Accepting the 2005 Oscar he won for gaining a few pounds and being tortured in Syriana, George Clooney made the case for Hollywood as America’s moral conscience:
You know, we are a little bit out of touch in Hollywood every once in a while, I think. It’s probably a good thing. We’re the ones who talked about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn’t really popular. And we, you know, we bring up subjects, we are the ones — this Academy, this group of people gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters. I’m proud to be a part of this Academy, proud to be part of this community, and proud to be out of touch. And I thank you so much for this.
Leaving aside that, on the night she won her Oscar for Gone with the Wind, McDaniel was in fact made to sit away from her colleagues at a table against a far wall, where was Clooney’s moral conscience for the 20 years he was silent about the serial sexual predator who was running amok in his own industry? How can Clooney, Meryl Streep, and their peers continue to claim America’s moral high ground when they simply shrugged at what was going on with their pal Harvey Weinstein?
Their excuse — “We didn’t know” — doesn’t cut it. Clooney’s Ocean’s Eleven-Twelve-Thirteen costar Brad Pitt knew very well what Harvey Weinstein was up to. Pitt had once threatened to give Weinstein a “Missouri whooping” after the producer sexually harassed his then-girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow in the 1990s. All of those months the pair spent on sets together, they never thought to compare notes on Weinstein’s behavior? Another Ocean’s buddy, Matt Damon, personally called up Sharon Waxman, then a New York Times reporter, to intercede against a story that would have been unflattering to Weinstein. Was Damon also not curious about what was going on with his producer-mentor? Did Damon also never talk to Pitt on the set of the Ocean’s movies? Or on the set of The Departed, which Pitt produced and Damon starred in? Or maybe in between takes on Happy Feet 2, in which Pitt and Damon played a zany pair of gay crustaceans?
Note the curiously limited wording of the denials from Damon and Clooney, though. Entertainment reporters, tending to be both a) in awe of their subjects and b) unschooled in Washington-style spot-the-loophole weasel talk, haven’t quite nailed down what either of them knew. “We know this stuff goes on in the world,” Damon said. “I did five or six movies with Harvey. I never saw this. I think a lot of actors have come out and said, everybody’s saying we all knew. That’s not true. This type of predation happens behind closed doors, and out of public view.” “I’ve never seen any of this behavior — ever,” Clooney told The Daily Beast.
Of course Damon and Clooney never saw the misbehavior. When Weinstein wants a tête-à-tête with Ashley Judd in his bathrobe, Damon and Clooney aren’t going to be invited along. The question is, did they know what Weinstein was up to? Clooney insists, “I had no idea that it had gone to the level of having to pay off eight women for their silence, and that these women were threatened and victimized.” The comment seems to be limited to “these women” — the eight who were paid off. Like a politician, Clooney is answering a question nobody asked. Did he know Weinstein was inviting actresses to business meetings that turned into bedroom meetings that turned into sexual overtures with career implications? Weinstein has been, for more than two decades, one of the most-talked-about figures in Hollywood. Could news of such revolting acts really never have reached Clooney’s ears? It seems more likely that Clooney was part of a conspiracy of silence.
Movie Clooney is very interested in exposing the pernicious actions of oil companies (Syriana), chemical companies (Michael Clayton), TV hucksters (Money Monster), McCarthyism (Good Night, and Good Luck), and the masterminds of the first Gulf War (Three Kings). Real-life Clooney plugs his ears when people in Hollywood gossip about a subject that has evidently been a hot topic of conversation since Pauly Shore was considered a movie star. Weinstein’s habits were such an open secret they were joked about on 30 Rock and at an Oscar press conference.
As for Streep, she no doubt believed she was speaking truth to power when, upon receipt of a career honor at the Golden Globes ceremony this year, she spent her entire speech heaving broadsides at President Trump. Does Trump constitute power in her world, though? It isn’t like Trump can do much of anything in response except send a couple of grumpy tweets. Power, to Streep, is someone like Weinstein, someone who could cast her or not cast her, possibly even influence the hiring decisions of others. And Weinstein’s skill in campaigning for Oscars is unparalleled. He was widely credited for winning her a third Oscar for The Iron Lady, notably by Streep herself, who said in her acceptance speech, “I want to thank God — Harvey Weinstein.”
What are young actresses propositioned by Weinstein supposed to make of it when the foremost practitioner of their profession, the one they look up to more than any other and in whose footsteps they would dearly love to follow, is praising the executive who behaved so reprehensibly toward them? The message could hardly be more clear to them that Weinsteinian behavior is simply the price that must be paid.
Are we to believe that Streep is the only actress on earth who didn’t know what Weinstein was up to?
Or are we to believe that Streep is the only actress on earth who didn’t know what Weinstein was up to? The New Yorker story this week contains this line about Lucia Stoller (now Evans), an actress who says Weinstein forced her to give him oral sex. “The summer before her senior year at Middlebury College,” we learn, the producer approached the young woman at a party. “Evans wanted to be an actress, and although she had heard rumors about Weinstein she let him have her number.” Would Streep have us believe that aspiring actresses still in college knew more about industry players than she did? Streep now says flatly, “I didn’t know about these other offenses. . . . I did not know about his having meetings in his hotel room, his bathroom, or other inappropriate, coercive acts.” Think of all of the hundreds of actresses, and thousands of other industry people, Streep has worked with over the years. None of this ever came up?
For Clooney or Damon or Pitt or Streep to pick up a phone and call a reporter to speak about Harvey Weinstein’s predatory behavior all these years would have taken a minimal amount of guts. It could have cost them gigs, or awards. The Weinstein debacle has implicated more or less everyone in Hollywood who knew about the abhorrent behavior and remained silent, which must mean just about everyone in Hollywood. From now on the leading Hollywood personalities deserve nothing but derision when they pretend to be courageous truth-tellers. They are neither.
— Kyle Smith is National Review’s critic-at-large.