The moment I heard that Ken Auletta attended every day Harvey Weinstein rape trial for a book about the tycoon, I started looking forward End of Hollywood: Harvey Weinstein and the culture of silence (released July 12). Ken, the longtime New Yorker writer, conducted several hundred interviews, including dozens of conversations with Bob Weinsteinformer Miramax and Weinstein Co. employees and longtime advisers, such as Joe Ravitch, Fields Bert and David Boyes. And he exchanged emails with Harvey himself from prison. The result is the opposite of She says Where catch and kill, both of which read like mystery novels. Auletta tells the story of Harvey from the on the inside, naming the names of enablers and revealing Hollywood’s “collusion architecture” along the way. I interviewed Ken and followed up with a few emails; an edited version of our conversation is below.
Matt Belloni: You wrote a famous profile of Harvey for the new yorker in 2002 which revealed a lot of abusive behavior but did not go into sexual depravity. I know when I saw the initial Time story in 2017, I felt guilty for not exposing Weinstein sooner. Did you write this book partly because you weren’t able to exhibit it before either?
Ken Auletta: Yes. But guilt is not the overwhelming emotion I felt. In 2002… women weren’t talking to me, so how do you post it? It’s the same problem you had Hollywood journalist. When the Time stories came out [in 2017]and the Ronan Farrow stories, my overwhelming emotion was pleasure. It was applause.
You witnessed every moment of Harvey’s trial and appeal, and you detailed some of the most contentious moments, like the witnesses allowed to testify and juror No. 11, who was recused and stayed. Do you think Harvey got a fair trial?
I thought Weinstein had strong appeal, especially after watching the five female judges aggressively question the prosecutor during the hearing. Judge Burke made questionable decisions: his 23-year sentence was much harsher than sentences he had given in previous rape cases; her decision to allow Juror No. 11 and not delve into the book she was soon to publish, and her decision to allow three Molineux witnesses were controversial.
Given what we’ve seen in the two Bill Cosby trials and Weinstein’s judge’s decision to allow other women to speak about the behavioral model, this seems to be the most effective strategy for getting juries to convict these #MeToo offenders. Do you agree?
Yes and no. Harvey’s appeal was based on the fact that Molineux’s witnesses should not be allowed because they were not part of the indictment. But I would say the most powerful thing to convict Harvey was that the prosecution explained to the jury [why] women who were abused by Harvey nonetheless remained in contact with him and, in some cases, continued to have sex with him. The prosecution has been very successful in overcoming this hurdle.
Much 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 reading some of this stuff..
I tell the story of a woman who was hired by Harvey. She left a job as an agent on the west coast to come work at Miramax, and the day before her debut, four colleagues offer her a drink. Over a drink, they tell him: “Hillary, don’t come to work here. And she said “Why?” They said, “Because you’re a pretty woman.” Harvey will sexually abuse you. He will attack you. Don’t come to work here. And she didn’t. But it was four people; one worked in HR; one was a Harvey assistant; two were executives in the company. Whether they or they knew, how many other people who worked for Harvey knew?
This brings us to Bob’s question. I actually did the first interview with Bob right after Harvey was exposed, and he was crying, very emotional. Everyone asked me afterwards if I believed him when he said he didn’t know the extent of Harvey’s behavior. I remember saying that I believed he thought he didn’t know, but the evidence was so overwhelming that he should knew, if he did not know explicitly. Now you reveal additional evidence that Bob knew or should have known 100%.
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 misconduct. They then signed an NDA, but Harvey had to pay them nearly $500,000 to shut them up. As I make room for the New YorkerI say, if i could find out that miramax or disney paid close to $500,000 then i could have the story without the women’s testimony.
Harvey requested a summit meeting with me and David Remnickthe editor of New Yorker. I say, “Harvey, I need to see the canceled checks to find out how that nearly $500,000 was paid.” The next day he returned to the same meeting room at Condé Nast with Bob. And they slipped on the table two canceled checks by 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 daughters, and I believed them.
And then Harvey tried to bypass Bob and get him out of the business!
I have the tape of that June 2, 2015 conference call with the board members, where Harvey is literally yelling at them. “Get rid of my brother Bob!” You have to fire him! He is responsible for the losses we face! In fact, Harvey was responsible for those losses, but that’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever heard.
I’ve been getting texts from people asking me, “Hey, am I in Ken Auletta’s book?” The Harvey Weinstein stench is still quite prevalent. And as you read the book, you see people’s real role in all of this. Steve Hutensky, Meryl Poster, Barbara Schneeweiss and many more. Ken Sunshine, the publicist, is a perfect example. I had no idea Ken was so active in slimming down the Italian model in the press.
There are a lot of people like Ken Sunshine, who I’ve known for years, but he refused to do an interview with me. He said he would, but then he avoided my phone calls and emails. So I’m looking forward to when I run into him on the street, and he’s going to say, “You were unfair to me,” and I’m going to say, “Oh, over to you, buddy.”
How do you think The Weinstein Co. secretly went bankrupt before being saved by Inglourious Basterds in 2009?
Basterds was really important, just like The crying game [for Miramax in 1992]. Before selling to Disney in 1993, Miramax was in serious trouble. crying game was a great commercial success, but also in recruiting two bidders for Miramax: Disney, which was successful, and Ted Turner.
I learned a lot from the book about that uncomfortable Disney marriage.
Michael Eisner could not stand Harvey, nor could Pierre Murphy, its chief strategist. They wanted to get rid of him and attack him. But they kept their mouths shut because they knew Harvey had the press on his side. And they were worried, is there a business if there is no Harvey?
What do you think Disney knew about Harvey’s personal behavior? It has always been an open question.
I pressed them on it, and they said they didn’t know nothing about it. And in fact, a senior Disney executive told me that he had them go through everything and asked: Is there anything we missed here? And he came back to me and said: we didn’t miss anything.
Is it true? I tell you what they say. I can’t prove them [wrong]. But I can say that they should have known. A lot of people should have known. It was so blatant.
People joked about it on stage at the Oscars!
In the 90s, when Perkins and Chiu first brought charges, Harvey said something chilling and fascinating: “Sometimes I don’t know when it’s consensual. Do you think that he believe that?
You are asking an incredibly important and mysterious question here. I can’t get into his mind and I don’t want to play psychopath on a question like that. First, it’s very possible that Harvey thought it was fair trade. The women wanted something from me and I wanted something from them, it was just a transaction. It’s also possible that he’s in total denial, that it never happened. It is also possible, which I do believe to be true, that he is a sociopath.
There are three key ingredients: One is the absence of guilt. I don’t think Harvey was guilty. Two is lack of empathy, and Harvey had no empathy for the women he dealt with. And the third is that you’re narcissistic, and Harvey was clearly narcissistic. Now you can have these three ingredients and not to be a sociopath. But if you have it and you abuse more than 100 women, ipso factoI think you are a sociopath.
Harvey is 70 years old. His appeal failed. He has another trial pending in Los Angeles. Do you think he will spend the rest of his life in prison?
I believe that. His lawyers said they don’t believe Harvey will live a long sentence. He is in terrible physical condition. He has a stenosis, which is why he is in a wheelchair. He takes shots in the eye for macular degeneration. He’s got high cholesterol, a stent in his heart. He has severe diabetes. He takes 20 tablets a day. I always sat in the fourth row in the aisle seat, so I could always have a clear line to Harvey throughout the trial. He is in a terrible state. He would fall asleep during the trial. His face is all scarred and wrinkled, and his beard scruffy and his collar turned up. He’s not Hollywood Harvey.