At the beginning of the year, as Harvey Weinstein’s criminal trial got underway, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey—the New York Times journalists whose reporting on Weinstein helped spark the global #MeToo movement, in 2017—warned, with their colleague Jan Ransom, that the trial might not live up to the cultural burden resting on it. While “the outcome already is anticipated as a verdict on much more than one man’s alleged wrongdoing,” they wrote, “the jurors will be hearing a narrow legal case, with an already-fraught back story and a highly unpredictable result.” Yesterday, those jurors handed down a result: guilty. Weinstein was convicted of raping one woman and forcing oral sex on another. He was acquitted of three other charges, two of which, related to “predatory sexual assault,” were the most serious he faced; still, he faces up to 29 years in prison. (He’ll be sentenced on March 11, and held in custody until then; his lawyers plan to appeal that, and the verdict as a whole.) The ruling, Kantor and Twohey wrote yesterday, suggests accountability does, indeed, stretch “from the court of public opinion to the court of criminal law.” Their piece was headlined, “With Weinstein Conviction, Jury Delivers a Verdict on #MeToo.” The trial, in a sense, saw its cultural burden, and met it.
As I wrote at the beginning of the trial, the involvement of an actual court didn’t silence the court of public opinion. Before proceedings started, numerous Weinstein accusers who weren’t involved in them reminded the world of the stakes, including in a photo portfolio in New York magazine. Weinstein, for his part, sought to alter the pre-trial narrative via rare interviews, including one, with Page Six, in which he cast himself as a “pioneer” for women in Hollywood. When New York’s Irin Carmon reached out to Weinstein’s publicist for comment on the magazine’s package, she received back a 57-slide PowerPoint entitled, “The Proper Narrative for Addressing the Harvey Weinstein Case.”
As the trial progressed, Weinstein’s representatives continued to strike out, casting the women in his case as liars and the broader #MeToo movement as puritanical, and an erosion of women’s responsibility for their actions. Donna Rotunno, Weinstein’s lawyer, spoke with Twohey on The Daily, the Times’s podcast; when Twohey asked if she’d ever been sexually assaulted, Rotunno said she had not, “because I would never put myself in that position.” After the episode aired, prosecutors said Rotunno had violated an order barring discussion of the witnesses in the media during the period of the trial. Rotunno said she’d taped the interview “a while ago,” prior to the order, but the Times told Jeremy Barr, of the Hollywood Reporter, that it had been recorded on January 28—several weeks after the trial began. Shortly before the jury began its deliberations, Rotunno published an op-ed in Newsweek that called on jurors to “look past the headlines” and reach a verdict “solely on the facts, testimony and evidence presented to them in the courtroom.” On that occasion, prosecutors accused Rotunno of jury tampering, and the judge ordered her team to control “the tentacles of your public relations juggernaut.” Rotunno also taped an interview with an Australian version of 60 Minutes, in which she again accused Weinstein’s accusers of lying. It aired on Sunday.
Yesterday’s verdict reverberated immediately through the court of public opinion and its media. When Whoopi Goldberg announced the news during The View, on ABC, loud whoops from the studio audience drowned out the end of her sentence. The reactions of many of Weinstein’s alleged victims echoed through articles in multiple outlets. “What I wanted to do was cause a massive cultural reset. We achieved that today with what happened,” one of them, Rose McGowan, said during a telephone press conference. “With today, the trashman came and he said to all of the little girls and the little boys who get hurt in this world, ‘Some day, maybe you, too, can have a voice.’” On NPR, Rosanna Arquette, who also accused Weinstein of sexual abuse, teared up during an interview with Mary Louise Kelly. Arquette and many others thanked the journalists—Kantor and Twohey, as well as Ronan Farrow, of the New Yorker—for the journalism that made Weinstein’s conviction possible. On Twitter, Farrow, in turn, paid tribute to the women whose testimony made the journalism possible. “Please keep those women in your thoughts today,” he wrote.
Legal and journalistic standards are different, of course. Journalism, rightly, can’t put people in prison; likewise, if Weinstein had been acquitted on all counts yesterday, the measure of justice achieved in the work of Kantor, Twohey, Farrow, and others would not have been erased.
Yesterday showed, however, that journalism can profoundly influence the legal system—by shining a public spotlight on the misdeeds of powerful people, but also, as importantly, by scrutinizing the iniquities and limitations of the system itself. As Kantor and Twohey wrote, the criminal case against Weinstein was “a long shot.” The evidence presented—which showed, among other things, that the victims had consensual sex with Weinstein after he abused them—was messy, and lacking in corroborating forensics or direct witness testimony; as such, the case was a step beyond typical prosecutorial boundaries. Its partial success, Kantor and Twohey wrote, “could prove a symbolic turning point”— showing “that sex crimes don’t necessarily follow neat scripts and reshaping public beliefs about which victims deserve their day in court.” Journalism didn’t just fell Harvey Weinstein. It’s had institutional impact, too—however flawed our institutions may still look.
Below, more on Harvey Weinstein:
- A huge story: Amid burgeoning fears about the coronavirus, the Dow had its worst day in two years yesterday—yet, as CNN’s Brian Stelter notes, last night’s newscasts on CBS, ABC, and NBC all led with the Weinstein verdict.
- The women who covered Weinstein: For the Associated Press, Mary Altaffer has a photo gallery spotlighting the “core group of women journalists” who covered the trial. The women, Altaffer writes, “put their natural journalistic competitiveness aside.” During lulls in the trial, “they’ve turned the adjacent women’s bathroom into a lounge and a news bureau, making calls, jotting notes and taking time for themselves to recharge.”
- “Withering away”: After the verdict yesterday, Weinstein was remanded to the jail on Rikers Island in New York. En route, he was taken to the hospital; according to Rotunno, he was monitored for high blood pressure and heart palpitations. Elsewhere, Yahoo’s Erin Donnelly has an interview with Jane Rosenberg, a courtroom artist who illustrated the trial for the press. “From his arraignment to today, he just really withered away,” Rosenberg said, post-verdict. “His pallor is gray, he doesn’t stand up straight at all.”
- Touring the studios: Farrow and Rich McHugh, his former producer at NBC News, have alleged that that network killed Farrow’s initial reporting on Weinstein, forcing him to take it elsewhere. Yesterday, McHugh told Fox News that he found the verdict “validating, in a professional way.” This morning, Farrow will be on Good Morning America, on ABC, and New Day, on CNN; Twohey will be on the Today show, on NBC, and Morning Joe, on MSNBC.
- Has the culture changed?: #MeToo-era journalism has always been as much about the structures that enabled and protected the likes of Weinstein as individual perpetrators—in the entertainment and media industries, in particular. On NPR yesterday, Kelly asked Arquette whether the culture of Hollywood has evolved post-Weinstein; Arquette replied that it’s complicated. For the LA Times, Ryan Faughnder and Stacy Perman list five things that have changed.
- Where next?: On the first day of the Weinstein trial, prosecutors in LA unveiled surprise new charges against him, including rape and sexual battery. According to Laura Newberry and Maura Dolan, of the LA Times, Weinstein’s conviction in New York will likely help the LA prosecutors make their case, which is expected to proceed sometime after the sentencing in New York.
Other notable stories:
- This morning, CJR is out with a new series on freelance journalism, which, for its practitioners, is harder to sustain than ever. “The ranks of writers grow while the pool of available money dwindles,” Kyle Pope, our editor and publisher, writes. “We see this series as the start of a critical conversation about repairing a freelancing ecosystem that, for many, can be perilous.” First up, Elizabeth King writes that some freelancers are organizing, including by sharing information about pay rates, in a bid to improve their conditions—but fear they will suffer retribution for this greater openness.
- Last night, Chris Matthews apologized on air for comparing Bernie Sanders’s victory in the Nevada caucuses to the Nazis taking France. Matthews’s initial remark exacerbated growing tensions between his network, MSNBC, and the Sanders campaign; yesterday, Joe Pompeo reported, for Vanity Fair, that MSNBC brass take Sanders’s criticisms of the network seriously, and may add “more smart, pro-Sanders voices” to make its coverage more balanced. In other 2020 news, Linsey Davis, of ABC News, taped a jailhouse interview with Myon Burrell, whose past murder conviction—which Amy Klobuchar oversaw when she was a prosecutor—has been called into question. Klobuchar and six other candidates will debate in Charleston, South Carolina, from 8pm Eastern tonight, ahead of the state’s primary on Saturday. CBS will host. Gayle King and Norah O’Donnell will moderate, with help from Margaret Brennan, Major Garrett, and Bill Whitaker.
- Cenk Uygur, the founder of progressive news network The Young Turks, has tried to discourage his staff from unionizing. Uygur, who is running for Congress, told HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson that he supports the unionization of big companies, but that it would be untenable for his smaller digital news outlet. “We’re in a precarious position,” he said.
- Gabe Bullard writes, for Nieman Reports, that outlets including the New Yorker, The Atlantic, and The Economist are increasingly offering narrated audio versions of their articles. Narration, Bullard finds, exists in a space “in between podcasts and text.” Publishers offering the service “find that listeners… will listen for longer than they read.”
- Fallout continues from China’s decision, last week, to expel three Wall Street Journal reporters. Per Bloomberg News, the Trump administration could retaliate by expelling Chinese journalists working in the US; some officials want “hundreds” of them to be kicked out. Administration leaders—including Matt Pottinger, who worked for the Journal in Beijing and is now deputy national security adviser—met yesterday to discuss options.
- In divergent British-journalism news, right-wing tabloid The Sun suffered significant losses last year due to declining sales and ongoing legal costs related to phone-hacking allegations against its parent company, The Guardian’s Jim Waterson reports. And following last year’s Cairncross Review into the state of journalism, the government is giving money to 19 news organizations. Jacob Granger has more for Journalism.co.uk.
- For the Telegraph, Josie Ensor, who has reported on the war in Syria from neighboring Lebanon, reflects on her coverage as she leaves the region. “Syria is where the world collectively lost its humanity,” she writes. “It’s a hard thing for a journalist to acknowledge, looking back on a body of work, to realize it has had so little impact.”
- And Katherine Johnson—the influential NASA mathematician who, in 2016, finally came to prominence thanks to Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures and the movie of the same name—died yesterday. She was 101. The Times has an obituary.