As It Happens

How fear and a 'wall of siIence' kept Harvey Weinstein allegations under wraps for decades

A journalist who tried to break the Harvey Weinstein story decades ago says fear is the biggest enabler of abusive behaviour in Hollywood.
Harvey Weinstein has been fired from The Weinstein Co., the company's board of directors announced Sunday, following an exposé that detailed decades of sexual harassment allegations made against him by actresses and employees. (Steve Crisp/Reuters)
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At the 2015 Oscars, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was thanked more frequently than God. Now, he's been fired from his own company after reports of numerous incidents of sexual harassment were published in The New York Times last week.

Weinstein gave a statement to the Times, saying, in part: "The way I've behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it." Mr. Weinstein's lawyer has said that he "denies many of the accusations as patently false."

Kim Masters, editor-at-large with The Hollywood Reporter, has tried to publish a story about these allegations. But, she says her source withdrew at the last minute. Here's part of her conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

Kim, when did you first hear rumours about Harvey Weinstein?

It was more than 20 years ago. I heard through a colleague, a director who happened to be a woman, had heard about a very well-known actress who had one of these bad experiences — a very bad experience as it was told to us — with Harvey.

We immediately started looking into it, of course. And it was like this wall of silence that we could not penetrate.

Actress Meryl Streep, producer Harvey Weinstein and actress Margo Martindale attend a screening of The Weinstein Co.'s August: Osage Countyin 2014. Streep spoke out Monday, telling the Huffington Post the reports of sexual harassment against Weinstein 'disgraceful' and said she was unaware of the alleged incidents. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

What exactly did you hear 20 years ago? What did the person allege?

The allegation was even more serious than what has been alleged so far. And I want to be careful because, as I say, we have not yet managed to confirm that level ... There was a lot of very bad behaviour (reported) and this would be even worse and it's very possible that subsequent reporting will reveal it, but let's just say it would have been in the criminal area.

(Updated, Oct. 10: In an explosive report, The New Yorker alleges that Harvey Weinstein has previously raped three women, significantly intensifying the scandal surrounding the disgraced movie mogul. A representative for Weinstein vehemently denied the allegations in a statement to the magazine.)

If you're dealing with something that is possibly criminal in nature, is there any other way you can report the story? Did you have any support among your editorial bosses that would allow you to pursue the story?

I worked at different publications over the years and I think I had, on a couple of occasions, editors who I believe would have gone forward with the story and I'm absolutely sure Janice Min at The Hollywood Reporter would have gone forward with the story. We almost had it a couple of years ago and the source withdrew at the last minute.

So we would have published that story, but the bar is really high when you're going to make these allegations in terms of journalism. So it is not easy is my point.

How often over the decades have you heard stories about Harvey Weinstein and these kinds of allegations of abuse?

Intermittently. I went to see a very well-known filmmaker, and I'm actually trying to reach him to see if I can use his name, I went to have lunch with him several years ago. He was associated with Weinstein's family and he was just absolutely ashen.

He had just heard about allegations involving Rose McGowan. And, honestly, I had assumed that he knew. I said, "How did you not know this? Because I'd known this for years."

And he said, "I did not know this and I am shocked and horrified and I will not do business with them ever again." And I think he really didn't. So not everybody was willing to accommodate and ignore the behaviour or the allegations. But many people did do exactly that. They rationalized whatever they did, one way or the other.

You mentioned Rose McGowan. She has tweeted: "Ladies of Hollywood, your silence is deafening." And looking for actresses like Nicole Kidman and Gwyneth Paltrow, who have said nothing, to come forward.

Do you think it's up to stars? Those women — well, anyone, not just women — who have power of their own — that they should be the ones to come forward at this point?

That was always what we hoped would be the case. And some women are starting to speak up — maybe not from first-hand experience, but just to say that they support Ashley Judd, who did go on the record...

I hate to put the burden only on the women. Why is it the women who have to speak up? There were men who worked there and haven't been asked to speak up so publicly. As much as I would like to see anyone support women who speak up in these difficult circumstances, I'm not sure the burden should be only on the women.

(Updated, Oct 10In a New York Times report released Tuesday, Gwynth Paltrow says Weinstein sexually harassed her when she was 22 years old, shortly after he hired her as the lead in the film Emma. Angelina Jolie and others also spoke out about Weinstein making "unwanted advances" towards them in the article.)

The enablers are the ones, really, that allow this to happen. They can't be functioning alone, to be able to get this kind of access, no?

Yes, there are enablers — people who have either enabled it by silence or just outright complicity, and it's a disgusting byproduct of too much money and power.

How do you think, then, that Harvey Weinstein was able to get away with the numbers of cases of allegations that have come forward so far?

He's been on a low ebb in the past couple of years and that's probably why this is happening now, in part, but, in the day, his power was quite intimidating and I think, in a lot of ways, people were afraid that they would not be believed, that they would be attacked, that he would hire an army of lawyers — as he has done now.
Kim Masters, editor-at-large with the Hollywood Reporter, has tried to publish a story about the Weinstein allegations for years. (Kim Masters)

Somebody like him can litigate you to death, whether they have a just cause or not, and smear you. It's just asking a lot to go, "Well you know, why don't you stake your career and your reputation and see what happens?" So, people settled.

The pattern is, as The New York Times is reporting, is one in which women were sent to have meetings with Harvey Weinstein and they allege that they went to his hotel room as instructed and there would be all these sexual overtures, all of these efforts to get them into massages or everything else.

But the agents and studio people who sent them for those interviews, for these meetings with Harvey Weinstein, would they not have known that those young women, who were, many of them, in their early 20s, budding starlets, would they have not known that this is what they faced when they got there?

I have to say the short answer is probably yes, they would have. Look, I'm sure there's a lot of soul searching going on and I'm sure the people who are either perpetrators or enablers are frightened right now about what might come out about them. So these people have to reckon with their own consciences.

I spoke to a high-level executive in the Miramax days and he said that people were aware and were wary of being alone with Harvey. Sometimes these people would say to whatever executive they had contact with at the company, do not let me be with him alone. You have to come to this meeting.

And they would say, "OK, I'm coming to this meeting." And they'd all get into a car to go to the meeting and, shortly before they got there, Harvey would say, "OK, I've got this, you should just get out."

And I don't know that they felt they had a choice. I would like to think that someone would say, "No, I'm not getting out." And so they went out and left Harvey to go on alone.

You said earlier you had a source in your original story, [who] backed off at the last minute. Why did she back off, do you think?

I think the simple answer is fear. And I'm assuming there was a non-disclosure agreement. This is a big problem, these non-disclosure agreements. And this is not just in Hollywood. This has come up in the context of Silicon Valley. I don't think the law is especially clear as to whether, if you violate them, what is the consequence.

This combination photo shows actors, Rose McGowan at a premiere in Los Angeles on April 15, 2015, left, and Ashley Judd in Beverly Hills, Calif. on July 25, 2017. The New York Times reports company officials say at least eight women have received settlements, including McGowan. (Associated Press)

Will you try to reach out to her again now that this story is out there?

If somebody is a low-level — is not a strong, powerful person — it is asking them a lot to put their jobs [on the line] and commit professional suicide ... You cannot force someone to go on the record.

It is now a crisis and a scandal for the Weinstein company. And Harvey has been fired. And, you know, that's worth something.

Hopefully this will also contribute to a change in the culture. But I don't know because women are so underrepresented in the industry, in the executive offices and elsewhere, that the power imbalance remains a big problem. As long as it's that egregious, I think people will abuse their positions.