In the wake of last week’s explosive allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein, Meryl Streep is speaking out. In a statement released to the Huffington Post, Streep has declared that she is “appalled” by the “disgraceful news,” and called the women who gave their stories to the New York Times “heroes.”
But Streep is also trying to fight back against the narrative that “everybody knew” about Weinstein’s proclivities, and that’s where her statement falls short.
Streep’s decision to speak out against Weinstein puts her in the minority among Hollywood’s elite. After publishing its report on Weinstein, the New York Times reached out to multiple public figures for comment on the mogul’s fall and was met a lot of “no comment”s in return. “A publicist for an A-list actress said there was no ‘upside’ for her client to comment,” the resulting article noted, “especially since she did not have a movie to promote.”
For the most part, this silence makes sense. Weinstein has long been an extremely powerful figure in Hollywood, with a legendary temper and a history of retribution. “The fear is beyond just actors and staff who work for him,” said industry observer Elaine Lui when I spoke to her last week. “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.”
Streep is one of the few people in Hollywood who is so revered that she doesn’t need to worry about whether or not Weinstein could make a comeback and retaliate against her. She’ll be just fine without him, and she’s using that fact to speak out against Weinstein.
It’s an admirable choice — but in the second paragraph of her statement, Streep also speaks out against one of the narratives that has emerged in the aftermath of Weinstein’s fall: that his harassment of women was an “open secret” that “everyone knew about.”
“One thing can be clarified,” Streep writes:
Not everybody knew. [That sentence is bolded in the original statement on Huffington Post.] Harvey supported the work fiercely, was exasperating but respectful with me in our working relationship, and with many others with whom he worked professionally. I didn’t know about these other offenses: I did not know about his financial settlements with actresses and colleagues; I did not know about his having meetings in his hotel room, his bathroom, or other inappropriate, coercive acts. And If everybody knew, I don’t believe that all the investigative reporters in the entertainment and the hard news media would have neglected for decades to write about it.
It is theoretically within the realm of possibility that Streep has managed to work in Hollywood for 40 years without encountering rumors of Weinstein’s casting couch. Weinstein reportedly did not target every woman he worked with for harassment — just lots of them — and it’s entirely reasonable to come to the conclusion that he never targeted Streep.
Meanwhile, Streep may well just be the kind of person who never listens to rumors or gossip, and had no idea that stories of Weinstein harassing his employees and colleagues were common knowledge among many industry insiders and also those portions of the general public who follow industry gossip. (I mean, I knew about those rumors when I was a 22-year-old nobody browsing Oh No They Didn’t on Livejournal, but sure, it’s possible that Meryl Streep did not.)
Everybody in the film and TV industry knew about Weinstein. Everybody.— Lexi Alexander (@Lexialex) October 5, 2017
However, Streep’s assertion that Weinstein’s behavior could not have been common knowledge, because if it had been there would have been reports written about it, is simply false. Multiple journalists have been trying for decades to report on Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment.
Lots of people have tried to take down Weinstein. Few succeeded.
Weinstein’s “open secret” was the kind of industry gossip that nearly everyone knew about (Streep apparently excepted) and every reporter wanted to write about, if only they could. At the Hollywood Reporter, Kim Masters describes Weinstein’s secret as “the Big Story that almost everyone who covered the entertainment industry knew was out there if only it somehow could be gotten on the record.”
Writing for the Cut, Rebecca Traister describes a public encounter with Weinstein in the year 2000 that culminated in him calling her a cunt, declaring himself the “fucking sheriff of this fucking lawless piece-of-shit town,” and dragging her boyfriend bodily down Sixth Avenue. The story, Traister writes, was only ever reported on as a case of party crashing (Traister was described as the crasher), but afterward, she started to hear from other people:
I began to hear from lots of other people, now other reporters, who were working, often for years, to nail down the story of Harvey’s sexual abuses, and thought that I, as someone who’d been a firsthand witness to his verbal and physical ones, could help.
I couldn’t, except by passing on whatever I’d heard, helping to make sense of timelines and rumored accounts.
Sharon Waxman says that when she was writing for the New York Times in 2004, she was assigned an exposé on Weinstein’s alleged harassment. In an article at the Wrap, she details flying to Europe to track down the man working for Miramax Italy who was allegedly on the film studio’s payroll exclusively to supply Weinstein with prostitutes and manage his other encounters with women, and finding one of Weinstein’s alleged victims and convincing her to speak on the record despite her nondisclosure agreement.
But the story, Waxman writes, never ran with all of its reporting intact. Weinstein called in his allies, and those allies included stars like Matt Damon and Russell Crowe.
After intense pressure from Weinstein, which included having Matt Damon and Russell Crowe call me directly to vouch for Lombardo [the employee of Miramax Italy] and unknown discussions well above my head at the Times, the story was gutted.
I was told at the time that Weinstein had visited the newsroom in person to make his displeasure known. I knew he was a major advertiser in the Times, and that he was a powerful person overall.
But I had the facts, and this was the Times. Right?
Wrong. The story was stripped of any reference to sexual favors or coercion and buried on the inside of the Culture section, an obscure story about Miramax firing an Italian executive. Who cared?
In 2015, Jordan Sargent collected all of the on-the-record evidence against Weinstein into one piece for Gawker vertical the Defamer. “If Weinstein's behavior has reached the level of ‘despicable open secret,’” Sargent asked, “who's going to crack it truly open?” The article ended with an invitation for anonymous tips, but there was no follow-up.
“The best reporters out there tried, for years” to take down Weinstein, Traister writes. “But Weinstein didn’t just exert physical power. He also employed legal and professional and economic power.”
The reason that there were no articles is not that not everyone knew, despite what Streep argues. It’s that for years, Weinstein was too powerful to touch, despite what everyone knew.
That this article has come out now does not suggest that this information is brand new and shocking. It suggests that, as Weinstein has lost his touch for making Oscar winners, he has finally become weak enough that the New York Times has the power to take him down.