Yesterday—two years, three months, and one day after Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, of the New York Times, published the bombshell investigation of Harvey Weinstein that ignited the #MeToo movement—Weinstein entered a courtroom in Manhattan for the first day of his criminal trial. The weight of expectation hung heavy: “Weinstein” remains a byword for an ongoing global reckoning with sexual abuse, and his is the first major #MeToo case to go before a US criminal jury. On the eve of the trial, Kantor and Twohey, writing with Jan Ransom, acknowledged this symbolism. But they urged circumspection. “The outcome already is anticipated as a verdict on much more than one man’s alleged wrongdoing,” they wrote, yet “the jurors will be hearing a narrow legal case, with an already-fraught back story and a highly unpredictable result.”
Dozens of women have publicly accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct, but the trial will hinge on just two of them: Mimi Haleyi, a former production assistant who has accused Weinstein of forced oral sex, and an anonymous woman who says he raped her. A third alleged victim was dropped from the case. Others declined to participate, or couldn’t, due to New York’s statute of limitations and geographical jurisdiction. In their piece, Kantor, Twohey, and Ransom stressed that the trial could look very different from the picture we’ve built of Weinstein since the fall of 2017. “I can’t think of another case where the defendant comes into trial at a larger disadvantage in terms of perception,” Mark A. Bederow, a former prosecutor, told them. But “evidence in the courtroom very often is not the evidence that appears in the public realm.”
ICYMI: Sleepwalking into 2020
The public realm—led, importantly, by its press—is still in play, of course. This week, The Cut, a vertical at New York magazine, put Weinstein’s victims front and center. As part of a special package, Amelia Schonbek listed the 100 women who have accused Weinstein of wrongdoing, and Irin Carmon spoke with several of them, to put the trial in perspective. A photo portfolio by Amanda Demme illustrates the package; it shows 21 of Weinstein’s accusers, dressed in black, with their hands on their hips and their arms linked. “I think we’re at a really interesting moment,” Carmon told CNN’s Brian Stelter on Sunday. “Media and journalism is kind of how we got to this point, and I think that [Weinstein’s accusers] are aware that by coming together, they can also fight back the narrative that’s gonna be laid out by Harvey’s defense at the trial.”
Carmon continued: “I think it’s important to recognize at this moment that the press actually was a weapon that Harvey Weinstein used for a very long time to—in their view—intimidate women, keep them silent, plant stories about them.” The extreme tactics Weinstein used to impede damaging stories about him have been well documented—not least in books by Kantor and Twohey and by Ronan Farrow, whose New Yorker exposé of Weinstein followed Kantor and Twohey’s by a few days. Yesterday, Carmon made clear that she wasn’t just talking in the past tense. When she approached Weinstein’s publicist for comment on The Cut’s package, she wrote, she was sent a 57-slide PowerPoint presentation, titled “The Proper Narrative for Addressing the Harvey Weinstein Case”; the file praised Weinstein’s “huge heart” and dumped on the credibility of his accusers. As his trial neared, Weinstein also took to more conventional media channels to defend himself. Last month, he broke his long public silence with an interview with the New York Post’s Page Six, in which he painted himself as a “pioneering” champion of women in Hollywood. Last week, he exchanged emails with CNN’s Chloe Melas, in which he bashed the media. (As Melas notes, Weinstein may soon be silenced by a court gag order.)
As it progresses, Weinstein’s trial will shed light on an interesting dynamic: what happens when the court of public opinion meets actual court. It calls to mind a piece from August 2019, in which Dahlia Lithwick, a legal writer for Slate, praised #MeToo-era reporting for righting legal failures, but argued that journalism is ultimately no substitute for due process. In the court of public opinion, those accused of wrongdoing “are being punished according to their own thresholds for shame and their best guesses about what behaviors the public will tolerate”—a situation that does no one any favors. “The quantum of shame heaped on the accused is decreasing with time,” Lithwick wrote. “If all that happens as a result of #MeToo is public and journalistic opprobrium, it will go from being a pathway for meaningful justice that has eluded victims to a lose-lose scenario for truth and for change.”
As the first named perpetrator of the #MeToo moment, Weinstein continues to attract its greatest quantum of public shame. As we watch his trial unfold, we should keep in mind that that quantum may not always mirror what we’re witnessing, because journalistic and legal standards aren’t the same. And we should work to reconcile the tensions between two equally true propositions: that we should want people credibly accused of criminal conduct to face our judicial institutions, and that the outcome in Weinstein’s case—whatever it is—won’t diminish what justice was achieved in the brilliant reporting of Kantor, Twohey, Farrow, and others.
Not that this trial’s outcome will be the end of Weinstein’s legal woes. Yesterday, as he sat in court in New York, prosecutors in LA unexpectedly charged him with four further counts of rape and sexual battery. (As Kantor put it on Twitter, they allege that Weinstein “literally raped and assaulted women day after day.”) The district attorney in the LA case suggested it would not meaningfully proceed until the New York case has wrapped up. The glare of journalistic scrutiny will never leave Harvey Weinstein. It looks like the glare of legal scrutiny is here to stay, too.
Below, more on Harvey Weinstein:
- Centering the victims: Yesterday, several of Weinstein’s accusers, including the actors Rose McGowan and Rosanna Arquette, addressed a press conference outside court. The Financial Times put a big picture of McGowan on its front page—a break from the ubiquitous imagery of Weinstein entering court on a walker.
- Broadening the trial: While the trial centers on two alleged victims of Weinstein, one of the charges at issue is “predatory sexual assault,” which involves a broader pattern of wrongdoing, and carries a possible life sentence. In the run-up to the trial, prosecutors were granted the right to call three more women to testify to this pattern; they will include the actor Annabella Sciorra, who alleges that Weinstein raped her. As Carmon notes, such additional witnesses were a key element in the conviction of Bill Cosby in 2018.
- Global news: Megan Garber writes, for The Atlantic, that Weinstein haunted this year’s Golden Globes, which were awarded on Sunday, the eve of Weinstein’s trial. “Two years ago, the Globes insisted that change—meaningful, systemic, permanent—had come to Hollywood.” This year’s message was different: “Time may be up, but time also has a way of regressing to the mean.” Vanessa Friedman, fashion critic for the Times, was more upbeat: Sunday’s red carpet, she wrote, signaled a break from the days of Weinstein, and opened a decade that could see “awards show fashion finally break free.”
Other notable stories:
- One day after Trump doubled down on his threat to strike cultural sites in Iran, Mark Esper, the defense secretary, acknowledged that doing so would constitute a war crime, and ruled it out. Also yesterday, Esper and Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, scrambled to brief the press after a letter detailing imminent US plans to withdraw troops from Iraq leaked; Esper and Milley denied knowledge of the letter, before Milley returned to tell reporters that it was “a draft” that “should not have been sent.” Elsewhere on Iran: Business Insider’s Anthony L. Fisher warns that as tensions increase, Americans must be extra vigilant about the erosion of their civil liberties. Lee Fang reports, for The Intercept, that TV shows have booked pundits without disclosing their financial ties to the defense industry. And in her newsletter, HEATED, Emily Atkin reminds us that war with Iran would be catastrophic for the fight against climate change.
- Craig Silverman and Jane Lytvynenko, of BuzzFeed, and William Kung, of the Reporter, an investigative site in Taiwan, pull back the curtain on a burgeoning “worldwide industry of PR and marketing firms ready to deploy fake accounts, false narratives, and pseudo news websites for the right price.” Nathaniel Gleicher, head of cybersecurity policy at Facebook, described “the professionalization of deception” as a growing global threat.
- Staffers at Sports Illustrated have taken a first step toward unionizing. Last year, after the media company Maven took over its editorial operations, the historic magazine made deep layoffs, and pivoted to a strategy that, according to Deadspin, consists of “cynical SEO ploys, news aggregation, and low-paid and unpaid labor.” In a letter related to the union drive, staff accused Maven of putting “SI’s reputation and long-term health” at risk.
- After Thomas Hofeller, a Republican strategist, died, his daughter, Stephanie, found files containing explosive information about his work on redistricting. The files have since been cited in court—as evidence of gerrymandering in North Carolina, and in relation to Trump’s failed bid to add a citizenship question to the census. Now Stephanie Hofeller is putting them online, in the name of transparency. NPR’s Hansi Lo Wang has more.
- The Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Maryland, identified an apparent loophole in the state’s court records system: paper records can only be sealed with a judge’s consent, but electronic filings can be kept secret without such a process. When Capital Gazette reporters requested documents related to the gunman who killed five staffers in their newsroom in 2018, they found that nearly 70 percent of them were marked confidential.
- When Singapore’s “fake news” law took effect last year, observers warned that it might be used to stifle political speech ahead of elections; since then, social media posts from three opposition-aligned figures have been flagged as false. Per Reuters, Singapore’s communications minister called the identity of the targets an “unfortunate coincidence.”
- And Trump is expected to sit for the traditional presidential interview tied to the Super Bowl, Politico’s Anita Kumar reports. (The game is on Fox this year.) Trump skipped the tradition in 2018, but did sit down with Margaret Brennan, of CBS, last year.
ICYMI: The top words of 2019Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Review of Books, Foreign Policy, and The Nation, among other outlets. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.