The Morning Jolt


The Weinstein Scandal Undermines Hollywood’s Tradition of Scolding America on Politics

Making the click-through worthwhile: Hollywood loses its right to lecture anyone, Susan Collins makes a key decision, and Senate Republicans face the prospect of being a man or two down in the near future.

Hollywood Loses Its Right to Lecture Anyone

For decades, the stars and powerful players of Hollywood instructed us about which political candidates deserved election. They told us which causes were worthy of support and which ones needed to be opposed. In their works and in their speeches, they told us how to be a better person.

Hollywood, you don’t get to lecture us about anything anymore. You’ve had a serial sexual predator operating in your midst as an open secret for decades and no one did anything about it. He appears to have abused his way through a wide swath of the industry’s women with no significant consequence in the film, publishing, and media industries.

When they did respond, their actions were insufficiently consequential. They created an entire sub-genre of jokes, allusions, and villainous portrayals of Harvey Weinstein: a character on Entourage, Tom Cruise’s wildly over-the-top character in Tropic Thunder, jokes on 30 Rock, a joke at the Oscar nominee announcement. But no one could quite bring themselves to actually do something that could stop him.

His behavior didn’t really harm his image within the industry, at least as far as the general public could tell. A 2015 analysis of 1,396 Oscar speeches found that Harvey Weinstein was the second most-thanked individual; he was thanked more frequently than God.

We can’t blame his victims; Weinstein was powerful and they were comparably powerless. But we can blame everyone who worked with him. His contract more or less spelled out that the company expected to have regular complaints of inappropriate sexual conduct and that as long as he paid settlements, the company would take no action:

TMZ is privy to Weinstein’s 2015 employment contract, which says if he gets sued for sexual harassment or any other “misconduct” that results in a settlement or judgment against TWC [The Weinstein Company], all Weinstein has to do is pay what the company’s out, along with a fine, and he’s in the clear.

According to the contract, if Weinstein “treated someone improperly in violation of the company’s Code of Conduct,” he must reimburse TWC for settlements or judgments. Additionally, “You [Weinstein] will pay the company liquidated damages of $250,000 for the first such instance, $500,000 for the second such instance, $750,000 for the third such instance, and $1,000,000 for each additional instance.”

The contract says as long as Weinstein pays, it constitutes a “cure” for the misconduct and no further action can be taken. Translation — Weinstein could be sued over and over and as long as he wrote a check, he keeps his job.

You can find bad people in every industry, and you can find sexual harassment in every industry. But I suspect that most American companies would refuse to set up an arrangement like this for a man with a long and infamous history. A contract like that is just far too risky in terms of litigation and bad publicity if ever revealed. Imagine going to your boss and attempting to negotiate that you can never, ever be fired for sexual harassment of employees.

Yes, Weinstein was powerful, but he was not the only powerful person in Hollywood. No other studio head ever heard these stories and felt a need to address this injustice?

How is it that almost every actress seemed to know, but none of the actors whose careers were built by Weinstein knew? Are we to believe that the biggest-name stars in the industry feared that Weinstein could end their careers?

What are we to make of the claims that Weinstein is just the tip of the iceberg?

“There’s a lot of abuse in this town,” said producer and director Judd Apatow. “Young actresses are mistreated in all sorts of ways by powerful men who can dangle jobs or access to exciting parts of show business. I think a lot of people are mistreated and they don’t realize how badly they’re being mistreated.”

“Everyone knew [about Weinstein’s alleged behavior], just as they know about other high-profile people with power in the industry who get away with the exact same things,” said screenwriter and producer Kelly Marcel (“Saving Mr. Banks” and the upcoming “Venom.”) “This is far-reaching, it is endemic, and we have to believe that the toppling of this mogul will lead to the toppling of others. . . .  This is a bigger issue than taking down one person.”

Hollywood has demonstrated an amazing propensity for believing the problems are “out there” — out in middle America, where the audience lives — instead of within its own industry, actions, and behavior. Back in 2015, after winning the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, Patricia Arquette closed her speech with:

To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights, it’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America.

Everyone in the room stood up and applauded, including all the producers and studio heads who negotiate the salaries for actresses. I remember thinking, when she’s discussing “wage equality,” who do they think she’s addressing? Apple? IBM? Exxon? Or is she speaking quite literally to the audience sitting directly in front of her, who apparently pay actresses significantly less than actors? It’s not you, me, or the shoe salesman from Des Moines who decide how much an actress gets paid. It’s a handful of powerful people, who apparently so insulated by thick layers of denial that they can’t even tell when they’re the ones who are getting called out on national television.

The legal and media worlds are close to having their lecture rights revoked as well.

Does Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance’s excuse that the tape of Weinstein admitting groping a woman didn’t prove “criminal intent” sound right to legal experts? Bennett Gershman, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan D.A.’s office, writes “if Vance allowed the sexual abuse case against Harvey Weinstein to go forward, a jury would have convicted Weinstein in about three minutes.”

Why did the top brass at NBC News give Ronan Farrow so much grief and opposition while he was working on this story? How many thinly-sourced or single-anonymously-sourced reports have we seen over the years — particularly in political journalism! — while Farrow is told that his report, with interviews with eight women, was insufficient.

How much can viewers trust NBC News today?

Sen. Susan Collins (Kind of Republican-Maine) Intends to Stay in the U.S. Senate

Susan Collins will not leave the U.S. Senate to run for governor of Maine.

The current Republican governor of Maine, Paul LePage, is term-limited. The decision is not that surprising, despite the buzz about a potential gubernatorial bid for the past few weeks:

 . . . it’s hard to leave the U.S. Senate after racking up enough seniority after two decades to provide her with growing clout in congressional committees where longevity is the most crucial ingredient of power. Collins has said as much.

The other reason is one she doesn’t mention: that her own party might not want her.

A recent poll by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling found that Collins has the approval of only a third of likely Republican voters. But it was taken at a moment when passions were running especially high after Collins voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act, perhaps not especially indicative of what GOP voters normally think.

Democrats are probably grumbling this morning; open seat races are almost always easier than beating an incumbent.

Speaking of other potential Senate vacancies . . . 

How Is Thad Cochran Feeling?

We keep saying Republicans have 52 votes in the Senate, but they really don’t, and I don’t mean because of ideological straying . . . 

Republicans are worried about Thad Cochran.

The Mississippi senator has been recovering the past several weeks from a urological procedure. And concern is growing on and off Capitol Hill over whether the 79-year-old lawmaker will return to work on Monday when the Senate comes back from recess — not to mention how long he’ll be able to continue leading a high-profile committee or even remain in the Senate.

Cochran’s office maintains that the Mississippi Republican will return next week as planned, and Senate Republican aides said they expect him back as well. But several K Street sources and Cochran allies said he’s unlikely to be back next week. Multiple sources said there’s increasing worry his absence could stretch through the end of the year.

Cochran is slated to oversee an Appropriations Committee markup on Thursday.

Cochran missed the last two weeks that the Senate was in session. Any further absence would cause major problems for Senate Republicans.

John McCain is undergoing cancer treatments. So it’s possible that McConnell will be missing two senators in the coming days; the Senate will be missing three members on the days Sen. Bob Menendez is in court battling corruption charges.

I hate to tell octogenarian senators that they have to hang it up for health reasons, but . . .  there’s a thin margin in the Senate. If you’re not going to be able to show up for work for several weeks at a time, you’re hurting your constituents, your state, and your peers.

ADDENDA: It’s Friday the 13th, so be careful out there.

Tom Nichols and T. Becket Adams team up for a key observation about how the Republican Party and the United States ended up with Trump.

Nichols: “the mindless smearing of people like Romney and others made people tone-deaf to criticisms of someone like Trump.”

Adams: “More than that, I think. It made people desperate. If a remarkably decent boy scout like Romney could be portrayed as Charles Manson . . . ”


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