Over the past several weeks, I’ve heard endless variations of this question: “Why did it take so long for Harvey Weinstein to be revealed as a sexual predator?”
With the publication Monday night of a remarkable story by Ronan Farrow in the New Yorker, there is less reason to speculate.
In breathtaking detail, Farrow shows just how far the Hollywood mogul was willing to go to shut down the allegations of his sexual abuse over many decades.
Farrow reports how Weinstein used a network of lawyers and spies — including former Mossad agents working undercover — to track women and reporters. It was a desperate, aggressive and, thankfully, a failed effort.
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“It’s ‘Gaslight’ meets ‘Spotlight’ meets ‘All the President’s Men,’ ” was Hollywood writer Jake Fogelnest’s assessment of Farrow’s latest story.
David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, told me that the 29-year-old Farrow has the qualities he looks for in an investigative reporter — including relentless drive, or what he termed “obsession in the best sense.”
And, Remnick said, Farrow offers a rare quality: “Huge compassion, sympathy and patience” with those whose stories he wanted to tell. On occasions when he observed Farrow interacting with accusers, Remnick said, “it was really quite moving.”
Farrow’s reporting makes it clearer than ever how much credit must go not only to the women who came forward, willing to have their names used, but also to the New York Times, as well as the New Yorker, for withstanding the heat. The Times’ Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke their history-making story on Oct. 5; Farrow’s initial report in the New Yorker plowed new ground on Oct. 10.
In this latest piece, Farrow, through access to a wide array of documents and many interviews, described Weinstein’s agents of intimidation.
“Two private investigators … using false identities, met with the actress Rose McGowan, who eventually publicly accused Weinstein of rape, to extract information from her. One of the investigators pretended to be a women’s rights advocate and secretly recorded at least four meetings with McGowan,” Farrow wrote.
The same operative, using a different identity and suggesting that she had information on Weinstein himself, met twice with a journalist to find out which women were talking to the press.
Later, Weinstein sicced his lawyers on news organizations, trying to prevent publication of negative stories. The role of prominent lawyer David Boies, who worked for Weinstein while repeatedly serving as outside counsel to the Times, is an unsavory subplot.
Farrow’s road to this triumphant moment hasn’t been smooth. He started the reporting while working for NBC, but the network claims it didn’t believe the story was solid enough. He took it to the New Yorker, where he developed it further.
It’s obvious now that NBC passed up not only a story that would be a blockbuster but one that had a crucial social purpose. (Nor is it the first time that the network has pulled its punches. It was The Washington Post that last year revealed the now-infamous “Access Hollywood” tape on which Donald Trump bragged about groping women, scooping NBC on its own material.)
Farrow, a Yale Law School graduate and former MSNBC host, has his own family history with alleged sexual assault.
Along with his mother, the actress Mia Farrow, he has supported his older sister Dylan in her accusations against their father, director Woody Allen. She says she recalls her father’s frequent inappropriate touching and, at age 7, an instance of molestation.
Allen has vehemently denied the charges; and in 1993, a Connecticut prosecutor decided not to bring charges, though reportedly acknowledged that there may have been “probable cause” to do so. Allen has been married for many years to a sibling of Ronan’s and Dylan’s, Soon-Yi Previn.
These days, Farrow regrets advising Dylan to keep quiet.
“I was for many years one of the people around a victim of sexual assault, saying, ‘Why bother coming forward more? What will it achieve? It’s just going to bring shame and trouble, and he’s a powerful guy,’ ” Farrow told Stephen Colbert last week.
On Tuesday, I asked Farrow by phone how much his family background had motivated this new reporting.
There’s “no factual link between the two,” he said, but indirectly, his family experience “was integral” to making sure that his reporting was deep and meticulous.
“I have been part of a family where we’ve had to grapple with the complex cost-benefit analysis” of making public accusations, he said.
For a long time, he told me, “I said it was better to move forward — don’t let this cast a shadow.”
But as his sister decided to take her accusations against Allen public in 2014, “I realized I was wrong. I realized the healing value of the truth.”
No matter what the motivation behind Farrow’s reporting, it is deeply impressive.
The wonder about exposing Weinstein should no longer be why it took so long. The wonder is that — under this kind of immense pressure — the revelations happened at all.
Margaret Sullivan is The Washington Post’s media columnist.