Did Donald Trump not get the memo? Since Harvey Weinstein’s disgrace the rules are entirely different

The wobbly gait of Weinstein on the cop-house steps showed a man who’d aged a decade. A reporter from the BBC yelled out asking if he was feeling the humiliation. Shock more like

David Usborne
Saturday 26 May 2018 12:27 BST
Harvey Weinstein led out of court in handcuffs after being charged with rape and sexual abuse

Innocent until proven guilty, yes. But the perp walks of Harvey Weinstein to a police station for arrest and thereafter into a court, his hands manacled behind his back, to face charges that included rape marked a giant moment in the revolution that goes by the name #MeToo.

“We got you, Harvey Weinstein, we got you”, Rose McGowan, an actress and one of the first survivors publicly to accuse him, said on her Twitter feed. On ABC TV, she went a little further, explaining her sense of vindication: “I have to admit I didn’t think I would see the day that he would have handcuffs on him. I have a visceral need for him to have handcuffs on.”

When Matt Lauer, the anchor of Today on NBC, was fired last November for abusive relations with female colleagues at his network, the country was stunned. A national treasure had become a national scumbag. There’s a long list of other household names brought down in similar fashion. Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, former CBS This Morning host Charlie Rose. But Weinstein was the first.

Historians will identify two halves of this national reckoning. The pre-Weinstein and the post-Weinstein eras. The separating moment was about 4pm on 5 October 2017. That was the hour that The New York Times posted the first article on its website, written by Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor, detailing the chilling canvas of the movie mogul’s predations on women over decades.

The wobbly gait of Weinstein on the cop-house steps showed a man who’d aged a decade since then. A reporter from the BBC yelled out asking if he was feeling the humiliation. Shock more like. In 2015, prosecutors in New York had a first opportunity to bring charges against him after model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez accused him of assaulting her. They shied away and doubtless he thought as he always had: I am untouchable; I will always get away with it.

The allegation is that Weinstein had for years enforced a code of silence on his victims; that he paid them to keep quiet or threatened to unstitch their careers. He has always denied it. His accusers say he was enabled by those who thought such behaviour was business as usual. Boys will be boys. Doesn’t it seem pathetic, now, evil even? Yet some still think that way. Donald Trump said this when asked about Weinstein’s arrest: “I don’t know anything about it, I’m not familiar with the case, but it’s really too bad. Really too bad.”

Too bad was the reaction of Weinstein’s lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, too. He tried a variation on something I have heard from other men who still feel compelled to come to the defence of those who’ve been disgraced. #MeToo is out of control, run amok. Brafman said that Weinstein, who has denied engaging in nonconsensual sex with anyone, will be found innocent at trial so long as the jurors are, ”not consumed by the movement that seems to have consumed this case”.

But Brafman is out of date. He is playing by the old, pre-October rules, when lawyers like him who were paid to defend male abusers would instinctively deploy the “sluts and nuts” strategy. The accusers were either unhinged or wanton or both. Brafman’s version is to say that the entire #MeToo movement is unhinged and is addling all our brains. We know to ignore him.

Brafman was the lawyer who helped Dominque Strauss-Khan, the French politician and former director of the International Monetary Fund, escape legal trouble after being charged with forcing himself on a maid in a New York hotel room in 2011. His DNA was found on her clothing, yet such doubt was cast on her testimony by the defence that prosecutors dropped the case. They balked as they did with Weinstein in 2015.

Both the DSK case and the first consideration of charges against Weinstein in 2015 were part of what brought us to where we are now. So too the first trial of Bill Cosby trial that ended in jury deadlock in June 2017. All helped to loosen the bricks of the wall that finally came tumbling down on that day last October. Cosby of course has been tried again since then. And convicted.

The New York Times and the two reporters who wrote the first Weinstein story now have a Pulitzer Prize in their trophy cabinets. They shared the award, journalism’s most prestigious, with Ronan Farrow, who wrote his own detailed and, at at the time, astonishing expose of Weinstein, in The New Yorker. The magazine is a co-winner too. In conversation recently with David Remnick, its editor, Farrow explained why the downfall of Weinstein matters so much.

“Very rapidly, as we were reporting this,” he said, “it became apparent that this was not just a story about Harvey Weinstein or a story about Hollywood. This was about a set of systems used to silence survivors of sexual abuse”.

Farrow would be the first to say credit must go first to the women who had the courage to come forward. The victims of Weinstein, but also all the others. Even the women who have not been raped or mauled necessarily, but who for years have suffered the endless humiliations of objectification, of lower pay, of diminished respect compared with the men around them.

But in an era of unprecedented hostility to the press, it’s worth recognising that without the work of Twohey, Kantor and Farrow and many other journalists, we would be still in the pre-W era. It’s very good that we are not.

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