With ‘Hollywood Ending,’ Ken Auletta Caps His Decades-Long Pursuit of Harvey Weinstein
The sordid tale of Harvey Weinstein’s steamrolling rise to power and spectacular criminal downfall is, by now, exhaustively documented. There were the original bombshell investigations—by Jodi Kantor and Meghan Twohey in The New York Times and Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker—that exposed the disgraced mogul’s expansive repertoire of sexual predation, arguably one of the worst-kept secrets in New York and Hollywood, but one that Weinstein managed to suppress for decades. There were the subsequent best-selling books by these journalists, the stories behind their Pulitzer-winning pieces, giving readers an intimate lens into the high-stakes reporting. Then there was the tidal wave of coverage in other outlets that flowed from that reporting, not to mention the made-for-the-tabloids drama of Weinstein’s 2020 trial, which culminated in a prison sentence of 23 years on rape and sexual assault charges.
And yet there is still more to be revealed about this epic scandal that stunned the media world and sparked the #MeToo movement nearly five years ago. This time the revelations can be found in the pages of Hollywood Ending, a new biography from longtime Weinstein chronicler and New Yorker writer Ken Auletta, who told me his goal was to “explore what made Weinstein the monster he became.”
One such revelation involves a subplot that was plenty scandalous in its own right: Ronan Farrow vs. NBC News. There’s not enough room here to fully recap the messy saga, which itself has been endlessly dissected. Stripped down to its barest elements, though, it involved a dispute over why NBC killed Farrow’s Weinstein exposé before he ended up taking it to The New Yorker. Farrow’s camp made the case that NBC bowed to pressure from Weinstein; NBC maintained that Farrow’s reporting wasn’t locked down to an extent that satisfied its editorial standards. Whom to believe?
“The press too often treated these conflicting accounts as a he said, she said story,” writes Auletta, reporting an apparently new ripple in the timeline: “Harvey Weinstein and his team had been assured by NBC that the Ronan Farrow story was sidelined, and Harvey knew this” at least a week “before Farrow was told on August 8.” The book includes divergent recollections of an interaction between former Weinstein rep Lanny Davis and NBC News boss Noah Oppenheim in the lobby of 30 Rock on August 2, 2017, two months before the Times and The New Yorker brought Weinstein’s career to a screeching halt. Davis portrays the meeting as a congenial exchange in which Oppenheim categorically assured him Farrow was not working on a story about Weinstein for NBC. Oppenheim alternatively claims that Davis ambushed him with an offer of dirt on accuser Rose McGowan, and that he effectively told Davis to take a hike. Davis, upping the ante, “angrily denied” Oppenheim’s version to Auletta, who suggests, “Perhaps both men are not telling the full truth.” (An NBC News spokesman disputed that Weinstein was informed before Farrow.)
Auletta also got a statement from Farrow’s New Yorker editor at the time, Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn, confirming the scope of the reporting Farrow brought with him from NBC: “He brought three women who claimed Weinstein abused them and were named, five women who said they were abused and were not named, and the police audiotape” of Weinstein admitting to an audibly distressed—and wiretapped—model named Ambra Battilana Gutierrez that he had grabbed her breasts. (Now’s a good time to mention that Condé Nast owns both Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, where my wife works.) “Two conclusions seem unassailable,” Auletta writes. “First, NBC killed a story even though Ronan Farrow had solid evidence that Harvey Weinstein assaulted women. Second, NBC confided to Harvey Weinstein before telling Ronan Farrow his story was dead.”
Auletta has a long history with Weinstein, going back to a famous profile he wrote for The New Yorker in 2002, “Beauty and the Beast,” which portrayed Weinstein’s bullying tactics and pugilistic nature (including a near altercation with former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter). The 20,000-word piece came this close to exposing Weinstein’s sexual misconduct, but Weinstein and his lawyers went nuclear ahead of publication, and none of the women Auletta had identified as victims were willing to go on the record. In an eleventh hour decision that Auletta describes publicly in Hollywood Ending for the first time, New Yorker editor David Remnick concluded they had no choice but to stand down, and Auletta agreed: “Thursday morning, deadline day, we conferred at length. Remnick explained his decision by referring to a 1992 exposé by the newspaper where he once worked: When The Washington Post reported on its front page that Senator Bob Packwood sexually assaulted women, it quoted ten women by name describing what he had done to them. We have no one on the record. We can’t publish anonymous accusations.”
And so Weinstein skated by for another 15 years until the dam finally broke. Auletta, in fact, was the one who put Farrow in touch with Remnick after the NBC feature fell apart in the summer of 2017. He assisted Farrow in his reporting, and he also cheered on Kantor and Twohey as their Times investigation rolled out. But it wasn’t until the following summer that he decided to pursue his own unfinished Weinstein business. Aside from the burning question of how his subject turned into a predator, Auletta was interested in the former Miramax honcho’s uncanny ability to wield power, ensconcing himself within a force field of complicity. As Auletta put it when we spoke last week: “How could this guy, for four decades, get away with abusing women without being enabled by a culture not just from people who worked with him, but in Hollywood?”
He pointed me to an anecdote in Hollywood Ending from 1998, in which Weinstein hired a woman named Hillary Silver for a job at Miramax immediately after she stepped out of an interview with human resources. Silver was excited when, the evening before her start date, several soon-to-be Miramax colleagues took her out for a drink at the Red Stripe lounge in SoHo. That’s when Silver’s elation came crashing down. “You do not want this job,” a Miramax H.R. executive told her. “You’re going to be scratching his back. You’ll be giving him massages. You seem like a very nice person. This is not something you would want.” Silver took the advice. “Three sweet people warned me,” she recalled to Auletta. “What about the other people who worked for him?”
Auletta was also fascinated by the dynamic between the Weinstein brothers, whose relationship fell apart in the wake of the scandal, with Bob Weinstein ultimately turning on his older sibling. Auletta began to cultivate Bob in 2019, starting with an off-the-record meet-and-greet at Cipriani in the Sherry-Netherland hotel in Midtown. From there, Bob opened up in more than 20 interviews, most of them by phone, but several over long lunches at a table tucked away in the back corner of Caravaggio on East 74th Street. “The things Bob said about his parents and mother and Harvey, and their relationships when they were young, permeate my book,” Auletta told me. “There were times when I confronted Bob with questions where he blew up.… We didn’t talk for a while. He basically hung up, and we had an email exchange and I said, ‘I’m a reporter, not a P.R. representative.’ To his credit, he accepted that. We had a few moments like that, but on balance, I found him striving to be honest with me. I pressed him with uncomfortable questions about what he knew. Did he know Harvey was abusing women? He claims he didn’t. I was as aggressive as I could be.”
Auletta came close to landing a series of taped phone interviews with Harvey from jail, but Harvey and his team pulled the plug. His representatives did, however, agree to dictate Harvey’s responses to questions Auletta sent via email. Along the way, Harvey evinced his trademark hostility, at one time erroneously insisting through a lawyer that the title of Auletta’s book contained the word monster—the book was still very much untitled—and demanding that Penguin Random House provide “the names and contact information for each person to be included in the book.” (No dice, obviously.)
“One of the challenges I faced in doing this book was: Could I fairly write about a man who was such a monster?” Auletta said. “I mean, a terrible human being in so many ways, and yet also a very talented human being who brought to the screen some amazing movies and brilliantly marketed them. Could I overcome my aversion to his monstrousness and write about the other part of this human being? That’s what a biography is.”
I asked Auletta, 80, if he felt even an inkling of sympathy for Harvey, now 70, withering away in jail with severe diabetes, glaucoma, heart problems, a spinal condition, and other health issues from which he will, in all likelihood, die behind bars. “I mean, do I think about this man, a man who flew private planes, who ate at the best restaurants, who had a car with a screen that came down and showed movies, and suddenly he’s in prison in a wheelchair, with a stent in his heart, blind in one eye—do I think about what it must be like for him? Yes. Do I think about how awful he must feel? How did I get into this mess? Yeah, I think about that. He’s a human being, I’m a human being. If you don’t think about that, you’re not a human being. Having said that, do I feel he should be out of prison? Given a pardon? No.”
Even now, Harvey’s legal troubles aren’t over. He faces another sex-crimes trial in L.A. that’s scheduled to start in October, and indecent assault charges were recently authorized against him in the U.K. (He has pleaded not guilty to the L.A. charges and has long maintained that all sexual encounters were consensual.) There will be plenty more to write about—just not for Auletta. “I’m done,” he said. “I’ve had enough of Harvey, and he’s had enough of me.”
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