Deconstructing the bizarre Harvey Weinstein statement about sexual harassment

Photo: Harvey Weinstein and Marion Cotillard by Rindoff via LaineyGossip

The New York Times published a devastating and detailed piece on decades of sexual advances by powerful movie producer Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein responded with a strange statement about taking a leave from his movie company to take on the NRA and President Trump. Weinstein’s statement is bizarrely sensible — but only if you believe, in the face of all evidence, that what he did wasn’t particularly bad.

The meticulously reported Times article goes on at length about Weinstein’s strange and sexual behavior with everyone from Ashley Judd to unknown assistants. Keep in mind that Weinstein is one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood, with dozens of producing credits from “Shakespeare in Love” and “Good Will Hunting” to “Pulp Fiction.” His company reached legal settlements with many of these women. Here are some excerpts from the article to give you a flavor of the accusations:

Two decades ago, the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein invited Ashley Judd to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel for what the young actress expected to be a business breakfast meeting. Instead, he had her sent up to his room, where he appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower, she recalled in an interview. . . .

Across the years and continents, accounts of Mr. Weinstein’s conduct share a common narrative: Women reported to a hotel for what they thought were work reasons, only to discover that Mr. Weinstein, who has been married for most of three decades, sometimes seemed to have different interests. . . . In interviews, eight women described varying behavior by Mr. Weinstein: appearing nearly or fully naked in front of them, requiring them to be present while he bathed or repeatedly asking for a massage or initiating one himself. The women, typically in their early or middle 20s and hoping to get a toehold in the film industry, said he could switch course quickly — meetings and clipboards one moment, intimate comments the next. . . .

“It wasn’t a secret to the inner circle,” said Kathy DeClesis, Bob Weinstein’s assistant in the early 1990s. She supervised a young woman who left the company abruptly after an encounter with Harvey Weinstein and who later received a settlement, according to several former employees.

I find the reporting credible because it is so detailed and because the pattern is repeated for many women over several decades.

Weinstein offers an apology for something much milder, then changes the subject

I read the Weinstein response before I read the Times article. Without context, it actually seemed reasonable to me, as an apology for someone who made the occasional racy remark in the “Mad Men” era. Then I read the list of accusations and recognized that Weinstein has a lot more to atone for than a few smirks and leers.

Here’s the statement, with my commentary and translation:

I came of age in the 60’s and 70’s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.

I have since learned it’s not an excuse, in the office – or out of it. To anyone.

I realized some time ago that I needed to be a better person and my interactions with the people I work with have changed.

I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.

Commentary: Asking female colleagues and partners to give you a massage or watch you shower was never appropriate. These behaviors demand a more specific apology than “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain.” That apology implies that this was a series of minor transgressions. “I’m sorry I abused my power and behaved in a sexually inappropriate way” would be a lot more credible. (Weinstein’s attorney Lisa Bloom told the Times that “he denies many of the accusations as patently false” — implying that some are true.)

Translation: I was a bad boy. I’m sorry. I’m better now.

Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go. That is my commitment. My journey now will be to learn about myself and conquer my demons. Over the last year I’ve asked Lisa Bloom to tutor me and she’s put together a team of people. I’ve brought on therapists and I plan to take a leave of absence from my company and to deal with this issue head on. I so respect all women and regret what happened. I hope that my actions will speak louder than words and that one day we will all be able to earn their trust and sit down together with Lisa to learn more. Jay Z wrote in 4:44 “I’m not the man I thought I was and I better be that man for my children.” The same is true for me. I want a second chance in the community but I know I’ve got work to do to earn it. I have goals that are now priorities. Trust me, this isn’t an overnight process. I’ve been trying to do this for 10 years and this is a wake-up call. I cannot be more remorseful about the people I hurt and I plan to do right by all of them.

Commentary: Like the rest of this statement, this is all about Weinstein and not about his victims. He admits he has a problem but not what the problem is. You need a tutor when you’re gathering knowledge, not when you acted like a shit. It’s not clear why we should care that he’s trying to get better, or that “this” (meaning the Times article) is a wake-up call. Overall, this reads like a man who is slowly admitting he has a small problem while the world is reading about a much larger one.

Translation: After messing up the lives of many women, I’d like to talk about myself and my therapy. I have a problem with abuse of power and I’m ten years into an attempt to fix it. Eventually I’ll get around to helping the people I hurt. But you have no idea how hard this is for me.

I am going to need a place to channel that anger so I’ve decided that I’m going to give the NRA my full attention. I hope Wayne LaPierre will enjoy his retirement party. I’m going to do it at the same place I had my Bar Mitzvah. I’m making a movie about our President, perhaps we can make it a joint retirement party. One year ago, I began organizing a $5 million foundation to give scholarships to women directors at USC. While this might seem coincidental, it has been in the works for a year. It will be named after my mom and I won’t disappoint her.

Commentary: This is a full-on nutty. Discussion about the NRA and the President are irrelevant.

Translation: I’m a good liberal, opposed to the NRA and President Trump, who’s an even worse pussy-grabber than me. I support women directors. I even quoted a black hip-hop artist. So surely you can forgive a little hanky-panky decades ago.

People who abuse power can rarely apologize properly

People with power use it to do what they want. That’s what power is about. If they later get caught, it’s hard for them to see what they did wrong or think about the people they hurt. They’re used to focusing on themselves. That’s why their apologies are so often lame and insincere.

It sounds like Harvey Weinstein is trying to fix himself. But power is a hard addiction to recover from. He’s clearly got a long way to go.

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