Harvey Weinstein is finally getting introduced to reality, but the general public is still naïve as heck. His downfall is all being spun as if it were some sort of “Hollywood” problem, but the truth is sketchier than that. Were journalists in the dark about an A-list Hollywood studio head who had a penchant to play the press to the point of making mediocre and milquetoast movies get turbo-hyped into Oscar winners?
Of course not. Journalists, by the very nature of their jobs, are hangers-on. They have to hang out in the corridors and back alleys trying to get elites and other Establishment types to comment of various stories. It is how they make their living. There is absolutely no way that any reporter does not know who is sleeping with whom.
Even as a journalism student covering one city hall event, I got the low-down from local reporters telling me all about a “council bunny” who was getting passed around by councillors and getting nice patronage appointments for her degrading troubles. I was an impossibly naïve young kid back then, and yet I found out all about one municipality’s grungy side within five seconds of standing in the hallway with reporters.
There is too much gossip to be traded. You don’t need a soap opera when you work as a journalist. Disgruntled unpaid interns, nannies, secretaries, janitors, maids, assistants, and other members of the Great Unwashed will vent to reporters as both are more than willing to discuss the ugly side of the beautiful people with each other.
So when The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan had this to say in one of her recent columns, I had a good chuckle:
Weinstein used the media like a bludgeon to keep his alleged victims in line, by many accounts. He did it skillfully — and with plenty of help.
It is half the picture: the press was more than willing to hype up a blowhard, and keep any information about his darker side to themselves. Why rock the boat when they might get invited to the next glamor junket?
But there is another side to the complicity: sexual harassment is also a problem in newsrooms.
What plagues Hollywood also plagues journalism. The dynamics of power are no different in the nonfiction arm of the media business, and often, the same executives cutting checks for prime-time actors are also cutting them for their reporters.
Roger Ailes was done in by his own unsavory tendencies, but he is not the first by a long shot.
Journalists can get away with it because no one is really making demands for them to open their vault of sins. Journalists may be more than happy to expose men such as Weinstein once his bag of goodies is empty, but the fact that the New York Times had the story way back in 2004 ,and did nothing with it shows that when it comes to sexual harassment, there is a reason why major outlets don’t actually see it as any deal at all.
Because it often is the same problems they experience in their own workspaces.
But go anywhere near the subject, and games of misdirection begin. Tina Brown’s piece in the New York Times is a classic example: she was the editor of Weinstein’s Talk magazine, whose debut cover is even more disturbing in retrospect, but when discussing working with such a boss, Brown begins to “bridge”: that is, she brings up Donald Trump in her piece as if it was part of the Weinstein shocker.
No, it is not about Trump, whose very name is a trigger word to many. Right now, it is all about Weinstein, and why editors in all those decades just kept potentially criminal behavior under wraps. Brown made a name for herself in trading celebrity gossip, and yet her article leaves way too many unanswered questions for comfort.
For decades, the press trained and encouraged the public to laud and admire someone who harmed women. Women paid money to see those movies, and people chattered about how great a Miramax or Weinstein Company movie was.
Had I been a journalist travelling in those circles, I would have never given a single word of praise to someone who behaved that badly. I would have done everything in my power to expose it.
But reporters never did. Many of those same journalists were being abused in the same way by their bosses – or were the abuser themselves.
We have had an enabling press turning monsters into powerful titans for decades. It is time to stop giving so many icons and idols the benefit of the doubt – or give the press the power to do so with factless and fawning fluff pieces. It begins by becoming skeptical of those who insist on telling us how we should think about certain people.
Just give people the facts without the narrative. That’s what journalism needs to do because there are many tyrants getting fawning press coverage right this second – and you are probably getting miffed that someone on their social media feed isn’t falling for the very feints and ruses that you are buying without question.
Because if we accept facts rather than opinion, it goes a long way into helping us being able to stop the tyrants before they begin terrorizing everyone around them as they get to shape our culture, beliefs, values, opinions, reality – and world.