Day 6

How Harvey Weinstein used the media to keep his alleged victims down

Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan says Harvey Weinstein used the media as "a bludgeon" to intimidate, humiliate and silence his accusers.
Harvey Weinstein at the inaugural Middle East International Film Festival in Abu Dhabi, Oct. 15, 2007. (Steve Crisp/Reuters)

When The New York Times published its story about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and the sexual harassment allegations against him, the reaction was swift.

Actors Lena Dunham, Brie Larson and Amber Tamblyn were among those who quickly took to Twitter to voice their support for the women speaking out against Weinstein. The article notes that eight settlements have been reached with women who have accused the film producer of sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour.

According to The Times, the settlements go back three decades.

It was actually things that were being broadcast or printed that helped him do what he did for so many years.- Margaret Sullivan, 

Why then, when the allegations have been going on for years, and when Hollywood has joked about Weinstein's "open secret" for years, has the story been so slow to be told? And what role has the media played in keeping that story under wraps?

Margaret Sullivan is a media columnist with The Washington Post. In her column this week, she writes about the silence that often surrounds stories of abuse — but she also writes about "the opposite of silence."

As Sullivan explains to Day 6 host Brent Bambury, there was a lot happening around Weinstein that wasn't at all quiet.

"It was actually things that were being broadcast or printed that helped him do what he did for so many years," she says. "I'm talking about gossip columns that carried rumours, innuendo, ways of dragging people through the dirt in order to punish people."

Ambra Gutierrez

Sullivan gives the example of Italian model Ambra Gutierrez, who was allegedly punished after filing a police report against Weinstein in 2015.

"Soon after she [filed the police report], the tabloids began printing all sorts of things about her that made her look bad," explains Sullivan.

He could make a star and he could ruin someone.- Margaret Sullivan, 

Sullivan acknowledges that it's very hard to prove that Weinstein had any role in Gutierrez's bad press.

Ambra Battilana stands at the exit of the courthouse after the verdicts in the 'Ruby bis' case on July 19, 2013 in Milan, Italy. (Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)

"But I think when you see a pattern over time, and when there's an understanding among all sorts of people around him … that this is his modus operandi, it lends credence to it."

As Sullivan notes, Weinstein was very well-connected within media circles.

"He had a whole network, really, of journalists, former journalists, PR flacks … kind of a whole cadre of people who, some of whom were on his payroll, some of whom were aspiring film writers. And, you know, this sort of deep and broad network of people who were a little bit afraid of him, wanted to please him," says Sullivan.

"You have to remember, this is one of the most powerful people in recent decades in Hollywood," she says. "He could make a star and he could ruin someone."

Harvey Weinstein, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, and actress Liv Tyler attend the after-party for "Iron Man" hosted by The Cinema Society and Michael Kors at The Odeon on April 28, 2008 in New York City. (Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

The tip for The Washington Post

In the days before The New York Times story was published, a PR person contacted a reporter at The Washington Post.

"This public relations person offered one of the Post reporters some negative information about someone who turned out to be in the New York Times story. One of the accusers," explains Sullivan.

The Post had started to investigate the tip, but then The Times' story came out, and the investigative work was dropped.

Sullivan notes that there is no proof that the PR person was working on Weinstein's behalf, but says it "scans with his M.O."

"So, [it] could be a coincidence, but the timing was certainly suspicious and it fits with the kind of thing that happened a lot with him."


Trying to break the story

There have been several attempts over the years to break the Weinstein story.

In 2015, Gawker's Defamer site ran a story entitled: "Tell Us What You Know About Harvey Weinstein's 'Open Secret'."

I think that it was very hard to get people to come forward and tell their stories because they were so fearful.- Margaret Sullivan, 

The Defamer story came out after Gutierrez went to the New York Police Department with a complaint that Weinstein had inappropriately touched her breast.

The Defamer story addresses the number of journalists and film industry insiders who have hinted at Weinstein's inappropriate behaviour, but notes that none have gone into detail or on the record.

"I think that it was very hard to get people to come forward and tell their stories because they were so fearful."

For that reason, says Sullivan, the allegations against Weinstein tended to only exist in the realm of rumour and innuendo.

Sullivan notes that even the late New York Times journalist David Carr, who was very well-respected, was unable to break the story.

Carr wrote a profile of Weinstein for New York Magazine in 2001, in which he hinted at Weinstein's bad behaviour, but was unable to directly point to it.

"So his profile, which was very good, ended up talking about his bullying, and his arrogance, but it didn't get into this question of sexual misconduct," explains Sullivan. "It's so difficult get people to go on the record."

"I think what's different now, and the reason it's come out now," says Sullivan, "is that there have been women who have been willing to go on the record."

Sullivan also notes that there is now an audio tape that has been made public, of Gutierrez recording Weinstein during a hotel encounter.

"It's very hard to argue with an audio tape, you know, there it is. Here's the voice of a woman and here's the voice of Harvey Weinstein, and when you have that kind of thing you really now have something to hang it on. It's not just anonymous rumour and innuendo."




Anne T. Donahue

One of the women who was quick to respond to the Weinstein story was Canadian writer Anne T. Donahue.

After the story broke, Donahue tweeted: "When did you meet YOUR Harvey Weinstein? I'll go first: I was a 17-yr-old co-op student and he insisted on massaging my shoulders as I typed."

More than 5,000 tweets came in reply to that post, with both women and men sharing their stories of sexual harassment and inappropriate behaviour toward them.

"It's been a lot, but yet incredibly inspiring to see so many people come together to create a space where it's OK for other people to share, and for other people to feel less alone," says Donahue.


Donahue says that this open forum for discussion needs to continue.

"We need to not bend to the idea that nobody wants to hear it, or it's a buzzkill, or yada, yada," says Donahue. "And we keep going and we keep acknowledging the culture that we live in."



Donahue says we also need to look inward and acknowledge how we may have contributed to this toxic culture.

"[It's] hard to face, but [is] also necessary if we want to create something better and healthier, and conducive to living a life without rape culture."

To download the full conversation with Margaret Sullivan, and to hear Anne T. Donahue, download our podcast or click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.