Times reporters detail the Weinstein ‘complicity machine’ and their breakthrough stories

December 6, 2017
Category: Newsletters

And what will come of landmark reporting?

New York Times reporter Emily Steel concedes she was petrified before meeting Bill O'Reilly to discuss allegations of sexual harassment, including a $32 million settlement with one woman. When she and colleague Michael Schmidt did meet him in his lawyer's office, he wouldn't make eye contact with her, only Schmidt.

It was one of many details offered during "Uncovering Sexual Harassment," a live-streamed "Times Talks" event last night in Los Angeles, featuring Steel, colleagues Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, and actress Ashley Judd, who went on the record for the paper about Harvey Weinstein. Judd's co-panelists are part of the team that's broken big stories on O'Reilly and Weinstein, among others.

Moderated by Susan Dominus, another Times reporter, it was a window into basic and precise journalism on the most sensitive of topics, ultimately raising the key questions of potential impact. For those who don't get the way quality reporters and editors work, this could serve as a quickie primer. For those in the business, it offered tips on dealing with victims of this sort, including the utter necessity of getting out of the office and meeting people face to face. Your Twitter feed wont get you to these sagas. Your boss has to spend money to get you places.

Several of the reporters conceded that, when they left college and came into the workforce during the past 25 years, they truly thought most problems had been dealt with. They were so very wrong.

They cerebral Judd (a Kennedy School grad who's now picking up another graduate degree, this in public policy at the University of Southern California) was good on why she came forward to Kantor and Twohey. It all started with a call to a movie set in Berlin from Nicholas Kristof, the columnist whom she knows well from advocacy work. He asked if she would talk to some colleagues. She said she just knew instantly, "This is about Harveyyyyy," accentuating a given name now synonymous for sexual predation.

Kantor gave the outlines of Weinstein building "a complicity machine," and thus of the collective failure of many institutions, all knowing something about his actions. "To what degree that various systems — from politics to Hollywood — enable it? How did Harvey Weinstein exploit people?" That "machine" is detailed in their latest knockout piece on Weinstein that went online late Tuesday.

As for the media, Twohey said "Harvey wasn't just targeting female victims over the years … He was cultivating relationships, from politics to Hollywood to media." She referenced his relations with news organizations and journalists and his ability "to trade on juicy gossip" in exchange for, in part, shielding him from media digging up dirt on his accusers. "It's pretty remarkable. He was calculated and smart in creating allegiances and relationships he used as cover for his bad behavior."

Those included poking into the personal lives of accusers and reporters looking into him. It all, said Kantor, instilled a certain fear of failure, namely that his slimy tactics would work. The Times team firmed up a sense of professional responsibility, a desire to get a big story right and a growing appreciation of the fragilities of the American workplace, including the frequently frustrating inaction of human resource departments, the reporter underscored.

People rationalized Weinstein's behavior internally by saying that, well, this was his "private life" and missing what was gross workplace harassment and sexual assault, said Kantor. And there was the presumption that women were "slutty" and were involved in consensual affairs.

During a question period came one about male responses, with an audience member suggesting her male friends aren't as interested as women in the revelations. The reporters didn't agree, be it via the interest of the men with whom they work or those they know outside the paper. Nevertheless, last night's live stream suggested that, at least at this one event, it was a dominantly female audience.

The challenges are clear, whether they involve a scoundrel like O'Reilly, who has settled six cases for $45 million and continues to claim he's a victim of a politically motivated campaign, or involve others whose names we don't know. Call these victims the Silent Harassed Majority.

Near the end, there was an audience question about how the reporting has obviously focused on high profile abusers and harassers. What about others?

It's an obvious query. What about the lack of recourse for low-income workers? That might give pause before we nod our heads when we hear words like "reckoning" and "watershed." There would seem to be a tremendous amount of tough, systematic strategizing and work to be done through the American workplace, whether it's a famous network television newsroom or some suburban fast-food joint.

"Stay tuned," said Kantor, seemingly alluding to what might be coming down the paper's editorial pipeline. "There is a lot more journalistic work to do."

Indeed. But, as the one-hour session personified at minimum, the much reviled, allegedly fake news-peddling mainstream media is toiling hard, fairly and honorably in bringing awful realities to light. Kudos are justifiably coming, and awards will follow, but the societal ramifications for most women will be fascinating to divine in the many years ahead.

Perfect timing

Fittingly, the Los Angeles session came on the eve of Time magazine revealing "The Silence Breakers," or women who have come forward courageously, as its "Person of the Year." Clearly, the Times reporting is a prime inspiration for the selection.

RT on the Russian Winter Olympics ban

If you think that RT, the Russian government-run TV operation, plays it straight, you should have watched yesterday's coverage of Russia being banned from the Winter Olympics. Let's start and end with this:

The move was derided as some U.S.-inspired, anti-Russian conspiracy by Jim Jatras, a very conservative fellow who is identified as a "former U.S. diplomat" and who once described himself to ABC News as “pro-life, pro-gun, pro-traditional marriage, pro-immigration control, anti-war, pro-privacy, pro-tax reform, anti-phony ‘free trade’ deals.”

He said "somebody in the United States is really orchestrating this" (though he said he has no proof of same), while the two anchors in the studio couldn't have been more sympathetic. He asserted that there is no evidence that the doping has been known to those at a "high level" of the Russian government. He intimated it's payback for the allegation of Vladimir Putin interfering in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Seeing is believing, so here. And if you want to read his defense of Confederate monuments, call to prosecute public officials in "sanctuary" cities or generally bemoan the decline of America on virtually every front, there's lots of craziness right here on his site.

Reality check, RT

As Christine Brennan writes in USA Today, "Russia has been suspended from the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The most diabolical state-sponsored doping machine of our time, and the worst since East Germany a generation ago, has finally received the punishment it deserves."

For RT bookers, Brennan can be reached at cbrennan@usatoday.com. She will counter your bogus narrative.

Google snipes at Amazon

As Bloomberg reports, "Alphabet Inc.’s Google pulled support for its YouTube video service from Amazon.com Inc.’s streaming-media devices, citing the internet retailer’s failure to make Amazon Prime Video available through Google’s gadgets and the recent halt of the sale of some Nest products on its website."

The morning Babel

"Trump & Friends" focused on what it sees as the courageous follow-through on a campaign promise of their guy declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel and moving the U.S. embassy there, though it did note the potential for violence. It also continued its daily hand-wringing over an FBI agent who was working with Robert Mueller and let go after sending out what could be deemed anti-Trump texts. It extrapolated seamlessly from that tidbit to assert the Mueller investigation is unwarranted, out of control and too expensive.

"Morning Joe" on MSNBC was taken, and rightly so, with the Alabama appearance last night of Steve Bannon, who went on a nasty riff about Mitt Romney being among the Republican establishment types against Roy Moore. He got into the tricky area of noting that neither Romney nor his kids did military service, which would be considered unbelievable chutzpah in either Jerusalem or Tel Aviv given how Trump, the guy Bannon sees as his having masterminded into the White House, got five Vietnam War deferments, as co-host Joe Scarborough and analyst John Heilemann underscored.

CNN's "New Day" looked at world leaders deriding Trump's Jerusalem decision (there are 86 embassies in Tel Aviv, none in Jerusalem) and how it might undercut Middle East peace efforts. And there's the issue, as The New York Times' Maggie Haberman noted, of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson looking even more isolated. As for a closed-door House Intelligence inquiry of Donald Trump Jr. today, Haberman and Daily Beast's John Avlon noted the relevance of Trump trying to keep straight the conflicting White House stories of its Russian contacts. 

'The Post'

Steven Spielberg's latest, on The Washington Post and the 1971 disclosure of the Pentagon Papers, will hit theaters Dec. 22 and stars Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee,

It's compelling as cinema, perhaps less so as history, as I suggest here. What's also interesting is to learn over the past 24 hours how deep some divisions remain among folks at The Post and New York Times, which broke the story and showed admirable courage in doing so (as did the Post subsequently).

Some at The Times are clearly incensed at Spielberg focusing on its longtime rival and say they won't see it. Some at The Post are chagrined at the intimation that Spielberg has romanticized their role. All in all, it's a complicated dynamic, with the added reality of bruised egos after all these years as to which individuals got credit for their labors both on that story and the Watergate investigation. Spielberg would have needed another 20 minutes for this topic.

Family dynamics (cont.)

To understand the histories of The Post and The Times, you need to understand family dynamics, including in seeing how and why the Sulzbergers continue with a fifth generation in control at The Times and the how and why the estimable Graham family ultimately sold its key media properties, Newsweek and The Post. 

The Sulzbergers' constancy is an exception that proves a general rule of something's got to give at some point, whether you're talking about a family liquor store or a corporate goliath. So read The Wall Street Journal story today on "Behind the Murdochs’ Sale Talks: Scale, Price and Family Dynamics — Strong bids from Disney and Comcast come as family’s priorities shift."

Provocative effort from The Outline

The Outline is a serious site aimed at millennials and started by Josh Topolsky, formerly of The Verge, who outlined his well-funded game plan last year in this Poynter interview. Now he'll surely get some attention with this piece, called "Bribes for Blogs," in which reporter Jon Christian discloses:

"Interviews with more than two dozen marketers, journalists, and others familiar with similar pay-for-play offers revealed a dubious corner of online publishing in which publicists, ranging from individuals … to medium-sized 'digital marketing firms' that blur traditional lines between advertising and public relations, quietly pay off journalists to promote their clients in articles that make no mention of the financial arrangement."

"People involved with the payoffs are extremely reluctant to discuss them, but four contributing writers to prominent publications including Mashable, Inc., Business Insider and Entrepreneur told me they have personally accepted payments in exchange for weaving promotional references to brands into their work on those sites. Two of the writers acknowledged they have taken part in the scheme for years, on behalf of many brands. Mario Ruiz, a spokesperson for Business Insider, said in an email that 'Business Insider has a strict policy that prohibits any of our writers, whether full-time staffers or contributors, from accepting payment of any kind in exchange for coverage.'"

Leaving USA Today

Joanne Lipman is the A-list chief content officer and editor in chief of USA Today and the USA  Today Network who's splitting to complete a book. What one sees is seemingly what one gets.

"The heightened focus on sexual harassment has led to a flood of interest and opportunities surrounding my upcoming book about closing the gender gap, 'That's What She Said,'" she wrote staff. "As a result, publisher William Morrow has just moved up the publication date to January! My obligations surrounding the book and its urgent message have multiplied and accelerated. I’ve been given the rare opportunity to help become a change agent on a new and different stage."

A loss of friction

Tech blogger Ben Thompson has written previously about the importance of "friction," of having countervailing forces that make everything more difficult, both the good and the bad. Now he writes about how that's diminishing in part due to the giant social media platforms.

"I don’t believe these platforms so much drive this abhorrent content (the YouTube videos are just horrible) as they make it easier than ever before for humans to express themselves, and the reality of what we are is both more amazing and more awful than most anyone ever appreciated."

"This is something I have started to come to grips with personally: the exact same lack of friction that results in an unprecedented explosion in culture, music, and art of all kinds, the telling of stories about underrepresented and ignored parts of the population, and yes, the very existence of a business like mine, also results in awful videos being produced and consumed in shocking numbers, abuse being widespread, and even the upheaval of our politics."

"The problem is that the genie is out of the bottle: lamenting the loss of friction will not only not bring it back, it makes it harder to figure out what to do next."

A new fellowship for investigative reporting

Harvard's Nieman Foundation for Journalism and the Abrams Foundation are starting the Abrams Nieman Fellowship in Local Investigative Journalism. It will fund "up to three Nieman Fellowships for U.S. journalists who cover news in areas of the United States where resources are scarce. In addition to studying at Harvard University for an academic year, the Abrams Nieman Fellowship will include a fieldwork period, during which fellows will work on a public service journalism project for up to nine months." Here's the whole deal.

And in case you missed it (not reading The Onion)

"New RNC Ad Endorses Roy Moore: ‘He’s A Scumbag, But He’s Our Scumbag’"

Corrections? Tips? Please email me: jwarren@poynter.org. Would you like to get this roundup emailed to you every morning? Sign up here.