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26 September 2019

A new podcast shows many people knew about the Weinstein allegations – and didn’t speak up

Gloria Allred was one of those who knew. Technically speaking, so am I.

By Antonia Quirke

A two-part edition of the New York Times’s daily podcast sees Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey expand on their 2017 Pulitzer-winning investigation into Harvey Weinstein. They talk about two attorneys involved in the case – famous “defenders of women” Gloria Allred and her daughter Lisa Bloom.

Episode one takes down Bloom. Weinstein had optioned a book of hers for a mini-series: she worked for him until it became clear in 2017 the association was too poisonous. “He wanted a powerful woman on his side,” explains Kantor, “with a very public reputation for protecting victims.” We hear Bloom’s memos to him: “She must be stopped,” goes one from December 2016, in reference to actress Rose McGowan, who later alleged he raped her. Promising to destroy McGowan with “well-placed articles” and “counter-ops”, Bloom assures Weinstein he will be “the hero of the story”. She suggests he start “the Weinstein foundation for gender equality in film” and that he establish (don’t laugh) a “Weinstein standard”, where amongst other things half of all extras in crowd scenes would be female. (“You get the idea.”)

So, Bloom intended to use her very specific experience in helping represent vulnerable women to aid Weinstein instead. Even more repulsive than her disdain for McGowan is the slather of sycophancy in her correspondence (“Harvey, it was a pleasure to speak to you today”). It speaks to a particularly hideous combination of bullying and harassment in a corporate environment, with the kind of oleaginous bowing and scraping that often attends famous people to do with movies – as though Weinstein were a 14th century pope. Counter-ops. As though this is the American military, or Jason Bourne. 

Episode two focuses on Bloom’s mother Gloria, who represents some of the women taking Weinstein to court. Her firm represented a young victim of his years ago, advising her to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), take the money, and shut up. The firm pocketed 40 per cent of this settlement. So Allred, famed for standing alongside his victims, profited from Weinstein and kept quiet. She was one of those who knew.

Technically speaking, so am I. In the 1990s an acquaintance of mine – one of the many women to have accused him of assault – was paid off by Weinstein after signing an NDA. I heard a voicemail of Weinstein begging her to call him, saying he just wanted to talk to her “in a sweet way”. (It’s 20 years since I heard the tape, but that’s the phrase in my memory.) “That’s Harvey Weinstein,” I thought, “and he’s not even hiding that he’s done something really bad.” I, a lowly film reviewer on a London free-sheet, knew, so I’ve long assumed everyone else did too. Not that I care much for “you knew and did nothing” as an angle of attack. Knowing and doing nothing is human; to go on about it is just another kind of victim blaming. What makes these episodes compelling is the lack of sanctimony. There’s not a whiff of it, and no air of drama. Just a perfect seriousness.

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Weinstein’s court appearance has been kicked into 2020, and several of the charges against him have been dropped. He denies all the allegations against him. Is the unthinkable possible? Could he make a comeback? The American justice system is deeply confusing. People are convicted but then appeal, and then appeal the appeal of the appeal, only to be exonerated in one court and condemned in another. Those with the funds to drag it out, can end up in some foggy and ridiculous, semi-exonerated hinterland, playing tennis, like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. It is a system which genuinely differs for the rich and the poor. This only emboldens those citizens that naturally feel it incumbent on themselves to join in online mobs, because justice isn’t being enacted otherwise. On it goes. In short – as every second of this devastatingly earnest podcast, with its countless examples of greed and cowardice reveals – we need this guy in prison. 

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This article appears in the 25 Sep 2019 issue of the New Statesman, The great disgrace