A whole lot of fur has been flying since last Thursday, when The New York Times published a game-changing investigative story about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct that in lightning speed brought the mogul to his knees.
He apologized and took an immediate leave of absence from the company he co-founded, but that wasn’t enough. His board members and legal advisers have been resigning en masse. And as new, ugly details emerge of three decades of settlements for sex-related offenses, he’s quickly becoming a national pariah.
I applaud The New York Times and writers Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey for getting the story in print. I’m sure it was a long and difficult road.
But I simply gagged when I read Jim Rutenberg’s sanctimonious piece on Saturday about the “media enablers” who kept this story from the public for decades.
“Until now,” he puffed, “no journalistic outfit had been able, or perhaps willing, to nail the details and hit publish.”
That’s right, Jim. No one — including The New York Times.
In 2004, I was still a fairly new reporter at The New York Times when I got the green light to look into oft-repeated allegations of sexual misconduct by Weinstein. It was believed that many occurred in Europe during festivals and other business trips there.
I traveled to Rome and tracked down the man who held the plum position of running Miramax Italy. According to multiple accounts, he had no film experience and his real job was to take care of Weinstein’s women needs, among other things.
As head of Miramax Italy in 2003 and 2004, Fabrizio Lombardo was paid $400,000 for less than a year of employment. He was on the payroll of Miramax and thus the Walt Disney Company, which had bought the indie studio in 1993.
I had people on the record telling me Lombardo knew nothing about film, and others citing evenings he organized with Russian escorts.
At the time, he denied that he was on the payroll to help Weinstein with favors. From the story: “Reached in Italy, Mr. Lombardo declined to comment on the circumstances of his leaving Miramax or Ricucci, saying they were legal matters being handled by lawyers. ‘I am very proud of what we achieved at Miramax here in Italy,’ he said of his work for the film company. ‘It cannot be that they hired me because I’m a friend.’”
I also tracked down a woman in London who had been paid off after an unwanted sexual encounter with Weinstein. She was terrified to speak because of her non-disclosure agreement, but at least we had evidence of a pay-off.
The story I reported never ran.
After intense pressure from Weinstein, which included having Matt Damon and Russell Crowe call me directly to vouch for Lombardo and unknown discussions well above my head at the Times, the story was gutted.
I was told at the time that Weinstein had visited the newsroom in person to make his displeasure known. I knew he was a major advertiser in the Times, and that he was a powerful person overall.
But I had the facts, and this was the Times. Right?
Wrong. The story was stripped of any reference to sexual favors or coercion and buried on the inside of the Culture section, an obscure story about Miramax firing an Italian executive. Who cared?
The Times’ then-culture editor Jon Landman, now an editor-at-large for Bloomberg, thought the story was unimportant, asking me why it mattered.
“He’s not a publicly elected official,” he told me. I explained, to no avail, that a public company would certainly have a problem with a procurer on the payroll for hundreds of thousands of dollars. At the time, Disney told me they had no idea Lombardo existed.
A spokeswoman for the Times had no comment on Sunday.
I was devastated after traveling to two countries and overcoming immense challenges to confirm at least part of the story that wound up running last week, more than a decade later. I had met in person with a woman who said she’d been paid off for an unwanted sexual encounter and thus proved she existed.
Update: Several have asked why I did not pursue the story once I started TheWrap. Fair question. Five years later, 2009, the moment had passed to go back and write the missing piece about Lombardo, who was no longer on the scene and whose story had been half-published in the Times. Miramax was no longer part of the Walt Disney Company. And I did not have sufficient evidence to write about a pay-off, even though I knew one existed. My focus was on raising money, building a website and starting a media company. In the subsequent years since then I did not hear about further pay-offs or harassment and thought the issue was in the past. Weinstein had made a big effort, supposedly, to curb his temper and behavior, which was reflected in other areas of his public life.
Actress Asia Argento, long rumored to have been assaulted by Harvey Weinstein, finally told her story to The New Yorker on Tuesday, saying that she was orally raped by him.
Weinstein denies any instance of coerced sexual activity.
But she tweeted on Tuesday evening that Fabrizio Lombardo, the procurer of women I referenced in the story below, brought her to Weinstein’s room in 1997:
In addition, a model who asked to remain anonymous wrote me this morning about Lombardo.
“I confirm his role in Weinstein’s life as a “procurer of women”……I believe that completely, just from my own experience of him,” she wrote. As a young model in Milan, she wrote, “He just kept coming after me…..calling me 12 times a day…..convincing convincing convincing me….offering me one of his many empty apts he just happens to have laying around Milano…..and the “good life” to go along with it…considering I had no aquaintence (sic) with him, this all was quite psycho in my eyes. I was definitive with my no’s….it just didn’t matter….he just kept coming…”
Today I wonder: If this story had come to light at the time, would Weinstein have continued his behavior for another decade, evidenced by the scathing 2015 memo by former staffer Lauren O’Connor unearthed by Kantor and Twohey.
Writes Rutenberg: “Mr. Weinstein had his own enablers. He built his empire on a pile of positive press clippings that, before the internet era, could have reached the moon.”
The New York Times was one of those enablers. So pardon me for having a deeply ambivalent response about the current heroism of the Times.
Editors note: A previous version of this story stated that Jon Landman was a deputy managing editor at the Times. He left that position in 2013 to become an editor at large at Bloomberg View. TheWrap regrets the error.