey Weinstein has a lot of allies. Look at the team he’s assembled, his legal team, Lisa Bloom, Charles Harder. I don’t think this is a slam-dunk.

Constance Grady

What do you think will happen to him? Is his career over?

Elaine Lui

Two things: I think that in comparison to the meager non-apologies that we’ve gotten from Bill O’Reilly and Bill Cosby, men who’ve been accused of harassment and have responded with basically nothing, his statement, as inadequate as many find it to be, is actually a step forward. Which is fucking sad! It’s like scraps.

I think a lot of people, sad to say, will point to that statement and be like, “Oh, he said he’s working on himself! We’re getting somewhere.” [Update: This has proved to be the case.]

Number two, Harvey Weinstein is a professional marketer and campaigner. His New York Times statement reads like a press release for a movie: “This is the team I’ve assembled.” The equivalent would be like, “Here’s the director I’ve assembled, here’s the screenwriter and the actors and the actresses. I’ve been working on myself for 10 years, I’ve been struggling to be a better man for 10 years, and I’m going to be better.” That’s like a movie that’s been in development for 10 years, and all the people that worked to put it together.

Harvey Weinstein is using his formidable marketing skills to rehabilitate himself, and it just might work.

Constance Grady

Do you see him leaving the Weinstein Company? [Note: This interview was conducted on October 6. Since then, Weinstein has been fired from the Weinstein Company.]

Elaine Lui

He’s already announced that he’s taking a leave of absence. I think he’s going to step back and go quiet for a while like all celebrities do when they’re dealing with a scandal, but I would not be surprised if he were able to stay on. He’s championed so many filmmakers and been the architect of so many careers, he’s been such a kingmaker, that as long as he can bring the money in, they’ll be able to forgive him.

Money is the only priority. If he’s able to land on a project that is a major box office success or a major Oscars success, he’ll be all right.

It’s sad, and I hate to sound defeatist.

Constance Grady

Are there other Harvey Weinsteins in the industry who have rumors circulating about them?

Elaine Lui

For sure. The behavior ranges. There are certainly other producers who are abusive to their staff, volatile, beyond mean, and very successful, and seem untouchable. There are definitely those who are inappropriate and sexually suggestive, for sure.

Constance Grady

What do you think it would take to get a similar exposé published about those figures?

Elaine Lui

I don’t know. I’m not convinced it would happen. Nothing about this story surprises me in its detail, but I was surprised that it broke, that people were willing to challenge him. For every Ashley Judd [who went on the record with the Times about Weinstein’s alleged harassment], there are 30 actresses who will say, “No comment,” and will want nothing to do with it.

When you ask me what’s the likelihood of anything happening to those figures, I’m going to say low. What’s it going to take? More Ashley Judds, more other women. But then the burden is put on them, and that’s not fair either. Then we’re calling on them to be, quote, “brave.” Should they have to be?

Constance Grady

I think that’s just about it, so thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.

Elaine Lui

Just one more thing. You published a piece on this story yesterday [Thursday] and linked to a blind item on my site.

Constance Grady

Yes.

Elaine Lui

I have never confirmed or denied who that item is about. I am not confirming or denying it now, and I have no plans to do so. But I want to say clearly: The fear is beyond just actors and staff who work for him. The fear is everyone that orbits the industry. Reporters don’t want to cross him. Producers who work on TV don’t want to cross him. It’s very scary, and many people were very scared for many years. They’re still scared.

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