Guest Editorial: Mogul thought rules, decency didn't apply
When movie producer Harvey Weinstein was exposed last week for decades of sexually menacing and assaulting women, his first public apology was, in Hollywood terms, a dud. “I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture, then,” he said in a statement provided to The New York Times, the first to report the sordid story. The first refuge of the boor is to blame “the culture” — no big deal, everyone is doing it. To borrow a phrase from those freewheeling ’60s: What a copout, man.
The Weinstein apology continued with, “I have since learned that it’s not an excuse, in the office — or out of it. To anyone.” Too late. He doesn’t get points for bragging about his newfound enlightenment. By all evidence, “since learned” must refer to knowledge gained in the past couple of weeks. Mr. Weinstein, 65, has jetted off to Europe to seek therapy for his “sex addiction” and “other behavioral issues.” He has plenty of free time, having been fired by his company and ditched by his wife.
The perpetrator’s modus operandi is achingly familiar. Like the recent cases of comedian Bill Cosby and Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, Mr. Weinstein preyed on younger women looking for career advancement. He pressured them into situations where they felt vulnerable and he could exert full power. It never fails to surprise when men of significant wealth and influence display such gaping insecurities that they choose to resort to such horrendous actions. But they are also part of a long tradition of people who abuse the power they have achieved. They believe that rules apply to other people, not to them, and whatever they can get away with is fair game.
Mr. Weinstein’s career is a mass of contradictions. He was lauded for producing highbrow films that became box-office hits, from “The English Patient” to “Shakespeare in Love,” while living a smutty life. He treated women with contempt, while donating $100,000 to help fund the Gloria Steinem Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University. He named his studio Miramax in honor of his parents — Miriam and Max — while engaging in behavior that can only bring shame to their memories.
A round of soul-searching will commence in the sanctimonious circles of Hollywood and New York City. How could they, paragons of social justice, have tolerated a possibly felonious lothario in their precincts for so long? The Weinstein predations were virtually an open secret, referenced in winking asides by Oscars host Seth MacFarlane and the NBC series “30 Rock.” The New York Times itself shelved a story about Mr. Weinstein in 2004 by its Hollywood reporter Sharon Waxman, who did not pursue it after she started her own influential entertainment industry website. The usually fearless “Saturday Night Live” didn’t mention the Weinstein affair last weekend; producer Lorne Michaels pleaded that the story was just “a New York thing,” presumably of no interest to the rubes in the heartland.
But with this week’s deeper reporting in The New Yorker and follow-up in the Times, the scale of Mr. Weinstein’s offenses against women — many of whom have been traumatized for years, or changed career paths altogether — cannot be waved off as hijinks from the Hollywood “casting couch” of lore. When Harvey Weinstein lands back in the U.S. from his European rehab spa, he should be prepared to face justice.