Harvey Weinstein built his complicity machine out of the witting, the unwitting and those in between. He commanded enablers, silencers and spies, warning others who discovered his secrets to say nothing. He courted those who could provide the money or prestige to enhance his reputation as well as his power to intimidate.
In the weeks and months before allegations of his methodical abuse of women were exposed in October, Weinstein, the Hollywood producer, pulled on all the levers of his carefully constructed apparatus.
He gathered ammunition, sometimes helped by the editor of the National Enquirer, who had dispatched reporters to find information that could undermine accusers. He turned to old allies, asking a partner in Creative Artists Agency, one of Hollywood’s premier talent shops, to broker a meeting with a CAA client, Ronan Farrow, who was reporting on Weinstein. He tried to dispense favors: While seeking to stop actress Rose McGowan from writing in a memoir that he had sexually assaulted her, he tried to arrange a $50,000 payment to her former manager and throw new business to a literary agent advising McGowan. The agent, Lacy Lynch, replied to him in an email: “No one understands smart, intellectual and commercial like HW.”
Weinstein’s final, failed round of manipulations shows how he operated for more than three decades: by trying to turn others into instruments or shields for his behavior, according to nearly 200 interviews, internal company records and previously undisclosed emails. Some aided his actions without realizing what he was doing. Many knew something or detected hints, although few understood the scale of his sexual misconduct. Almost everyone had incentives to look the other way or reasons to stay silent. Now, even as the tally of Weinstein’s alleged misdeeds is still emerging, so is a debate about collective failure and the apportioning of blame.
Executives at Weinstein’s film companies who learned of allegations rarely took a stand, cowed by their volatile boss or worried about their careers. His brother and partner, Bob, participated in payoffs to women as far back as 1990. Some low-level assistants were pulled in: They compiled “bibles” that included hints on facilitating encounters with women and were required to procure his penile injections for erectile dysfunction. His lawyers crafted settlements that kept the truth from being explored, much less exposed. “When you quickly settle, there is no need to get into all the facts,” said Daniel M. Petrocelli, a lawyer who handled two agreements with accusers.
Agents and managers across Hollywood, who wanted in on Weinstein’s star-making films, sent actresses to meet him alone at hotels and advised them to stay quiet when things went wrong. “That’s just Harvey being Harvey,” more than one agent told a client. At CAA, for example, at least eight talent agents were told that Weinstein had harassed or menaced female clients, but agents there continued to arrange private meetings. Even Nick Wechsler, a talent manager at another firm who confronted Weinstein about McGowan, felt he had to maintain business ties with him: “Sometimes he was the only game in town.”
Weinstein held off press scrutiny with a mix of threats and enticements, drawing reporters close with the lure of access to stars, directors and celebrity-packed parties. Some journalists negotiated book and movie deals with him even as they were assigned to cover him. The studio chief once paid a gossip writer to collect juicy celebrity tidbits that Weinstein could use to barter if other reporters stumbled onto an affair he was trying to keep quiet. He was so close to David J. Pecker, the chief executive of American Media Inc., which owns the Enquirer, that he was known in the tabloid industry as an untouchable “FOP,” or “friend of Pecker.” That status was shared by a chosen few, including President Donald Trump.