How Weinstein did it

As if in preparation for the new Brett Kavanaugh allegations, last week Terry Gross interviewed Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who broke the Harvey Weinstein story in the Times. Weinstein fought even more dirty than we knew. Men rape or assault women; women report it; men circle the wagons to punish women for reporting it; rinse and repeat.

Terry Gross: Harvey Weinstein created many obstacles to prevent women from revealing his alleged sexual misconduct and prevent reporters from investigating it. My guests, New York Times reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, were the first reporters to manage to get enough sources and documents to break the story. They tell how they did it in their new book “She Said.” It includes new information about how and why the women came forward and what they allege. The book also reveals new information about Weinstein’s legal team and what they did to protect him, discredit his accusers and create obstacles for journalists.

Kantor and Twohey found that the legal system and government agencies often work in favor of the harasser, not the victim. Weinstein is now awaiting criminal trial for alleged rape and other sexual abuse and faces several civil suits from actresses and employees. Kantor and Twohey have become experts in reporting on the issue of sexual abuse. Between the two of them, they’ve reported on allegations against Donald Trump, Louis C.K., Brett Kavanaugh and Jeffrey Epstein.

The whole unsavory rotting swampy stew we’re in.

They start with the confidentiality agreements.

GROSS: One of the obstacles you faced in reporting this story was the confidentiality agreements that Harvey Weinstein had women sign. At what point did he pressure women to sign these confidentiality agreements? There were also payoffs because it was, like, money to the woman in exchange for her signing this confidentiality agreement, this nondisclosure agreement.

JODI KANTOR: So here’s the pattern we found again and again with these suffocating nondisclosure agreements that women signed – after an allegation of harassment or assault, a woman would go to a lawyer for help, and often that woman would feel like, OK, the lawyer’s going to make this right. I’m going to get help. We’re going to be able to rectify the situation in some way. And again and again, we found that what these women were told was, well, actually, your best option is a settlement, a confidential settlement.

And what that means is that the woman gets money, and it’s essentially money for silence. It’s hush money. And in most cases, she has to agree to really restrictive conditions in terms of who she can ever tell about this again. Some of the conditions we found in some of the Weinstein settlements were so extreme, like women not being able to tell therapists or accountants about what had happened without special permission. Rowena Chiu, one of the alleged victims, never told her husband what had happened to her.

They never actually spell out how the lawyers convince the women that signing away their right to talk for a sum of money is their best option. I wish they had, but no doubt it’s in the book. My guess is that it’s because prosecution of rape and/or sexual abuse is so difficult and convictions are so vanishingly rare.

But, Kantor points out, what this means is that the abusers are protected.

And so in the moment, these settlements, these confidentiality agreements, can seem like the best available option because if you’re a woman who’s faced something like this, you get to keep your privacy, you get some recompense, financially. But when you look at them as a pattern, you see that they have protected alleged predators again and again; not just in the Weinstein case – this is something much larger.

These were used by Bill O’Reilly to silence women. These were used by Larry Nassar to silence women. Megan and I had both covered women and gender and sexual violence combined for many, many years before we came to this, and yet we never understood, until 2017, that there was this kind of secret settlement system happening all over the country that sort of pretends to be a way of dealing with sexual harassment and assault but also, in a way, kind of enables it.

Women who get such settlements are terrified of breaking them.

And so this is, like, you know, two years after this story; these settlements are extremely prevalent. They’re being signed. Women are being pressured into signing them every single day in this country. And it’s not just the restrictive clauses that we found so jaw-dropping. I think it’s the fact that there are these lawyers, some of these kind of self-proclaimed women’s advocates, like Gloria Allred for example. You know, she’s been involved in, you know, negotiating these settlements that have silenced women, including one of the victims of Harvey Weinstein in 2004.

GROSS: Yes, and that was kind of remarkable because Gloria Allred is famous for defending women who stand up and accuse their harassers, and she led one of her clients to sign an NDA. But she justified that to you. She said, this was going to be the best outcome for my client.

KANTOR: That’s the traditional argument. But what these – Gloria Allred and her firm were also involved in at least one confidential settlement involving Bill O’Reilly and also another involving Larry Nassar. And so she and her firm had a role in keeping all of these stories quiet. When you look at these settlements individually, they don’t look so bad because, truly, it can often seem like a woman’s best option, you know, given a very difficult situation. She can avoid being branded a tattletale or a traitor, can preserve her hiring prospects. She’s able to keep it really private.

But then when you look at the whole landscape of these settlements, you say, first of all, this appears to have enabled a lot of predators. And second of all, is this really the way we want our country to be dealing with the problem of sexual harassment and assault – by paying women to not talk about their own experiences? And a lot of these clauses, to be honest, they kind of defy common sense. How could you not tell your mother or your brother or a guy you meet six months later and marry that this happened to you and that you got potentially a sizable payment because of what happened?

They talk about Lisa Bloom, a prominent lawyer and putative feminist, but she ended up working for Weinstein.

TWOHEY: Right. Right. So there was, once again, you know, Lisa Bloom – this, you know, prominent feminist attorney who has publicly battled against sexual harassment and sexual assault and has been such a prominent victims advocate – in 2016, submitted a memo to Harvey Weinstein basically documenting all of the efforts that she was willing to take to help him undermine his accusers. She basically is saying, I’m going to harness all of what I’ve learned in the course of working with so many victims over the years. And I’m going to help you use that against victims.

And so she says, for example, I feel equipped to help you against the Roses of the world – and she’s speaking about Rose McGowan in this case – because I’ve represented so many of them. They start out as impressive, bold women. But the more one presses for evidence, the weaknesses and lies are revealed. She goes on to sort of spell out, in bullet points, all the different tactics that she’s willing to help Weinstein take.

One, initiating friendly contact with her through me or other good intermediary, and after establishing a relationship, work out a, quote, unquote, “win-win.” Key question, what does she want? But then (laughter), in the second one, she’s saying – she’s spelling out a plan for a counter-ops online campaign to push back and call her out as a pathological liar. A few well-placed articles now will go a long way if things blow up for us down the line. We can place an article re her becoming increasingly unglued so that when somebody Googles her, this is what pops up, and she is discredited.

And guess what, that’s exactly what happened. I remember it.

And the memo goes on and on. And so it was really one of those moments where, when we were able to obtain this – and we obtained some other confidential records – her billing records that she submitted to Harvey, in which she spelled out all of the other work that she did for him over the course of the many months in 2017, including meeting with sort of private investigators, who had been hired to dig up dirt on his accusers. Our jaws dropped when we read these records.

Well, let’s be realistic: Harvey had all the money.

Then they talk about Gwyneth Paltrow, and Weinstein’s obsession with her, and the mystery of why he was so obsessed.

Kantor: He showed up at a party at her house early. She called us from the bathroom completely panicked. In the sort of series of final confrontations about the story that took place at the New York Times, Weinstein kept hammering us. Are you talking to Gwyneth? Is Gwyneth in the story? And at that point, she was still a totally secret source. And we couldn’t figure out why he was so obsessed with something that wasn’t even part of the story. The answer only became clear over a course of weeks and months after we broke the story.

As more and more Weinstein victims came forward, they said publicly, they told us and they even told Paltrow that what Weinstein had said to them, in the course of harassing or assaulting them, was essentially, don’t you want what Gwyneth has? Meaning, he was implying to them that she had slept with him and that this was the bargain of sex to – sex for work, right? If you go along with this, you can have the Oscar, the wealth, the fame, the golden girl status.

So essentially, what we – two things happened. First of all, Paltrow was very, very upset to learn this. Not only had she never sexually succumbed to Weinstein, but she was so horrified to find out that she had been used, essentially, as a tool of predation. She spent a long time on the phone in the fall of 2017 with other Weinstein victims coming to terms with the way he had used her and with feeling like she had somehow been used as an accessory in this.

But then the other thing we finally realized is that this was probably why he had been so obsessed with whether or not we were talking to Paltrow – because as soon as other women heard Paltrow’s story and heard that she had never given in to him and that she had refused him, then they would understand so much more about the way his scheme worked and that it would all fall apart, in a sense.

Creepy enough? Apart from all the rest of it, Weinstein was basically telling all these women that Paltrow had fucked her way to success when she hadn’t. He was saying she hadn’t done good work, she had simple spread her legs in exchange for good movie roles.

This isn’t the Paltrow of jade eggs and expensive magic water, this is Paltrow the professional actor, and I feel outrage for her.

Then they talk about David Boies, Weinstein’s lawyer.

KANTOR: And I think there are a couple of tough questions for David Boies on this. OK, everybody deserves a lawyer, but David Boies is a really talented lawyer. And how does he want to use that talent and influence? And then I think another tough question for him is that you could argue that he went way beyond the role of strictly defending into a realm of manipulation and PR. Like, he would come to The Times – and he did this several times in the course of the Weinstein investigation – and say, oh, I’m not here as Harvey’s attorney. I’m here as his friend.

You know, our team, including Dean Baquet, the editor of The Times, found that very disingenuous because he had been Harvey’s attorney for 15 years at that point. And second of all, what does that mean? That shows us that he is going way beyond, you know, I’m defending this guy in a courtroom. He’s seeking to exert influence, for example, over articles in The New York Times.

As a lawyer, presumably. I don’t suppose random friends of Weinstein’s could just show up at the Times and get to talk to Kantor and Twohey, much less Dean Baquet. Sleazy, sleazy.


There’s a lot more.

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