The moment I heard that Ken Auletta was attending every day of the Harvey Weinstein rape trial for a book on the mogul, I started looking forward to Hollywood Ending: Harvey Weinstein and the Culture of Silence (out July 12). Ken, the longtime New Yorker writer, conducted several hundred interviews, including dozens of chats with Bob Weinstein, former Miramax and Weinstein Co. employees, and longtime advisors, like Joe Ravitch, Bert Fields and David Boies. And he exchanged emails with Harvey himself from prison. The result is the opposite of She Said or Catch and Kill, which both read like detective stories. Auletta tells the Harvey story from the inside, naming names of the enablers, and revealing Hollywood’s “architecture of collusion” along the way. I interviewed Ken and followed up with a couple emails; an edited version of our conversation is below.
Matt Belloni: You wrote a famous profile of Harvey for The New Yorker in 2002 that exposed a lot of abusive behavior but didn’t go into sexual depravity. I know when I saw the initial Times story in 2017, I felt guilt at not having exposed Weinstein earlier. Did you write this book in part because you also weren’t able to expose him previously?
Ken Auletta: Yes. But guilt is not the overwhelming emotion I felt. In 2002… the women wouldn’t talk to me, so how do you publish it? It’s the same problem you had at Hollywood Reporter. When the Times stories came out [in 2017], and the Ronan Farrow stories, my overwhelming emotion was pleasure. It was applause.
You sat through every moment of Harvey’s trial and appeal, and you described in detail some of the more controversial moments, like the witnesses allowed to testify, and juror No. 11, who was challenged and remained. Do you think Harvey got a fair trial?
I thought Weinstein had a strong appeal, particularly after I watched the five female justices aggressively question the prosecutor at the hearing. Judge Burke did make some decisions that were questionable: His 23-year sentence was much sterner than sentences he handed out in previous rape cases; his decision to allow juror No. 11, and not further probe the book she was soon to publish, and his decision to allow three Molineux witnesses were controversial.
Given what we saw in both Bill Cosby trials and the decision by Weinstein’s judge to allow other women to talk about the pattern of behavior, that seems to be the most effective strategy in getting juries to convict these #MeToo offenders. Do you agree?
Yes and no. The Harvey appeal was based on the fact that Molineux witnesses should not be allowed because they were not part of the indictment. But I would argue that the most powerful thing to convict Harvey was that the prosecution explained to the jury [why] the women who were abused by Harvey nevertheless kept in touch with him—and, in some cases, continued to have sexual relationships with him. The prosecution very successfully overcame that obstacle.
A lot of the book is about who knew what, and when, and who should have known, and who had documents in front of them that showed what was going on. I know a lot of these people, and I winced when reading some of this stuff.
I tell this story about a woman who was hired by Harvey. She left an agent position on the west coast to come to work at Miramax, and the day before she’s to start, four coworkers ask her to have a drink. Over drinks, they say to her, “Hillary, don’t come to work here.” And she said “Why?” They said, “‘Cause you’re an attractive woman. Harvey will abuse you sexually. He will assault you. Don’t come to work here.” And she didn’t. But these were four people; one worked in H.R.; one was a Harvey assistant; two were executives in the company. If they knew, how many other people who worked for Harvey knew?
That gets to the Bob question. I actually did the first interview with Bob right after Harvey was exposed, and he was crying, very emotional. Everyone asked me afterward whether I believed him when he said he didn’t know the extent of Harvey’s behavior. I remember saying that I believed he believed he didn’t know, but that the evidence was so overwhelming that he almost certainly should have known, if he didn’t explicitly. Now, you reveal further evidence that Bob either did know, or he 100 percent should have.
Well, Bob claims he didn’t know, and I have no reason to challenge him. But clearly he should have known. Go back to 1998, when Rowena Chiu and Zelda Perkins first challenged Harvey for sexual misbehavior. They later signed an NDA, but Harvey had to pay them almost $500,000 to silence them. As I’m doing the piece for the New Yorker, I’m saying, if I could find out that Miramax or Disney paid the almost $500,000, then I can get the story without the women’s testimony.
Harvey asked for a summit meeting with me and David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker. I say, “Harvey, I need to see the canceled checks for how this almost $500,000 was paid.” The next day, he came back to the same meeting room at Condé Nast with Bob. And they slid across the table two canceled checks from Bob. Personal checks. And I asked Bob, “Why did you pay the money to silence these women?” And he said, “Because Harvey came to me and said, ‘These women were blackmailing me. And they would ruin my marriage and my three young girls, and I believed him.’”
And Harvey later tried to go around Bob and get him ousted from the company!
I have the tape of that June 2, 2015, conference call with members of the board, where Harvey literally is screaming at them. “Get rid of my brother Bob! You gotta fire him! He’s responsible for the losses we face!” Actually, Harvey was responsible for those losses, but it’s one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever heard.
I’ve been getting texts from people asking, “Hey, am I in the Ken Auletta book?” The stink of Harvey Weinstein is still pretty prevalent. And reading the book, you see people’s real role in all this. Steve Hutensky, Meryl Poster, Barbara Schneeweiss, many more. Ken Sunshine, the publicist, is a perfect example. I didn’t know that Ken was so active in sliming the Italian model in the press.
There’s a lot of people like Ken Sunshine, who, interestingly, I’ve known for years, but he refused to do an interview with me. He said he would, but then he ducked my phone calls and emails. So I look forward to the time when I run into him on the street, and he will say, “You were unfair to me,” and I’ll say, “Oh, up yours, buddy.”
How close do you think The Weinstein Co. secretly got to bankruptcy before it was saved by Inglourious Basterds in 2009?
Basterds was really important, as was The Crying Game [for Miramax in 1992]. Before he sold to Disney in ‘93, Miramax was in real trouble. Crying Game was a great success in terms of the business, but also in recruiting two bidders for Miramax: Disney, which succeeded, and Ted Turner.
I learned a lot in the book about that uncomfortable Disney marriage.
Michael Eisner couldn’t stand Harvey, nor could Peter Murphy, his chief strategist. They wanted to get rid of him and attack him. But they kept their mouths shut because they knew that Harvey had the press on his side. And they worried, is there a company if there’s no Harvey?
How much do you think Disney knew about Harvey’s personal behavior? That’s always been an open question.
I pressed them on that, and they said they knew nothing about it. And in fact, a senior Disney executive told me that he had them go through everything and ask: Is there something we missed here? And he came back at me and said, we missed nothing.
Is that true? I’m telling you what they say. I can’t prove them [wrong]. But I can assert that they should have known. A lot of people should have known. It was so blatant.
People were joking about it on stage at the Oscars!
Back in the ‘90s, when Perkins and Chiu first made accusations, Harvey said something scary and fascinating: “I sometimes don’t know when it’s consensual.” Do you believe that he believes this?
You’re asking an incredibly important and mysterious question here. I can’t climb into his mind and I don’t wanna play psychobabble on a question like that. One, it is very possible that Harvey thought it was a fair trade. The women wanted something from me and I wanted something from them, it was just a transaction. It is also possible that he’s in total denial, that this never happened. It’s also possible, which I actually do think is true, that he is a sociopath.
There are three key ingredients: One is lack of guilt. I don’t think Harvey had any guilt. Two is lack of empathy, and Harvey had no empathy for the women he was dealing with. And the third is you’re a narcissist, and Harvey clearly was a narcissist. Now, you can have those three ingredients and not be a sociopath. But if you have those and you abuse more than 100 women, ipso facto, I think you are a sociopath.
Harvey’s 70 years old. His appeal failed. He’s got another looming trial in L.A. Do you believe that he will spend the rest of his life in prison?
I believe that. His lawyers said they don’t believe Harvey would live out a long sentence. He’s in terrible physical shape. He has stenosis, which is why he is in a wheelchair. He takes shots in his eyes for macular degeneration. He has high cholesterol, a stent in his heart. He has severe diabetes. He takes 20 pills a day. I always sat in the fourth row on the aisle seat, so I could always have a clear line at Harvey throughout the trial. He’s in miserable shape. He would fall asleep in the trial. His face is all scarred and lined, and scraggly beard, and collar rolled up. He’s not Hollywood Harvey.